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Mr. Lloyd : That the Minister should tell the House that he has considerable sympathy with the underlying view that the majority voting system is wrong will be news to the Prime Minister. Hon. Members on both sides of the House will remember that she was instrumental in dragooning the necessary legislation through the House against the will of the bulk of hon. Members on the Government Benches.
I also point out to the Minister that when his hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) created a mini-debate earlier, he raised the important issue of where we stood on the issue of majority voting. It is clear that, in the case of freedom of movement, the Government are not in a position one way or the other to decide what will happen, because the decision for that has passed from the hands of the British Government into the domain of majority voting in the rest of the European Community.
Whether the Government like it or not, the Prime Minister, in fairly unequivocal terms, gave a commitment when she described freedom of movement. That is one of a number of legs on which Mr. Delors' "infamous" social charter stands. The Prime Minister made it clear that the measure was to be a test case for the Court of Justice in Luxembourg. Perhaps, the Minister can tell us how that test case will be instituted, because it is clear that no test case will be possible unless the Government are able to bring freedom of movement outside the majority voting system. I do not believe that they will be able to do that.
It is fair, too, that I should point out that freedom of movement is part of what the Prime Minister described as the Marxist interventionism into which the Commission is now leading us. That is the point at which the Labour party clearly will draw the line and say that we will go no further with the Government. The Government are becoming increasingly isolated in their views on the need for some form of social charter for employment rights. Whether we accept it or not, the Government have put themselves and the nation into the position of having to accept that many parts of the social charter will be implemented by the majority voting system. It will be interesting if the Minister could tell us what other parts of the social charter will be implemented by the majority vote and whether it is the Prime Minister's intention to go to the Court of Justice. If it is her intention, what parts of the social charter will she challenge?
The most disappointing aspect of the Minister's speech was what it did not say about the Government's views on, and attitudes towards the social charter generally and the particular aspect of freedom of movement. The Minister did not say that the freedom of movement of workers must be considered in the context of the rest of the social programme that the European Commission has proposed. If we have only the narrow interpretation of the freedom of movement put forward by the Minister, where he welcomes, for example, as we do, some movement towards ratification of common qualifications, of course we accept that. If the Minister is, however, seriously saying that the only important aspect of freedom of movement concerns such things, he is taking a very mechanistic and economic view of the arguments. It is significant that when, in January, the Chancellor made his speech about freedoms, while he was prepared to talk about freedom of capital and other freedoms, the one that he left off his list, importantly, was the freedom of movement, of workers, because that did not play any significant part in the Government's thinking. The
Column 980Government must accept freedom of movement of workers, because that was enshrined within the treaty when Britain acceded to it. There is no going back on the principle of freedom of movement. I am sorry that the Minister seems prepared to skirt around and perhaps to pander to the more unpleasant aspects of the Government's opposition to the freedom of movement, because we know that it would bring Britain's immigration laws into conflict with the European Community.
As one whose constituents suffer considerably from the impact of such laws, I would have to welcome anything that forced an easing of that problem. We have the ludicrous position where, on marriage, my constituents can take their spouses into any other city in Europe--as long as it is not one in the United Kingdom--where they can live under Community law with their spouses, but they cannot bring those same spouses into this country. I find it not only ridiculous but disgraceful that my constituents can be treated in this way by the Government. It is just as disgraceful that the Minister has skirted round that issue tonight and that he is not prepared to address it straight on. That is, in effect, what the Government are saying.
Mr. Lloyd : No, what I am saying is quite clear. Like the European Community, I believe--as the Government claim to believe--that there should be a right for spouses of British nationals to join their husband or wife in this country. That is a principle that the Government claim to believe and a principle that the hon. Gentleman, who supports the Government, obviously accepted when he stood for election as a Conservative Member of Parliament. There is nothing unique about that, except for the fact that the Government dishonourably and dishonestly pretend that that is what they stand for, when they are administering the system in a way that makes that impossible. That is outrageous.
