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Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher) : This is a critical debate on the future of the European Community. A debate on the issue is long overdue and it ought to be properly addressed. I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing the debate to range slightly wider than the official title of the motion--developments in the Community during the last six months of 1988. You have the right to call any of us to order, but the problem is that the House has regularly debated European Community problems after the event instead of debating the essential question of what will happen in the near future and the big issues that will arise from the Madrid summit. Moreover, there has not yet been a debate on the Delors report.
The shift in pace of Community progress has resulted from the passing of the Single European Act. There is no point in fudging that statement. It was because it was known that a shift in the pace of the Community was needed that from the Stuttgart declaration--to which the Government were enthusiastic adherents--onwards we, along with our European partners, made an effort to bring the Single European Act into existence. There is an important but subtle statement on page 1, the preamble to the Single European Act. It says that as a result of the Single European Act the signatories were
"Determined to improve the economic and social situation by extending common policies and pursuing new objectives, and to ensure a smoother functioning of the Communities by enabling the Institutions to exercise their powers under conditions most in keeping with Community interests."
I stress the words "Community interests".
Individual Members of this House may or may not be pleased that that is what it says. It was decided that in order to advance Community interests there would be a system of majority voting. The Single European Act made it clear that majority voting would be principally to enact the single market programme, but the Act as a whole also makes clear undertakings in other areas and has chapter headings such as
"Co-operation in Economic and Monetary policy (Economic and Monetary Union)"
"Economic and Social Cohesion."
We therefore should have addressed those matters in 1987 when the Single European Act was passed.
I am hostile to many aspects of the social charter. They would do grave damage to this country. My point is that we have known since 1987 that a social charter was under discussion, but all that we decided to concentrate on were the economic and business aspects of the Community. We hoped that any other aspect would go away. That has not happened, nor could it have been expected to happen.
Britain has a marvellous opportunity to convince the other EEC members that the Conservative Government have put in place a first-class social policy, particularly in relation to employment. Today's employment figures confirm that point. We now know that 6.5 per cent. only of the population is unemployed. More people are in paid employment now than have ever been. Moreover, the percentage of our population in paid employment is higher than in any other member state. That is a proud record. It
Column 536is the result of deregulation which, as Britain has explained to the Community, is the right way forward in so many areas. However, we have not joined in the social debate, with the result that we now cry "Foul" when our Community colleagues produce something that they have thought through and wish to adopt.
Once again, this country is at a disadvantage. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) said--my hon. Friends know that I have a great interest in this, too--this country has developed employee share ownership. We have more shareholders--not all of them employees, admittedly --than members of trade unions. I know from my various connections that many people on the continent believe that employee share ownership is good for their business, yet it does not form part of the social charter. The House has a right to ask why that is so. The answer is that we did not enter the debate early enough.
The proof of that statement is that when we have entered other debates early enough we have, by and large, not been left alone and in the minority. I cite the Treasury team's excellent work in persuading our Community colleagues and the Commissioner that the plan that Lord Cockfield tried to foist on the Community in respect of VAT was nonsensical. He did not learn the error of his ways. It took a French Commissioner to see the error of his ways, but she did so because we positively took part in the debate. We advanced carefully argued proposals which provided the Community with an alternative point of discussion that was much more market orientated.
Mr. Taylor : My hon. Friend really must stop making that point about the veto. We shall not win the intellectual battles in the Community if we just wield the veto argument. The whole point is that we must persuade our Community partners. [Interruption.] Of course we could use the veto, but we should do so only in a direst emergency. We must ensure that we have the majority on our side. That is the only way in which the Community can sensibly work together. It must be by persuasion.
There are many other areas in which the force of argument has helped this country. For example, the Community is gradually moving forward in the right direction on its competition policy. I hope that the Minister will address that question in replying to the debate. The Commission is now coming forward with more reasonable proposals for competition policy. I think that we shall find that they are more acceptable. We have also persuaded the Commission to inquire into state subsidies in other EEC countries. This is critical to the development of the single market. The last figures that I have to hand show that in 1986 £65 billion was spent on state subsidies throughout the Community--three times the whole of the Community's budget.
