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Mr. Michael J. Martin (Glasgow, Springburn) : Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman recall that at the time of the referendum, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars), Margo MacDonald, who had just left the House, and the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) campaigned all over Scotland saying that the European Community was undemocratic and that this country should have no part of it?
Mr. Jim Sillars (Glasgow, Govan) : I have no objection to anyone reminding the House or any other forum that I campaigned against entry to the European Community. It was not, however, on the basis that it was undemocratic but on entirely different grounds--for example, that it would be injurious to the economic situation of the United Kingdom at that time, and therefore injurious to Scotland,
Column 995and it is easy to prove that. Is the Secretary of State aware that at that time people such as I said that if we went into the European Community, we would have to accept that a page of history had turned and that there would be no going back from that position?
Mr. Rifkind : Let us explore that, because the hon. Gentleman makes an interesting observation. I have been reading the document he published entitled "No Turning Back"-- [Interruption.] More than one document has been published under that title, I hasten to assure my hon. Friends--at least, I hope that is the case, because otherwise this is even more sinister than one might have imagined.
In the alternative version of "No Turning Back", the hon. Member for Govan invites his readership to consider what has changed. We are entitled to ask why he and his hon. Friends, who were passionately hostile to the European Community in the past, have now seen the Community as the salvation of all of Scotland's interests. Is it a change brought about by conviction or by opportunism? He says in that document :
"Bitter though the pill may be to swallow, it is quite irrelevant whether in 1972 and again in 1975 we were correct in opposing entry. We are 16 years down a very different road than any ever travelled before. There is no turning back."
Later he says :
"Like it or not, we are in the European Community."
If that is the principle--that after 16 years it is now irrevocable and there is no turning back--on what basis does he say after 250 years that it is appropriate to try to disintegrate the United Kingdom?
If, as a matter of principle, the hon. Gentleman believes that Scotland's membership of the United Kingdom after 250 years is fundamentally against Scotland's interests and that it is right and proper, as a matter of principle, to campaign for the dissolution of the United Kingdom, why is he so willing to accept that after a mere 16 years, his position of principle has ceased to be relevant and that he must accept, however reluctantly, that Scotland should be in the Community?
Why will he not campaign for an independent Scotland outside the Community, as that is what he and his party were campaigning for at that time? The reality is that the conversion to Europe has nothing whatever to do with the European Community.
Mr. Ron Brown (Edinburgh, Leith) rose--
The reason for the conversion is also outlined in the same document by the hon. Member for Govan. Saying that they must deal with the charge of separatism, he comments :
"It is the label which Unionist parties stuck upon the SNP." He goes on :
"The SNP was never able to overcome the problem. It was forced into ever more sophisticated rebuttals of the separatist charge, but in a sense the more it explained, the more convincing the label appeared."
The hon. Gentleman is correct in his view, and the attempt to present some new doctrine of independence in Europe is no more than a weak and flabby attempt to suggest that our membership of the Community has somehow changed the fundamental realities of the situation.
Logically, the Scottish National party must be against both the United Kingdom and the European Community. The basis of that party's policy during the first 40 years of
Column 996its existence was that for any alternative Government or Parliament to take decisions in the name of the Scottish people that were outwith Scotland's control was against Scottish interests. On that basis, the hon. Member for Govan and his hon. Friends seek to dismember the United Kingdom. They do not seek to reorganise the United Kingdom. They wish this Parliament at Westminster to have no power over Scottish interests and to be unable to legislate or determine policies that would apply to Scotland. Therefore I have to ask the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends why they believe that a United Kingdom Parliament must inevitably act against Scottish interests, whereas the Parliament in Strasbourg or the Commission in Brussels will be the new salvation for Scotland and its destiny.
Mr. Sillars : I should have thought that the right hon. and learned Gentleman, of all people, given his minority position inside the British Cabinet, would understand the clear difference between this place and Strasbourg. This place exercises legislative control over Scotland. Strasbourg does not. [Interruption.] Strasbourg exercises no legislative control over-- [Interruption.] Before the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) gets too worked up, let me tell him that I have not finished the sentence. There is nothing comparable to this place in the power that it exercises over Scotland. The hon. Gentleman knows that full well.