I want my constituents to be able to be joined by their spouses, irrespective of where they come from--be it Italy, Wales or, as it happens, from India, Pakistan or anywhere else. I hope that establishes my point clearly. There should be that right. Indeed, it is accepted in both Community and in British legislation. In principle, the United Kingdom says that it supports that right, but in practice the Minister skirts round the fact that the Government are afraid that they will lose the power to keep people out of this country by administrative means, generally on the ground that they are black, which I believe is the hon. Gentleman's position--and it is one with which I have no sympathy.
When freedom of movement and the other issues in the social charter came to the fore earlier this year, it was significant that the Secretary of State for Employment, when speaking to the other European Community Ministers, was isolated when he said : "It is seriously misleading to draw a sharp distinction between what is in the interests of business and what is in the interests of citizens."
I fully concur with that, although I do not concur with his conclusion that we do not need any social legislation or assistance for the work force. The Minister has made it clear again tonight that he has less sympathy with the aspects of freedom of movement for workers that provide
Column 981social support or other things to make the life of individual workers easier and that allow them to transfer the benefits of one country to another. In wanting to withdraw from that social debate, the Government are not only completely out of step with public opinion in this country, as was amply demonstrated in the European elections, but they have made themselves almost totally isolated among other European Community countries. The vote on the social charter in the meeting of the heads of state in Spain was 10:1, with only Denmark abstaining for a technical reason, not because it was hostile to the proposals.
The British Government do not just stand alone within the member nations, the British Government and British employers stand almost alone in all European opinion on this matter. When the economic and social committee was asked to look at the social charter, the vote in favour of proceeding along those lines managed to unite the bulk of business opinion throughout Europe and the bulk of trade union opinion throughout Europe. We also had the odd position of British employers being in alliance with the French Communist trade unions as the only groups opposing the social charter. The Minister may derive some satisfaction from the fact that the Government are in that uncomfortable alliance with the French Communist-led trade unions. The Minister may glory in that isolation, but he and his colleagues appear not only isolated but foolish in the eyes of Europe. If the Minister is prepared to accept the freedom of movement of workers as they move around Europe in the interests of the freedom of capital, but does not recognise that the bulk of opinion in Britain and throughout Europe is that that freedom of movement can exist only with the rest of the social charter, with protection for workers in Britain and throughout Europe, his vision of Europe is so barren and irrelevant to the long-term needs of Britain and the rest of Europe that it will be rejected, as it was rejected by the electorate in the European elections.
The Minister and his colleagues talk about a Britain based on the principle of a low-wage economy where capital will magically appear. But we will end up with the branch-plant economy that has bedevilled British economic history for the past 10 years. We know that Ford in Europe regards Britain as a low-paid, low-tech economy and prefers to locate high-tech production and investment in West Germany, which has higher labour costs but higher levels of skills. The Minister must accept that the future without the social charter puts Britain in the low-tech, no-tech league with low pay and not much future as we head into Europe.
That is why the Opposition believe that the future is clearly with the social charter. We understand why the Prime Minister described the social charter as a piece of European Socialism. If the Minister and his colleagues care to read the Labour party's policy review, they will find that many of the better features of the social charter run parallel to the views expressed in that document. That would not appeal to the Prime Minister or to the Minister because they know that the tide of public opinion in Britain and throughout Europe is moving to that view of the future--a Europe where people in employment are offered not only the spurious employment rights that the Government claim they have, but proper protection.
Mr. Marlow : Perhaps the hon. Gentleman, if there is one, could tell the House his limit and the Labour party's limit as to the level of competence the European Community should have over social policy. Should they decide on social security benefit levels or on housing? Where should it stop? We have heard one speech already from the Labour Front Bench which says that Europe ought to have competence where it has good ideas. Where does the hon. Gentleman feel, if there should be a limit, that limit should be with regard to European competence?
Mr. Lloyd : It is only fair that I point out to the hon. Gentleman that the Labour party's views on the Single European Act were quite consistent. It was not a Labour Government that forced that Act through Parliament. The hon. Gentleman will remember that the Labour party made its position quite clear at the time.
Mr. Lloyd : The hon. Gentleman will also know the Government's position at the time. He supports the Government. He may care to rebel against them at moments of pique and angst, but he keeps them in power, and has done so for some years now. On that basis the hon. Gentleman does not have much credibility. It is one thing to talk about rebellions and grand gestures, but the serious politics of the European Community is an entirely different matter. He has been prepared to sustain the Government in power so that they could give away those rights under the majority voting system.