We do not need to say that we are at the mercy of a marauding bureaucracy in Brussels when we have won the argument. If we want a deregulated Community--which I do--we have to regulate to deregulate. It will not surprise any member of this Parliament that there are occasions in the House when we have to examine Government regulations which are to apply to this country. It is not surprising that at Commission level regulations should come forward to open up the markets. It is in this country's interests that the regulations that most directly
Column 537affect our interests should be the toughest possible. It ill behoves us constantly to appear to be denigrating the Commission, which is the servant of the Council of Ministers and is trying to ensure that the Community opens up its frontiers to people, capital and business. We must address those critical problems.
In conclusion, we have an enormous opportunity. Many of us in the Tory party have been enthusiastic but not uncriticial Europeans for many years. We must not lose this opportunity by not realising that we can take a lead in these matters. Our arguments are convincing, but we must participate in the debate in a way which gains friends and influence instead of losing them. We must not go to the Madrid summit firing on all siege guns in the blind hope of winning some last battle.
Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South) : Quite properly and understandably the hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Taylor) addressed his remarks to his hon. Friends. We know that there is a difference of opinion in the Conservative party about the way in which it should approach Europe. I shall call it the EEC because imperceptibly we are going into Eurospeak, just as we have moved from the Common Market to the European Community, and now, conceivably, to European union. Tonight, as before, I speak not so much as a member of a United Kingdom political party, but as a member of a party in favour of Parliament. Therefore, I wholeheartedly endorse the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore). He was talking not about a party advantage but of the advantage of parliamentary democracy in the United Kingdom for which there has been no mandate for any party to give away. Hence my intervention about a mandate for either the Stuttgart declaration or the Single European Act. I do not believe that the Government had such a mandate and I do not believe that they have it now. On the question of Parliament and scrutiny, I speak as Chairman of the Scrutiny Committee, rather than personally as I did in the introduction to my speech. Our debate is unnecessarily retrospective. The Scrutiny Committee has suggested on a number of occasions that such debates should be prospective. On a six-monthly cycle it would be appropriate if they looked ahead to the succeeding six-monthly cycle of presidency, and conceivably they would take place just before the successive six-monthly summit. That would provide the opportunity for a total review of where the Community was going and what the Government of the day should do. However, the Committee would also wish there to be scrutiny of particular issues. The Delors proposal for economic and monetary union and a central bank has been mentioned. It is no secret that the Committee has already recommended that document for debate and the Government have provided an explanatory memorandum. Similarly, if it comes within our terms of reference, there should be a debate on the social charter that we have heard something about. If scrutiny is to be what it says it is, I hope that such debates will be separated from the general six -monthly debates of which this is an example.
There has been some criticism of the standard of scrutiny. We hope that we have contributed to its
Column 538improvement by HC421, a special report on the programme of legislation which the Commission adopted for 1988. We hope to be issuing a similar report for 1989 ere long. It contains mostly the Cockfield proposals for 1992, but not exclusively. Unless hon. Members have the report, they will not see what is en route. I now leave the role of the Scrutiny Committee, revert to the introduction of my speech, and put on what I believe is a parliamentary hat. I am glad that the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) is still in his place, because I wish to refer specifically to his speech. Leaving aside a certain confusion about the nature of the Luxembourg veto compromise on which I shall not spend time, many of his remarks reminded me of what the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) was saying in the early 1970s about the opportunity for British industry. In the White Paper that the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup produced at that time, he said that the effect on Britain's manufacturing balance of trade would be positive and substantial. We all know that the effects have been negative, but substantial to the extent of £13,000 million a year. I do not believe that any prospect of economic monetary union, in which the Bundesbank would play a major part, would produce very much confidence. If that happened under the Common Market, what would happen under the single market? There has been some debate about the nature of the single market, but none as yet today about its extent. The Single European Act has been referred to extensively, but its definition of the single market has not been quoted. Article 8A states :
"The internal market shall comprise an area without internal frontiers in which the free movement of goods, persons, services and capital is ensured in accordance with the provisions of this Treaty."