"Increasing the powers and influences of the Parliament", he calls for the European Parliament to be given fiscal powers to impose new taxation on the peoples of the Community. Will he explain that, in the light of his earlier comments? I shall gladly give way to the hon. Gentleman.
Mr. Sillars : If the right hon. and learned Gentleman reads it out, which he has not done, he will see that that is a suggestion for developing the powers of the European Parliament at the margins, on the basis that--
Mr. Sillars : It would be a means of increasing the powers of the European Parliament. Even if that were accepted, because it is not party policy-- [Interruption.] The last people who should laugh are Labour Members. The Labour party frequently publishes the equivalent of Green Papers and pamphlets and says that the ideas contained in them are the personal points of view of this group, that group or that individual and that they do not bind the Labour party. If it is good enough for the Labour party, why is it not good enough for other parties? The fact remains that 99 per cent. of the power that the right hon. and learned Gentleman's Government wields in Scotland comes from this place and from no other part of western Europe.
"should have a tax raising ability used to supplement the budget allocation for policy initiatives. In its earliest days this could be a limited power."
Elsewhere in the document he says :
"Of course an increase in the powers of the"
"Parliament means a decrease in the powers of the member states." What the hon. Gentleman, in this brave new world, is suggesting is that Scotland should withdraw from the United Kingdom Parliament because that has the power to legislate for and to tax the people of Scotland and that the United Kingdom Parliament should be replaced by the European Parliament which would have a comparable power--a power which would grow over the years to come.
The hon. Gentleman believes that Scottish interests, because we are a minority in the House, have not been well represented over the years. We have over 10 per cent. of the membership of the House and our population is 5 million in a country of 55 million. He is suggesting that a Scottish Government and the Scottish
people--representing 5 million people out of a European Community of over 320 million people where, on the basis of their population, their representation would amount to only 1.5 per cent.--would have more power in the European Parliament and that that would provide better protection for Scottish interests. It shows that the hon. Gentleman is living in a land of dreams and mystery that bears no relationship to the world in which the rest of us live.
Another factor that the House should be aware of and that the hon. Gentleman will have to live with--
The hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends present a case that is based on the proposition that, somehow, Scotland is in a unique position as a national minority without full rights within the European Community. They know perfectly well, however, that there is a multitude of peoples with their own national identity throughout western Europe who do not have representation on the Council of Ministers, who do not have the power of veto that he is so anxious to obtain and who are not full, individual member states of the European Community.
The hon. Gentleman is proposing no less than the fragmentation of western Europe and the European Community. He believes that the French, the Germans and the Italians would be prepared to accept the fragmentation of the United Kingdom, with each state becoming a member of the European Community. He does not see the implications of such a proposition for each of the national minorities--for the Basques, the Catalans, the Corsicans and the Bavarians. National minorities exist in virtually every state of the European Community. The hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends can be seen once again to be living in a land of total unreality.
Column 998position. I should like to know from the Secretary of State for Scotland, in his great defence of the Scottish people, how many times he has attended the Council of Ministers.
Mr. Rifkind : The hon. Gentleman seems to be unaware of the fact that our political philosophy is different from his. When I was a British Minister in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office I attended the Council of Ministers on numerous occasions. If ever I believe that it is appropriate for the Secretary of State for Scotland to attend a Council of Ministers meeting I shall do so. We are Unionists because we believe that Scottish interests, and those of the rest of the United Kingdom, are best served by a strong United Kingdom Government who can bring about major achievements for the United Kingdom as a whole. I do not expect the hon. Gentleman either to believe or to accept that proposition, but that is the basis of our philosophical differences.
Mr. Welsh : Has there been no appropriate occasion to defend the Scottish fishing industry and Scottish industry in general? Were those occasions not appropriate? Is that why the Secretary of State never attended such a meeting?
Mr. Rifkind : Only last Thursday I met the Scottish Fishing Federation. At no stage did it make any of the carping comments that the hon. Gentleman likes to make--far from it. It welcomes the opportunity to have close and continuing co-operation with the Scottish Office. That point is well recognised.
Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North) : Does not my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the humbug and hypocrisy of "No Turning Back" is fully exposed when one looks at article I of the Act of Union, which says :
"That the two kingdoms of England and Scotland shall upon the first day of May which shall be in the year one thousand seven hundred and seven, and for ever after, be united into one kingdom by the name of Great Britain"?
The words are "for ever after." That, surely, is no turning back.
Mr. Rifkind : My hon. Friend is correct. It is not just Conservatives or Unionists who are quite successfully able to rubbish the arguments of the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond). I think of the remarks that have been made by Mrs. Isobel Lindsay, a senior member of the hon. Gentleman's own party.
"In the new weighted voting system for the Commission which applies to many vital decisions Scotland would only have three votes out of 79. We would also of course be on the outmost periphery. Anyone who talks in glowing terms of Scotland's capacity to influence key economic decisions in the European Community is being more than a little unrealistic."
I now give way to someone who is a little unrealistic.
Mr. Salmond : The House missed the Secretary of State's answer to the fundamental point raised by the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker). Perhaps he will repeat it in a moment. In regard to the quotation, I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has studied majority voting procedures. He will realise that neither the large states nor the small states operating together can
Column 999have majority voting on the Council of Ministers. I am sure that the people of Scotland would rather have three votes on the Council of Europe working for us than 10 votes working against us.
Mr. Ron Brown rose --
Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West) rose --
Mr. Rifkind : As many hon. Members wish to take part in the debate, I hope that hon. Gentlemen will excuse me if I do not give way. Members of the Scottish National party put a lot of effort into the European policy that they thought would save them. Mr. Gordon Wilson, the chairman, said :
"The SNP believes that the Scots will choose independence in Europe. But let the people decide."
The people have rejected that overwhelmingly.
Mr. Douglas rose --
While hon. Gentlemen representing the SNP have been the subject of some ridicule because of their independence in Europe policy, in one way I am sympathetic to them. If there is anything more absurd than independence in Europe it is "Independence in the United Kingdom"--the slogan of the Labour party. That policy has not only caused some mystery, concern and curiosity among my right hon. and hon. Friends, but I understand that the shadow Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) has also found that extraordinary new policy a source of mystery. When he was asked his views on independence in the United Kingdom, he was quoted as saying, "It seems to be an irrelevant fantasy. Perhaps someone would be kind enough to explain it to me."
I hope that when he is taken into a corner and it is explained to him--
Mr. Ron Brown rose --
Mr. Douglas rose --
Mr. Rifkind : When one of my hon. Friends was trying to intervene earlier, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Brown) kept barracking him and told him to seek an opportunity to speak in the debate. He should practise what he preaches.
In the gentlest possible way, I hope that, when Labour's interesting new policy has been explained in a way that is comprehensible to the right hon. Member for Gorton, it may also be explained to the House. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) is usually a careful user of words. He does not normally indulge in tautological nonsense. He does not normally invite Conservative or Opposition Members to accept a policy which is a grammatical absurdity and a political nonsense. If this is to be an exception we are entitled to know why.
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Mr. Donald Dewar (Glasgow, Garscadden) : We are all agreed that Europe is important, our links with Europe matter and our developing role is also of vital importance. I suspect that that is not necessarily true in other parts of the Conservative party. I cannot resist giving the Secretary of State a quotation which he will say I should not take too seriously, but it comes from a good source, Scottish Tory News, and it has a splendid photograph of Lord Goold looking masterful on the front page. On the back page it has an account of
"The Scottish Conservative Party's Annual European Educational Trip, affectionately known as Bob Balfour's Bus Tours (and nick-named The Daughters of the Revolution Give Loathsome Johnny European One in the Teeth') The Tour, the purpose of which is to educate Party members about the functions of the European Parliament, is heavily subsidised by both the EC and the German Christian Democratic Union".
The tour included
"Visits to SHAPE headquarters, the European Parliament buildings in Strasbourg, and numerous Bier-Kellers".