The hon. Gentleman has to accept that fact. He has been part of the process that has given the Commission considerable control over the decision-making of this House. He will know that most social policy and some employment rights are not subject to the majority voting system. We are where the Government have put us. That is what we are debating.
Which parts of the social charter do the Government think they will be able to take to the European Court of Justice? The Prime Minister is on record as saying that she will go to that court, but it would be helpful to know what aspects of the charter are preventable on that basis and what aspects the Government have already given up the right to oppose. Their crass and pig-headed operations in Europe guarantee that they will not be listened to in any debates on improvements or amendments to this document.
Mr. Marlow : Will the hon. Gentleman now answer my question? What level of competence should the European Community have over social policy? What is his view and that of the Labour party on that? How far should it go?
Mr. Lloyd : The hon. Gentleman is asking a question that has no relevance, because the Government have already sold the pass in areas where majority voting applies. There is nothing that a Labour Government can do to withdraw it. Where majority voting might be extended is not an issue.
The Labour party will be fully supportive of the European Community in efforts to bring in a social charter that guarantees people's rights to be members of trade unions--unlike the Government, who have tried to prevent that. Labour will support a social charter where it enhances social benefits and brings uniformity of pensions, and increases pensions. Britain is the poor pensioner nation of Europe. Labour will support a social charter
Column 983where it enhances benefit rights, and where it enhances people's rights at the workplace in terms of health and safety. The Government fight shy of and run away from all of those things because of their misguided view of Britain as a low-wage and, they claim, high employment economy. In fact, it is an increasingly vulnerable economy as it depends on the whims of outmoded technology and employment practices. Theirs is a future which simply does not work. The Minister made a narrow and fairly technical speech about freedom of movement. He has not answered the broader questions about why the Government oppose parts of this document. I suggest that the reason lies in the Government's desire to protect our rather nasty immigration rules. To discuss the freedom of movement of workers without the wider context of the social charter is simply to misunderstand why there is value in freedom of movement from the point of view of employees. I hope that he will put his mind to the serious issues that are raised in the document.
Mr. William Cash (Stafford) : This is an open-ended provision. There seems to be no limit to the number of people who can come in or to the benefits that they can seek. It strikes me that it is extremely peculiar that, at this late hour, we are discussing something which should never have seen the light of day in its present form.
Why is the Commission given the opportunity by member states to make proposals that are so open-ended, when it would be far more sensible to retrench its powers by giving greater powers to the Council of Ministers? I concede that that would have to be done by way of treaty amendment, but in the light of the Single European Act, it seems highly desirable. I have said repeatedly that I am not, in principle, against the Single European Act. I voted for it and I have said that I would do so again. However, a fundamental difference has occurred since the passing of the Act.
Before the Act, proposals such as the one we are discussing tonight could be justified in terms of their being produced and drafted by the Commission, because there had to be an on-going negotiating process with the Commission as part and parcel of the watchdog apparatus of the treaty of Rome. Now that we have the Single European Act and far more majority voting, I cannot see why we cannot have a treaty amendment, the effect of which would be to give greater power to the Council of Ministers. However, the time is coming--particularly in the run-up to the intergovernmental conference and in the context of matters such as extensions of the economic and monetary union--when we should look seriously at the other side of the coin--amendment of the treaty. The aim would be not to get away from the benefits of the Community, but to put on a more sensible basis the manner in which legislation emanates from the Community.
The power of the pen--that is, the power of the Commission--to produce proposals such as this is so open-ended that there seems to be no limit to the extent to which it can come forward with proposals which then inevitably end up either having to be cut back as a result of meetings of working groups behind closed doors, or in the European Court of Justice itself. Most of these matters could be resolved at a far earlier stage.
Column 984I hope that we are also about to improve the procedures in this House for dealing with the scrutiny of European legislation. This is not an airy-fairy, ivory tower exercise, but the serious business of trying to make Community legislation relevant to the electorates of the member states. Can we not examine the way in which legislation is produced and prevent it from being so open-ended? We should do what we can to ensure that greater clarity is obtained in the documents at an earlier stage. I have a suspicion--which I cannot prove--that there is sometimes an intention to produce grey areas and ambiguities in Community legislation, precisely because there are those who are conscious of the fact that it is bound, therefore, to end up in the Court of Justice.
The hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) talked about the social charter. If one examines the provisions of the Single European Act, as opposed to the original provisions of the treaty of Rome, in the area of competence to deal with matters relevant to the social charter, one sees that they are riddled with grey areas and ambiguities. The opportunity to clarify these matters was when the Single European Act was negotiated. Instead, we have been put in a position where we can guarantee that proposals will go to the Court of Justice. As I said in an intervention on the previous directive, we are then in the unhappy position of knowing that, because of the tendency in the Court of Justice towards political integration, it will interpret the proposals in favour of that objective at the expense of the rather more narrow and specific approach that would be taken in this country.
As the bottom line, I am talking about democracy. I have constituents in Stafford, as the hon. Member for Stretford and all other hon. Members have constituents, who will be affected by the proposals. We have an absolute right to require that the basis upon which the documents are prepared in the first place are far clearer before they reach us. The Council of Ministers should seize the opportunity, in the run-up to the intergovernmental conference, to try to identify ways and means of ensuring that documents come before us and the Council of Ministers on a far clearer and more specific footing.
Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland) : I support the call for clarity by the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash). No regulation or directive does anyone any good if there are large grey areas in it. The Minister referred to the Government entertaining some doubts about the part of the measure that relates to enjoying certain social services in other countries. I do not think that hon. Members have much idea of what we would be letting ourselves in for if that point were to go forward. To that extent, greater clarity would be welcomed.
My right hon. and hon. Friends and I believe in the concept of freedom of movement throughout the European Community, not least for those in employment. That matter is at the heart of what we are considering. We would like the European Community to be more than an economic club--one that actually impinges on all aspects of people's lives and gives them a greater opportunity to exercise freedom of movement throughout the Community.
At present, only 4.8 million European Community nationals live in other European Community states--in other words, in a state other than their own national state
Column 985--which, at one point, was 5 per cent. of the total European Community population. That is far lower than the degree of internal migration in the United States of America, for example.
Certain aspects of the measure will help to reduce some of the barriers that otherwise operate against freedom of movement. For example, equal treatment in housing loans and grants is important, and we should welcome it. Other things could be done. I welcome what the Minister said about reducing the barriers that result from different professional qualifications. We could look to allowing workers to transfer private pension rights across frontiers and to giving migrants free access to job agencies. They would be positive developments.
I cannot accept what the hon. Member for Stafford said about this proposal being an open-ended commitment to all and sundry to move between countries X and Y in the Community. If the hon. Gentleman looks carefully at the words of the motion, he will see that that is not the case. It is confined to people in the ascending line and to descendants. We must look at the issue in practical terms. Of course, descendants could theoretically be a larger number. Ascendants are restricted to parents, parents-in-law, grandparents, and grandparents-in-law. It is unlikely that great- grandparents would want to move.
One thinks of what happens within the United Kingdom. Families often move from what has been the family home, and couples often move with their children. It is probably more the rule than the exception that the whole family moves--grandparents, great-grandparents, the lot. When my wife and I set up home in Orkney, I do not think that either set of parents thought of moving with us. They had their own lives and occupations in places where they had been for a long time. We are not necessarily opening the doors for a great influx or efflux of people. There might be circumstances in which, for reasons that fall short of dependency, a close, integrated family, including the grandparents and the children who are not necessarily dependent, would want to move to another part of the European Community. Those of us who have a slightly greater vision of the European Community than one confined to business purposes see nothing wrong with families being able to move and stay together. Other parties may genuinely support the concept of the family and would be prepared to accept that there are circumstances in which non-dependent children and grandparents may wish to move with the family. It would not lead to a great number of people going to and fro, but it might prove a worthwhile provision in certain family circumstances.
Dr. Godman : Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is some ambiguity about the proposals as they were outlined by the then Minister of State on 5 May? He said that they shaded into "areas concerned with the free movement of persons generally." Does not such ambiguity give some comfort to the Spanish quota hoppers?