The right hon. Member for Henley described a great vision in macro- political terms which he further expounded in his book.
Despite extensive inquiries, I have yet to discover the extent and scope of article 8A of the Single European Act. At what point does the jurisdiction by majority vote, which that Act ceded to the institutions of the Community, cease? I asked the Attorney-General what legislation is outside its scope, and he replied, "Criminal and family law". I put it to the right hon. Members for Henley and for Old Bexley and Sidcup that, juridically speaking, there is virtually no limit to the effective jurisdiction of European institutions under the Single European Act and under majority voting. There are limits, but those limits are well beyond what anyone believed them to be when the legislation passed through the House.
If that is the case, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney was absolutely right. It is not that power will go ; it is going in every late-night debate where we vote away a consolidation of existing law. It is not just new law ; we are building cages for future legislation of the House. Night after night the power of the House, and with it the power of the British people disappears.
There may be hon. Gentlemen who want that, but do their constitutents know it? Have they been elected here to
Column 539dissipate the power which put them here? They have every right to do it if they stood on such a platform on their election. I do not think that the right hon. Member for Henley did that.
In his absence, I accuse the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup of the ancient offence of praemunire--adherence to a foreign power. He was very excited on television on Sunday. I make a retrospective indictment of him of adherence to a foreign power in prospect. That prospect is no longer a prospect ; it is with us night after night. Praemunire means adherence to a power away from the Crown. Of course, anything from Brussels bypasses the Crown as it is directly applicable.
The scope of the treaties to which the House and the Government are already party is bleeding the power away from the House, away from the British people in a way for which they have given no mandate and which they do not know about or understand.
Mr. Ray Whitney (Wycombe) : In the Nancy Mitford novels which were popular some decades ago, there was a character called Uncle Matthew who went around all the time saying, "Wogs begin at Calais." I regret that the Uncle Matthew tendency is alive and well and has been getting strong in the last few months as the debate in the nation and, I am sad to say, in our party--I might even say in the Government--has moved into a different phase. We should seriously address that. I endorse what my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) said.
We should invite the Government to consider again the policy and the implications of what we now have to describe as the twin-track policy and ask whether we should go back to a single-track policy. There is a tendency to underrate the deep understanding acquired by the British people about the significance of the European Community. It is, of course, quite easy to be tricked by the Uncle Matthew tendency, but fundamentally the British people instinctively understand the broad issues that are at stake.
There are three basic areas in the world--north America, Japan and the Pacific basin, and western Europe--and either we believe in Europe and belong to it or we wither on the side. I am certain that our constituents are not prepared to allow us to wither on the side. They look to us to make sure that we remain in the European Community. Although they do not understand the clauses and the nuances of the Single European Act, and are, understandably, not as sensitive as we are to the sovereignty of Parliament, they understand the broad issue that is at stake. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister most certainly knows it.
I remind the House of a memorandum that the Prime Minister addressed to her colleagues in the Community. She called for "a series of new policies to promote the economic, social and political growth"
on which the future well-being of the Community depended. She said :
"This means giving greater depth to the Community in both its internal and external activities."
She spoke of the need to create
"a genuine common market in goods and services which is envisaged in the Treaty of Rome"
but said that that could be achieved only by
"a sustained effort to remove the remaining obstacles to intra-Community trade."
Column 540Only by that means could we enable
"the citizens of Europe to benefit from the dynamic effects of the fully integrated common market with immense purchasing power." In a comment on the Commission, which is a focus of attention at the moment, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that it was central to the functioning of the Community and that Europe needs to advance its internal development. One of the objectives that she enuciated was to
"heighten the consciousness among our citizens of what unites us." We should surely remind ourselves of that once again. That memorandum by the Prime Minister to her colleagues was issued in 1984.
The only thing that has changed since 1984 is that we have come closer to the attainment of those goals. I welcome that, and the Cabinet, the party and the country should welcome it. I accept the five principles set out by the Prime Minister in her Bruges speech. Sadly, it was not the principles of the Bruges speech but its impact which has given encouragement to the little England tendency and to hon. Members who for entirely legitimate reasons of their own have never accepted Britain's membership of the European Community. That is entirely their right, but it is not the judgment of the House or the nation.