It was "very informative" and had
"only one minor setback, when a mad Frenchman crashed his car into the back of a bus. But slight casualties apart"--
that must be a reference to Mr. Alasdair Hutton and Mr. James Provan--
"the trip was immensely successful, churning out many a born-again European amongst the Scottish Tories."
It then invites people to apply to 3 Chester street for the next trip later this summer.
The opening paragraph was :
"They came. They saw. They couldn't muster up the strength to conquer, so they went away again."
That is a perfectly fair comment on the Scottish Conservative party.
There is some reason for the lack of enthusiasm in Conservative circles about 1992 and the integrated market. After 10 years of Conservative rule and after many years of an apparent economic miracle, so we are told, the United Kingdom has a visible trade deficit with the other 11 members of the EC, which in 1988 was £13, 500 million--an unprecedented record of failure, representing more than two thirds of our visible trade deficit. I make that point at the outset, because when we talk about the structures, the theories and the constitutional arguments, we cannot ignore the simple fact that under the Conservative Government we have had a disastrous time in Europe and we are at the wrong end of every piece of European economic arithmetic.
The motion is no more than a worthless swirl of unconnected ideas and prejudices. It is tempting to ask people to examine not what the SNP says but what it does, but that assumes a certain consistency, at least in its aims, which is becoming harder to justify. In a quote which will certainly be familiar to hon. Members representing the SNP, I wish to refer to the views of Dr. Flora Isles, the group secretary of the SNP group on Tayside regional council. She said :
"The Party has apparently no firm policy on anything, and frequently changes it to suit the circumstances at any one time : or sometimes it appears to have several different policies on one issue."
I could not identify or define the problem more succinctly if I spent some time on the drafting.
I cannot talk about it at any great length, but there are interesting parallels between the European situation and
Column 1001Dr. Flora Isles's problems over the poll tax. I hope that SNP Members will answer the relevant question put by Dr. Isles when she said :
"The Party had better decide now whether it wishes to continue to have councillors. It certainly cannot beg people to stand as candidates and then expect them to plunge themselves and their families into a state of financial disaster."
I understand from the chairman of the group, Councillor Frances Duncan, that the SNP policy supremo, Mr. MacAskill urged them that they
"must not go down the surcharge road."
The gap between rhetoric and reality is one of the problems in Europe and in the SNP stance.
Apparently the great turning point on Europe was the much heralded SNP conference this year at Inverness. It was much heralded. Mr. Gordon Wilson, who one or two of us may remember is the leader of the SNP, said of his policy :
"This is a bridge and what we are seeing is a narrowing, rushing stream now broadening out."
He continued :
"Rather than grasp a nettle, the party has grasped a thistle." That must have been rather an uncomfortable experience, but I am not sure whether it explains with any great clarity why the SNP has changed its position.
It is interesting that it was reported that at the SNP conference "Many doubters were won over by an amendment that any Scottish government would put the terms of entry to the EC to the Scottish people in a referendum."
That has been acknowledged today by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), but it is a little odd that a party which is banking everything on the total irresponsibility of suggesting that there is solution for the country except as an independent nation in Europe has to buy support at its own party conference by promising a referendum on a self -evident truth. That suggests a certain dash of expediency which is difficult to justify.
We then have the saga with which we are all familiar of the seats where the SNP MEP--that used to be a plural concept--will sit. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars), in a BBC programme on 2 June was pressed by me, among others. He made it clear that Mrs. Winifred Ewing had been wrong for all these years and would be dropped overboard without a backward glance. She would have to decamp and she would be told so. He also made it clear that he would not sit with the Socialists. He said that he would not sit with the British Labour group and that he would not sit with the French Socialists because they were soft on terrorism and were not worthy of his support or friendship.
He then said :
"Our executive are actually going to discuss this. [Laughter.] Oh yes, oh yes. We are going to review our position."
The implication was that it would be reviewed so that when people put crosses on ballot papers, they would know exactly what was happening. Matters have not worked out that way. We still do not know about the SNP's position, although we may hear a little more about it in the rest of the debate. We cannot claim to know where the SNP stands on Europe if we cannot find out even where its members are going to sit in the European Parliament.