Column 986extended to non-Community nationals. It is a fine dividing line if a worker's grandchild happens to be Austrian or Swiss rather than West German or Italian.
The position of Spanish quota hoppers is different from that envisaged in the proposals. The whole concept of fisheries quotas could be said to be contrary to the concept of the internal market. The quotas exist for good reasons, which I am sure are fully understood on both sides of the House. The Commission was wrong to challenge what we did, with all-party support, in the Merchant Shipping Act 1988 and to try to impose rules that might be generally applicable for the purpose of achieving a single market, but are not relevant or applicable under a system for fisheries, set up by the Community, that allows for national preference and does not accept a common market.
It might have been wise had the Government--they may yet do so--told the Commission that we were trying to preserve the integrity of the national quotas that had been accepted by the Commission. The whole Community should accept that. The legislation is a step towards ensuring that what the Community has agreed as proper for fisheries is implemented. Until the Commission can come up with a better means of doing that, within its rules, it should not challenge us for trying to uphold the quotas. The onus should be put on the Commission to find a way to deal with quota hopping, which actually flies in the face of what the Commission tried to achieve when it established fisheries quotas and total allowable catches.
The proposals allow divorced spouses, widowers and widows to remain in a country after a marriage has broken down or a spouse has died. If a Portuguese person has settled in Spain, or a Spanish person in the United Kingdom, it is humane to allow them to remain following the death of a spouse and not immediately or after a short time to lose their residency qualifications.
I want to emphasise what the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) said about the importance of the social charter in ensuring that what we are trying to achieve is not just a business men's club but something that actually affects people. The Government, and Britain as a whole, could lose out if it is perceived that other European Community countries have better rights for employees. We could be in danger of losing some of our best- equipped and skilled people if there are better opportunities in other countries. If the prospect of employee rights is better in Bonn than it is in Birmingham, our skilled workers might take employment in Bonn, which would be our loss. To see a narrow advantage in having lower standards, hopefully to attract capital, is short-termism at its worst.
The Government would do well to look at popular opinion. The Euro-barometer survey reported by the Financial Times earlier this month confirmed that three out of four Europeans regard the social charter as a good thing and welcome uninhibited movement across internal borders. That is one of the advantages that ordinary people perceive from greater European integration. It happens readily in the United States. No one there stops to think about moving from Florida to California to North Dakota. That could be achieved in Europe, and we must progress towards it. It does not imply moving to a united states of Europe, as I understand is feared in other parts of the House. Ordinary people would see European integration coming closer to reality, and we support the general thrust of the document.
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Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North) : I apologise profusely for taking up the time of the House at this late hour, but is it appropriate that such important issues are regularly debated at such a late hour in such a thinly attended House? The two European Community matters that we have debated tonight are pregnant with great relevance for national competence and national sovereignty and have a great potential impact on the British people, how they are governed and the laws by which they are governed.
I was fascinated by the speech by the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd). He complained at great length about the way in which the Government railroaded the Single European Act through the House. One would have thought from that that he was vehemently opposed to it, but no. He effectively went on to say that he hoped that before long the Community would take over the running of the United Kingdom's social security budget. I may be thought to be traducing the hon. Gentleman for saying this, but he also seemed to imply that he hoped that the Community would take over the running of British immigration law. He did not go quite that far, but in certain respects he implied that, if the Community gained competence over some aspects of our immigration law.
We now know that the Labour party wants to surrender control of our social security budget and our immigration laws because it believes that the unelected undemocratic Brussels bureacrats, the Commissioners at Brussels, are more competent to do that. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State made an eloquent and brilliant speech in opening the debate, as one would expect from a lawyer. He said that we have accepted the Single European Act. My hon. Friend knows that I voted against it, but that is irrelevant. It is the law of the land. In accepting that, we accepted majority voting. We accepted majority voting over the single market, but we did not accept majority voting over immigration policy. If my hon. Friend can show me anything whereby the Government said, or implied that they understood or anticipated, that any respect of our immigration policy would be subject to majority voting by the EC, I shall stand corrected. However, I doubt whether my hon. Friend will be able to do that.