It is the judgment of our party that we should not accept many of the ideas being discussed in Europe. As two of my hon. Friends have said, the way to make sure that those ideas do not prosper but our contributions do is to be in Europe, to be positive about it, and to take our ideas there. That is the only way to be sure of a resonance from those who think like us in Europe. Let us be clear that the majority of Governments in Europe are more or less of the centre-Right persuasion and they are not interested in a Socialist utopia or in pan-European federalism. They are not interested in giving up their sovereignty.
I urge my hon. Friends who have reservations to look into their heart and ask themselves whether the attitudes that they betray are not a manifestation of a lack of national self-confidence. The Mintel report published last week clearly demonstrated something that we all know instinctively--that, although the French are chauvinistic and nationalistic, they do not fear working in the Community ; nor do the Germans, and nor should we. We do not need to. We must make sure that the Single European Act works. We must accept it in its entirety and fight within the Community for the things in which our party believes. If we fight outside, we shall lose, but if we fight within Europe, our interests, and therefore those of the nation, will prosper.
Mr. Giles Radice (Durham, North) : I have been a convinced supporter of the European idea for many years, but I have to admit to a strong feeling of what the Germans call schadenfreude. That is because it is the Conservative party which for so long has apparently been united in Europe which now appears to be divided on the issue. It is also the Conservative party, at least in the person of the Prime Minister, which is taking a shrill and wrong headed, anti-European stance.
The attitude and antics of the Prime Minister puzzled me. As the Financial Times said in an excellent leader on 17 May, the Commission is not a great bureaucratic
Column 541machine. As one of my hon. Friends has said, it is somewhat smaller than most Government Departments. It is not a legislative body, but an executive body and its job is to enforce the rules, not to make them. The Financial Times also said that any decision involving a major inroad in national sovereignty has to be taken unanimously. When decisions are taken by a majority vote, it is by virtue of the Single European Act, which the Prime Minister witnessed, if she did not actually sign, and which Parliament has endorsed. If the Prime Minister is in doubt about that, I can refer her to an excellent note prepared by the Library on the implications of the Single European Act.
As the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) has said, far from the Commission being a Socialist plot, both the Commissioners and the Council of Ministers have a non-Socialist majority. I do not know what the Prime Minister is up to, because clearly she must know all that. How are we to explain her rather peculiar behaviour? Partly, I suspect, it is her way of proceeding. She mistakes the Commission and the Council of Ministers for members of her Cabinet. She is so used to lecturing and hectoring and generally slagging her colleagues that when it comes to the Commission or members of other Governments she continues to behave in the same way.
I think that it is also partly due to the Prime Minister's incorrigibly insular nationalism. Instinctively, she believes that all foreigners must be in error whatever the circumstances. She grossly overestimates British power and that is probably her worst mistake of all. Her attitude is reflected in her fortress Falklands policy, in her overbearing behaviour towards Chancellor Kohl and her inappropriate references to wartime and saving the continent from Hitler. That attitude reveals a totally outdated and unrealistic estimate of Britain's position in the world.
The truth is that Britain is a medium-sized European power--no more and no less. It follows that our interests can best be pursued through co- operation, conjunction and co-ordination with our European neighbours, primarily through the European Community. We are more likely to be effective if we behave like a good neighbour and partner rather than like a blustering and petulant bully trying to punch above our weight in the world.
Europe is on the move and, because of the Government's behaviour, we risk being left behind or, even worse, being left out. Whatever the Prime Minister may say, the completion of the internal market has social implications. In a notable speech earlier this week, Lord Plumb was quite right to say that the social dimension is "part and parcel of ensuring fair competition, especially in regard to matters such as health and safety."
There is another powerful argument which other Right-wing parties on the continent of Europe recognise, even if this Thatcherite Conservative party does not. A floor of social rights on a European level is essential if we are to ensure that all Europeans enjoy the fruits of the internal market.