The explanatory memorandum refers to freedom of movement for relatives. They do not have to be relatives in the ascending and descending line of the worker and spouse, but relatives who are dependent on the worker or living under the same roof. What does "dependent on the worker" mean? Could it be a nephew, or a sort of nephew, or a second nephew, or a cousin's nephew living under the same roof? We know what we in Britain mean by right of abode, but what does living under the same roof mean? Does it include someone who has come on a visit from north Africa or the Indian subcontinent who happens to stay with a relative, the nephew of a second cousin staying with a relative who has come from Morocco who is living in France, if the Moroccan who has become a French national then decides to come to Britain? Can he bring all those "nephews" with him? Is that what this regulation implies? Is that what the hon. Member for Stretford believes that his constituents want, and that they want it decided at the European level?
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) said that when he went up to live in Orkney, his
Column 988great-grandparents and the rest of his family did not necessarily want to come up with him. All right, but it is a beautiful place and they may change their minds and want to go there later. That is not really what we are talking about. If they want to go to Orkney, splendid--and if they are living in my constituency and are inclined to vote Liberal, it is a very good idea if they go up there. I put it to the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland that that is not what we are really concerned about.
We have a problem in Europe and in the United Kingdom, in that there are vast numbers of people in the Third world who are poor--poorer than us-- and, for very genuine and sensible reasons, they want to migrate. For economic reasons, they want to migrate to the rest of Europe. It is a very powerful move, and we have got to have very clever, fair, and sophisticated laws to deal with it. That has nothing to do with whether or not the hon. Gentleman's
great-grandfather wants to move to Orkney. The pressures are different. The situation is wholly different, and the hon. Gentleman is not talking about what we are talking about in this debate. The proposed regulation states :
"All such people would have the same rights and other social advantages generally".
What does that mean? I think that it means social policy. But if they are going to gain rights to social policy, and if the Community is going to decide on these aspects of social policy, where is it going to stop?
The regulation also states that people ought to have the right to come to this country after the dissolution of marriage. Somebody could come to this country who was from a different culture or background, who could have had several spouses in the past. All those marriages could have been dissolved five years ago, 10 years ago or 15 years ago. Where do the records exist? Is it not going to be a problem? Is it not going to be difficult? People who have never been in this country--ex-spouses--would, under the regulation, be allowed to come to our country. I think it is nonsense, and if the hon. Member for Stretford thought about it, he would agree that it is nonsense. Paragraph 6 of the regulation states :
"Member States would be required to take action to curb discrimination against those entitled to free movement."
We know that the Irish have for a long time been entitled to free movement in this country, and we do not complain about that. But there is evidence-- and it is very difficult to get clear facts on this--that an Irishman in Ireland who contracts AIDS or who becomes drug-dependent will for preference, and for reasons of anonymity--and perhaps because of pressure from the Catholic Church and for reasons of better treatment--wish to come across and have his AIDS or drug dependency treatment in this country. I think that a lot of people go to the Parkside health authority.
The average AIDS treatment costs about £20,000 or £30,000. Perhaps that is something that we would want to do something about. If we accepted that
"Member States would be required to take action to curb discrimination",
we would not be allowed to do anything. If somebody wanted to come here for any such reason, because the
Column 989treatment was better or because they would get a better deal in this country, they need never have been here in their lives before--never have worked in this country before.
Maybe at the moment we can do something about it, but if we allow the regulation to go through, all those things will be beyond our competence-- beyond the competence of this sovereign House--to control. It would be beyond the competence of the hon. Gentleman's constituents to get their elected representative to do anything about it, because it would be outside their control.
In the text of the regulation, the Province of Northern Ireland is mentioned. We have problems of terrorism in Northern Ireland. How will the regulation, directive, ordinance, or whatever it is, from the European Council affect our right to prevent potential terrorists from going to Northern Ireland?
The legal basis is being dealt with under a qualified majority. This is pregnant with significance for our immigration policy, and it is to be dealt with by a qualified majority. If this gets through on the basis of qualified majority, it means that the whole of the immigration policy of the United Kingdom is potentially subject to be decided by qualified majority in the Council of Ministers. I believe that when we signed up with the European Act we did not anticipate that. I believe that we did not want it, and I believe that we do not want it now. Furthermore, I believe that my hon. Friend who so eloquently opened the debate--and the rest of the House, by and large--do not want it. But if it happens--if the single majority vote forces it through--and if we then take it to the Court, which is quite likely because it is a political court, as has been said several times in the House this evening, and we are defeated, what then are the Government going to do?