There are also important economic consequences of 1992. The closer integration of trading arrangements is bound to lead to closer economic and monetary arrangements. I agree that that process is afoot. There is now a strong case for Britain to join the exchange rate
Column 542mechanism of the European monetary system. That would assist in achieving a more stable exchange rate and it would help secure lower interest rates and act as a very useful discipline against inflation. Equally important, it would enable the United Kingdom to get in on and influence the debate on economic and monetary union.
Whatever we think of the Delors report and its details and procedures--and we heard an interesting speech by the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) about that--the danger for the United Kingdom now is that, as with the formation of the Common Market in the 1950s and 1960s, this country could be left out of the key decisions that will shape Europe's future. Joining the exchange rate mechanism would at the very least ensure that the British view was represented and not ignored during this crucial period. It is essential for British interests and for the future of Europe that we begin to play a more positive role. After the way in which the Prime Minister has behaved in recent weeks, I confess that I begin to despair of the Conservative party, although some powerful voices on the Conservative Benches are beginning to speak out. More power to their elbows and may they continue to speak out because that would make for a more interesting Parliament.
Fortunately for the country, the Labour party is now putting forward extremely constructive proposals on the future of the European Community. Because of that, I will take particular delight in supporting my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Lobby tonight. 7.53 pm
Mr. David Howell (Guildford) : We have all listened very hard to hear constructive proposals from the Labour party and tried to see the new shiny wallpaper of Labour's economic European policy. As time passes, we see less of the wallpaper and more of the rotten walls behind the policies. No doubt we shall hear more about those policies before the debate is over. I want to continue the theme of monetary union referred to by the hon. Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice). That issue preoccupies us and encapsulates many of the worries and issues that we are considering today.
Already it seems that the United Kingdom has been put a little on the defensive with regard to European monetary union. That is a great pity because I believe strongly that the British case on the monetary union is excellent. That case has not been put very well, but it should be put with great vigour and it is important that it is set against the more extravagant and unworkable ideas currently circulating in the Community under the label of monetary union. The Delors report was referred to by my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) and others. Some of us have had a chance to consider it. I believe that it is very unsatisfactory and is not a contribution to European monetary union or greater integration of the European economies. The Delors report is a tramlines report. It is determinism. It states that we must leap on at the beginning and go right through to a goal which lies years ahead. Our practical common sense tells us that that cannot be the way forward.
I believe, however, that stage 1 of the Delors report is sensible--a lot of stage 1 is necessary to retain control of our currency--but stage 2 is technically impossible. No one has ever designed a set of central banks on a reserve
Column 543federal basis. Central banks cannot be operated like that. The Germans tried that system momentarily and found that it would not work. The Americans had a similar experience. A central band is a very centralised institution depending on a very few people and their very rapid decisions. Stage 2 is nonsense and stage 3 lies a considerable way ahead.
Nevertheless, stage 1 of the Delors report involves our being members of the exchange rate mechanism and the central bank governors co-operating closely together to bring stability to the currency markets. That is very sensible. It is important that we should go to Madrid to ensure that we are at the table to accept the stage 1 ideas to influence further developments in Community monetary integration. We should not allow the Delors ideas to race forward, or other proposals currently being aired for other Community members to get together to design further amendments to the treaty of Rome or even a new treaty. That would be disastrous for the momentum of western European economics, including our own. That would not be acceptable. It would be a great mistake if we went to Madrid in a negative mood and were unable to start constructive discussions on the basis of accepting the kind of ideas contained in stage 1 of the Delors report.