Time after time, issues are put before the House ; time after time, the Government say that they are reluctant ; time after time, the Government say, "It is on the wrong treaty article, and it should not be by majority vote. If it does go through we will take it to the court." Time after time, these issues come to the House, are disclaimed by the House, go to the Community and are agreed by the Community--and then they are forced on British people.
We never anticipated, when we signed up with the Single European Act, that many of these things would come through. It was never explained to the British people that the Community would gain competence over these issues. We never wanted the Community to gain competence. But day by day, mile by mile, the Community is gaining competence. What are we going to do about it? That is what this debate is about ; that is what the previous debate was about ; and that is the answer that we want to hear from my hon. Friend in his eloquent, lawyerly way.
According to paragraph 4 on page 16 of the document 5786/89, one objective is
"strengthening the rule of equal treatment for nationals of the host State and other Community nationals".
As I said in an earlier intervention, just two months ago the former Minister of State pointed out a degree of
Column 990ambiguity in that : it seemed to deal with much more than the free movement of workers, and to drift into the sphere of free movement of persons generally.
I suggested to the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) that, given their ambiguity, the proposals might provide some comfort for the owners, managers and crews of the 95 quota-hopping Spanish fishing vessels. The hon. Gentleman was absolutely right when he said that the Government's Merchant Shipping Bill--which became the Merchant Shipping Act 1988-- received the undivided support of the whole House, especially what became section 14, which provided that a fishing vessel should be eligible for British registration only if it were British-owned and managed from within the United Kingdom.
Might not some of the workers defined in the somewhat ambiguous phraseology of the documents be managers of such vessels? Section 14 sought to exclude them from fishing against the United Kingdom quota. This is an important issue, because between now and the end of 1991, the United Kingdom fishing fleet must divest itself of some 35,000 gross registered tonnes. In crude terms--we can offer only a rough approximation--that might constitute between 600 and 800 vessels, and affect fishing communities from Shetland down to Cornwall. If, however, the United Kingdom Government were to win their case in the European Court of Justice--the case will end up there-- those 95 Spanish vessels might total some two thirds of the gross registered tonnage that must be shed by the United Kingdom-registered fleet in just over two years.
With the active encouragement of the Spanish Commissioner, Manuel Marin, the other Commissioners are maintaining proceedings against the United Kingdom. Despite the House of Lords ruling in support of section 14, all 17 Commissioners have said that there is a powerful case to be developed in the European Court of Justice against the Government. An important point of principle is involved, because if the Commissioners win their case will not the Government have to amend the Merchant Shipping Act? Would not section 14 be thrown into the wastepaper basket? The decision is important for the fishing communities scattered around the United Kingdom coastline. The Commission claims that the nationality requirements in section 14 of the Merchant Shipping Act contravene article 7 of the treaty on discrimination on the ground of nationality. The Commission's imprecise proposals might strengthen its case on section 14. The primacy of parliamentary sovereignty is an important issue. Is the Merchant Shipping Act powerful enough to withstand--
We have a clash between the European Commission and English legislation. It may be two years before the European Court of Justice reaches a decision. In the meantime, what will happen to the British fishing fleet, bearing in mind all the vessels that will be stripped from it? Will the European Court of Justice instruct the Government to amend important legislation--section 14 of the Merchant Shipping Act?
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Mr. Nicholls : When I opened the debate, I said that I looked forward to hon. Members' comments on the proposed regulation. I said that I expected hon. Members' comments to be helpful to the Government, and they have been.