If we do not go to Madrid with a positive approach, we shall be excluded from the next stage of monetary developments in Europe. There is also a real danger that we shall lose complete control--sovereign control, to use this evening's language--over our currency. After next June, capital movements will be free in Europe. After 1992, banks will be free anywhere in Europe to take deposits in any currencies from any Community member. They will also be free to grant loans. There is no way of controlling our currency or influencing its supply and demand, both of which determine the price of a currency, without the pound being in some form of framework or without very close co-operation between central bank governors when the banking systems of Europe cease to be consistent and identical with the currency systems of Europe. There is no way of operating sovereign control over our currency and monetary policy if we have no framework. That concept must involve stage 1 of the Delors report. Several hon. Members have referred to sovereignty this evening. Does stage 1 of the Delors report involve the loss of sovereignty? Yes, it does. A great deal of what is happening in the world of open trading, including the aim of the single market, the removal of tariff barriers, the rise of global financial systems and totally integrated world financial markets, must weaken states and national Governments and parties such as the former British Labour party--I am not sure whether the current Labour party holds the same view-- which believe in the state as an instrument of their Socialism and idealism. That is the process that is going on. If that is not recognised, what is happening to the economic power of all national Governments has not been understood. Of course that power is being weakened. We should be open- eyed and realistic about that. Let my hon. Friends fight the loss of sovereignty to Brussels over non-economic issues that we can handle ourselves. There is plenty of nonsense coming from the bureaucrats in Brussels that we should resist. As a believer in a free market Europe, the open trading system and the development of a global financial system, however, I do not believe that we can fight the transfer of sovereignty from national state Governments to consumers and
Column 544international markets. If my hon. Friends wish to do that, they are abandoning the motive powers of free markets in the modern world. We should recognise that sovereignty is being transferred to consumers and to markets and that Governments are becoming weaker in the sense that they can no longer wield the kind of power that Keynes and others taught that they could wield on a national basis and somehow steer and manage their sovereign individual economies. That power is being sucked away. If we want to bring that power back and become protectionists again, or Socialist nationalists--I use those words in an unoffensive way--the protectionist isolated economy can indeed be restored. Such economies exist in the world, in miserable places such as Burma. There are still some left in eastern Europe, although they are learning the lessons. Those are countries with sovereign powers over their consumers and markets and plenty of power in the state Government as well. But the entire trend, not only of European policy but of international economic policy, is to transfer sovereignty to consumers and markets, away from the state and away, I am afraid, from national parliaments as well.
My hon. Friends and Opposition Members can fight heroically night after night to keep that power in the national parliaments, in the state Governments and in their party policies and manifestos, but it is being taken away by the decision to commit ourselves to the international open trading system--the removal of tariffs and barriers. That is where the power is going and we should not fight it. Let us fight nonsense from Brussels, but to fight the realities of a modern economic system would be to plunge us back into a dark age of protectionism and dwindling prosperity, which all our common sense, and all who believe in a free economy, should resist. 8.2 pm
Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield) : The right hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) said that capitalism in Europe is incompatible with democracy and that is one of the most candid admissions that I have heard. I hope that his speech will be studied because he was saying that the House of Commons and the ballot box is no route to justice, to development or anything.
This is not about sovereignty. No nation in the world is sovereign. The United States could be destroyed by a bomb from anywhere. We could be polluted from anywhere. We are talking about democracy--the right of people to shape their future by using the ballot box to make the laws under which they are governed. Democracy and sovereignty are not the same thing. The United States, the most powerful country in the world, has democracy, but it does not have sovereignty. It cannot protect itself from what happens in Tehran or somewhere else. At least we have had a candid expression of the real choice. This interesting debate could, at least, be useful to the electors on 14 June in clarifying the issues and the choices. People have not yet appreciated the enormity of the change that has occurred. When the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) signed the treaty of accession under prerogative powers without publishing it, he gave away the rights of the electors to govern this country. When Parliament agreed the European Communities Act 1972, it confirmed it. When the referendum was put before the people, all the party leaders
Column 545--the present Prime Minister, the former Prime Minister Sir Harold Wilson, and Jeremy Thorpe--united in a coalition to tell people that Europe would be good for Britain. When the Single European Act was signed without consulting the electors, that was consolidated. I am sad--I say this with deep regret--that the Labour party, of which I am a member, should have abandoned its basic belief that people can change their future through the ballot box. As the right hon. Member for Guildford said, the ballot box cannot be used to change the future when power is handed to markets and, as he laughingly said, to consumers.
This is an interesting debate because the implications of those massive changes are coming home. They are taking two forms. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars), who will no doubt speak, wants an independent Scotland within the Common Market. The Prime Minister wants an independent United Kingdom within the Common Market. Those Tory Members who joined in the praise for Europe want to see a more federal Europe. But the reality is that they all agree about one thing. I hope that those who read Hansard or listen to the debate never misunderstand that.
Let me go through some constituencies. The right hon. Members for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), Old Bexley and Sidcup, for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) and for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) and the hon. Member for Govan all believe that power has gone permanently from the House and can never be recovered. They may disagree about this and that, but they are united on that. The Opposition Front Bench is united with the Government Front Bench in the belief that those powers can never be returned and should not be asked for. That is the reality against which the debate takes place.
The consequences of that are worth a moment or two of discussion. I speak as a former Minister who was in the Council of Ministers for five years, as was the right hon. Member for Guildford. I was president of the Energy Council in 1977. As a Minister there I was a member of a legislative body meeting in secret. The Council of Ministers may sound like a Cabinet, but it is a legislative body. I proposed that the Council of Ministers should meet in public, but it would not accept that. We have Hansard and allow people to hear our debates, but the Ministers there did not want their constituents to know what bargains they were making with other countries. It is done by prerogative.
As I mentioned in an intervention, the only power that a British Minister has in Brussels is the power of treaty making deriving from the Crown. That is why the word scrutiny is meaningless. It would be more accurate to say that we are spectators of our fate. If it was said that at Wimbledon there are a lot of scrutineers of the game of tennis, that would be right because they would be watching, not playing. We are watching our fate being shaped, not participating in it.
The Bill of Rights was overturned when we joined the Common Market. It says that no court can interfere with Parliament. But now the courts have the right to supervise the legality of legislation that we pass according to some other criteria. In the process, I honestly believe that the franchise has been destroyed.
Column 546Let me try to make the point, which, in a strange way, is not political. If, under a Labour Government, there was a run on the pound and exchange controls were introduced, the courts would say that that was illegal. Civil servants would say, "I am sorry, Minister" --as they said to me in minor cases--"what you are doing is illegal." There would be a constitutional crisis at the heart of Government that could not be resolved.
Before Conservative Members laugh, let me say that that is one reason why they favour the Common Market--to prevent Socialism. But if the Labour party were in office now and we agreed to a mass of EEC social legislation, a Tory Government could not change it when they came to power. If it were a Labour Government looking at Jacques Delors' proposals--not that I have a lot of time for them--and if we stiffened and strengthened them so that an incoming Conservative Government could do nothing about the unions because free movement of capital and labour means a commonality of view across the Community, a subsequent Conservative Government could do nothing. If they tried, the trade unions could take them to court. The court would say that the Government may have been elected with a landslide majority, but they could not do what they want.
Nobody in this debate has addressed the fact that Community legislation cannot be repealed. It may be that it cannot be passed without unanimity, but it cannot be repealed without unanimity either. It is like a lobster pot--easy to get into, but difficult to get out of.
I sincerely believe that when the British people discover that the Government that they elect are confined by the decisions of the previous Government, agreed in the Council of Ministers, they will either take to despair, or to violence, or revert to the most awful nationalism of the kind that the Prime Minister and, I fear, the hon. Member for Govan espouse --the idea that somehow it is the foreigners that are the trouble. The trouble is caused not by foreigners but by the structure basically being undemocratic because it cannot be changed through the ballot box.
There are many ways of looking at Europe for those who are called little Englanders. There are lots of internationalisms apart from that of fre re Jacques Delors, who is so beloved of the Trades Union Congress because he treats it with more respect than the TUC receives from No. 10. The TUC never gets invited to tea at No. 10 these days, but it is invited to three- course lunches in Brussels because M. Delors needs the TUC. Socialism was never brought about at the top. No progress ever came from the top, because top people always have a vested interest in the status quo. Social advance always comes from underneath. Look at China and what is happening in Poland. It was not that the central committee in Beijing or in Warsaw decided to change but that the pressure for change was there. Take away the legitimacy of that pressure and the capacity to channel it through the ballot box, and there will be trouble.
Some people favour a fully federal Europe. I can understand why. We would all have a vote and elect a president and two Houses. It would be fully an American system. But I favour a commonwealth of Europe--an association of fully self-governing states that would harmonise as quickly as it could, where it mattered, but in which no majority would have the power to push legislation through against the wishes of others.