I thoroughly enjoyed the speech made by the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd). How anyone can combine such genial eloquence with brazen cheek in equal measure is quite remarkable. To listen to the hon. Gentleman, one would have thought that he had spent his political life advocating the virtues of the Common Market in a way that would have made my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) apoplectic with outrage. The hon. Gentleman had the nerve to describe the Government's view of Europe as a "barren view of Europe." If anyone had wanted to listen to a barren view of Europe over the years they could have done worse than listen to speeches made by Labour Members, including the Leader of the Opposition, until recently. If we needed any lectures--and we do not, at this time of night or any other time--about the virtues of being communautaire or having a proper commitment to the European ideal, the last people to whom we would go would be Front Bench spokesmen of the Labour party. What the hon. Gentleman described as barren was described by other hon. Members as narrow. I accept that tonight I have set out a narrow view of the issue. I have dealt with the document that is before the House, and it does not relate to immigration policy in general. It does not even relate to the question whether EC nationals should have an automatic right of abode in other countries in the Community. It deals with amendments to principles that have been accepted in the Community for the last 20 years concerning the circumstances governing the ability of workers to travel around the Community with--in layman's terms--those dependent relatives whom they might wish to take with them. We have agreed with the Commission and said that, after 20 years, those rights may need to be uplifted. The hon. Gentleman may have thought I was being narrow, but in fact I was simply attempting to stay in order.
The hon. Gentleman went on to express surprise that I might find anything with which to sympathise in the amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow). One must address the underlying concerns, and I referred to them at the beginning of my remarks--underlying concerns about imprecision of language, which is in nobody's interest except that of the lawyers, along with matters relating to competence.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash) made an interesting point, as usual. He has considerable knowledge of the workings of Europe. He made some proposals, which amounted to saying that we might have gone down a different path from the point of view of qualified majority voting. He seemed to suggest that perhaps it was not too late even now to consider doing something about that. That is a broader point, which does not touch on the issues which concern us tonight.
I have had many dealings over the years with the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) in Standing Committees on employment matters. I am never certain how the hon. Gentleman will end his remarks,
Column 992whether he will sympathise with the views of hon. Members on these Benches or on the Benches opposite. He seems to take the classic mugwump's view, in that he leaves his mug on one side of the fence and his wump on the other, and one never knows until he has finished of whom he has been speaking in favour.
The hon. Gentleman thought that there was no imprecision that mattered in the definitions about which we are talking. I disagree with him. There is a great deal of imprecision, and my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North referred to it. The explanatory memorandum produced by the former Minister of State states : "Workers who are Community nationals, and their spouses and dependent children and parents of any nationality, are currently allowed to live and work anywhere in the Community."
So far so good, and even my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North might be with me in that.
It goes on :
"This right would be extended to all relatives in the ascending and descending line of the worker and spouse, whether or not dependent, and to all other relatives who are dependent on the worker or living under the same roof in the home country."
I was asked what that meant. I do not know, but I say as a lawyer that it is pregnant with possibilities. I can imagine, in a previous incarnation, doing massively well on behalf of whomever briefed me, arguing that it meant one thing or another, or both things or neither. It is in nobody's interest to have that sort of imprecision in measures that come before the House, so our business tonight is to try to ensure that imprecision of that type does not exist. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland then raised a fair point relating to people who may have retired or to the dependants of people who may have died. Those moving to take up work or to set up in business, and their dependants, are given right of residence. If they stay for more than six months, they are given a resident's permit, which is renewed so long as they are working and, perhaps more to the point in view of the hon. Gentleman's concerns, they can remain with families in the host state on retirement and families can remain after the death of a worker who has worked for two years, and those rights of residence do not depend on the issue of a permit. My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North made, as always, a splendid speech. I had heard it before and I am sure that, if my luck is out, I shall hear it again. He makes an old song sound fresh every time he sings it. He does something which, were I to share his views, I would do also. But I do not, so I shall not. He takes us through the situation that might arise when, as we know, such matters cannot be challenged for ultra vires in advance.
What would happen, asked my hon. Friend, if one went down all the paths of negotiation, debates in this House and finally to the court, where the wicked old Europeans, as my hon. Friend would have it, again exercised their political judgment? My hon. Friend has an honourable tradition of not liking Europe and its works, so in advancing that course, he is bound to see the very worst side all the time. The difficulty is that those of us who are committed to Europe see the advantages in the system as well-- advantages in freeing up and having sensible voting systems through qualified majority voting, because at times it works in terms of 1992. It is very much a matter