Column 547The successive Parliaments in which I have sat for many years have abandoned not their own rights, because we had none, but the rights of those people who sent us here. When that is learnt, it will not be 1 million people in Tiananmen square but 1 million people in Parliament square who will remind us that we are their servants and they are not pawns in our game, to be given away in the pursuit of market forces or some European dream from Henley or somewhere else. That is the issue which the House must face.
The Labour party does not want to face it because it is embarrassing. The Conservatives do not want to face it because to do so would reveal what they have done. However, one day the people will face it, and that will be uncomfortable. Democracy cannot be denied by any amount of lecturing about Adam Smith and the rest. Democracy is the desire of the people to govern themselves, and that cannot be extinguished by any number of Acts or treaties signed by the Conservative party.
Sir Richard Body (Holland with Boston) : This is the second time that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have called me immediately after a speech by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) ; and for the second time I must embarrass him by admitting that I find myself more in agreement with him than perhaps I ought to be. The right hon. Gentleman is right to question the meaning of the word "sovereign", which has been used so often in the debate.
One wonders what the countries of Europe outside the Community, which are in the majority, think about the word "sovereign". I believe that they would point to the United Nations and say that most of its 159 member countries won a place in it by showing that they had achieved self- determination and had ceased to be subordinate to a colonial power. The broad test of admission to the United Nations is being a self-determining state--the ability to make one's own laws, to have those laws interpreted in one's own country, to make one's own treaties, and to impose one's own taxation. Those are the four elements of sovereignty as defined by constitutional lawyers. Sovereignty is not the same as the notions expressed in the notable speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine). No country is now sovereign by his definition. One sighs when so many of my right hon. and hon. Friends denounce others of us for being anti-Europe. I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) that Britain has for a long time been part of Europe, both geographically and historically.
How are we to work with our neighbouring countries? The route we have chosen is shared with a minority of other European countries, which is to go the super-national way ; to turn our backs on the elements of a sovereign nation state and to submit to the super-national approach leading to what is called a deep Europe. That confronts Europeans--and I hope that we are all Europeans--with a great dilemma.
The argument for European co-operation in the future will be not economic but environmental. To speak of only 12 European countries as Europe and to act only within that little Europe is futile. How can we cope with the fearful pollution of the North sea, for example, if we
Column 548cannot work with the other countries that adjoin it--Scandinavia, the Baltic states, and Switzerland, which plays its part in polluting the North sea through the Rhine?
We must find a method of widening Europe, for it is a wider Europe we need- -not a super-national but an international Europe, whose countries recognise that there are different circles of interest, and not a single circle of interest, encompassing all 35 of them, let alone a circle of interest limited to only 12. There are several circles of interest demanding international co-operation, and the countries within those circles should work together to achieve more than they could individually.
The question must be asked, what is the best route for achieving that? When the right hon. Member for Chesterfield speaks of a commonwealth of Europe, I must go along with him. We already have the Economic Commission for Europe comprising 35 countries, which for the past 40 years has brought down no end of non-tariff barriers and accomplished environmental achievements long before most of us started talking about the environment. That is the kind of Europe--a wider Europe--that we should have. However, we cannot have a wider Europe if we are to create a deep Europe. Countries outside the Community will recoil from losing their statehood, or whatever term one uses, and their self-determination, and sinking them into the European Community.
The dilemma that we face in Europe is that we go along either the deep Europe route or the wider Europe route. There can be no mixture of the two. Sadly, we are now going down the deep Europe route, which will frustrate and foil our efforts to achieve that which we ought to be achieving in Europe in terms of the environment, trade and many other matters. They include the European patent system. What a non-tariff barrier is the patent. One can register a patent in London today and it can take effect in Stockholm and in other countries of Europe outside the Common Market. That has been achieved through the ECE. That is the kind of thing that we ought to do in bringing down the barriers that exist outside the Community, while at the same time ensuring that people feel that they can still determine their own policies and own Governments, and can ensure some sense of democracy. We shall not achieve that if we go along the deep Europe route. 8.20 pm