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Column 324non-member states--both the members of the European Free Trade Association, and the countries that have emerged from behind the iron curtain into a new freedom--and to the need for us to enable them to join the Community when they are ready. If we close the door against them, we shall be doing Europe, and ourselves, a great disservice. However, I have not yet heard as much as I should like to hear about the interests of some other European member states ; perhaps I shall later.
I have heard--and I believe it to be true--that Chancellor Kohl is anxious for Maastricht to be used as an opportunity to bind Germany into the European Community. I have also heard that the French Government share that objective. Given the history of both countries, that is understandable ; but, if it is so much in the interests of France and Germany, I think it only fair for them to pay the principal cost of the rope that will do the binding. We should be cautious about the extent to which we commit ourselves to sacrifices that may be made for ends that do not represent our own top priorities.
I understand that there are people known as Euro-fanatics ; some may not be far from the House at this moment. I do not necessarily quarrel with such people, because their views are sincerely held, but they sometimes seem to fall into the same category as the famous mountaineer who, when asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest, replied, "Because it is there." When I made that comparison to someone today, he said, "That is not wholly fair. There is a difference : Mallory could have walked away from Everest--he did not have to climb it--but we cannot walk away from Europe."
There is truth in that, and we should not forget it. We are a European nation, and we cannot alter our status now. There is another option, however, and it is significant that the Prime Minister stated it so clearly today. Mallory and Irving could have waited until conditions improved ; they did not have to make a dash for the summit. So, if necessary, can we.
We are under no compulsion. The Prime Minister has the freedom to wait. We must encourage him to exercise it, if he thinks that that is right, rather than commit this country to anything at Maastricht. He must deploy the best and the most powerful case in support of British interests. We want the Prime Minister to return from Maastricht having successfully negotiated an agreement that will win the support of this House.
Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Devonport) : I am a lifetime supporter of British membership of the European Community, but I have never believed that that support implies acceptance of a united states of Europe. The Social Democratic party will support the Prime Minister's motion. We believe that it represents the best way forward, not just for this country but for Europe. I wish that we had been able during the last few months to persuade our European colleagues that we are not arguing just for a narrow British position. I want a common foreign policy and a common defence policy. I want the maximum degree of unity, but I also want a treaty to be constructed that carries no inexorable commitment to a united states of Europe.
We cannot stop our European partners arguing for a united states of Europe. They are entitled to do that in a free European democracy, but we are entitled to hold our
Column 325ground and to argue that we as a nation were never committed to a united states of Europe in 1973, that we are not committed to it now and that we do not intend to pre-empt that decision.
The former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), was in danger of being, like a tram, stuck in a groove. She referred to the debate on Jacques Delors proposals in 1989. They were anathema to all of us. They sought to impose a single currency on all Community states. We do not sufficiently realise that we are no longer discussing a treaty that, like a tree, has grown only from the trunk of the European Commission, the European Parliament and the treaty of Rome. We are now discussing treaties that are based on three or four separate pillars.
I accept that all aspects relating to the single market fall under the treaty of Rome and carry a commitment to more powers for the European Commission and the European Parliament. We cannot interpret the single market as narrowly as some Conservative Members of Parliament. It embraces social factors and the environment. It will pay us to recognise that. The right hon. Member for Finchley was right to concede majority voting so that the single market could be in operation by 1993.
Those of us who desperately want Czechoslovakia, Poland and Hungary to be admitted to the European Community during this decade, with the transition over by the year 2000 before they are economically ready for it, have to accept that majority voting will be needed if the single market is to be operational in former command communist economies. It is geopolitically essential that we put Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Austria before Sweden, Finland and Norway in terms of membership. An exact parallel can be drawn with Spain, Portugal and Greece when they were admitted early for political and democratic reasons.
When I look at the European Community I see foreign policy and internal security pillars and ask myself how well the Government have been able to keep them purely intergovernmental and how many commitments we are making that will damage British interests in the future. My major concern about the Maastricht negotiations relates to the limited majority decision making envisaged for foreign policy. I do not see how we can separate principle from practice, policy from implementation.
I beg the Foreign Secretary to look again at this issue with the utmost scepticism. I understand the intention--of wanting to try to make a conciliatory gesture--but this could be the thin end of a very dangerous wedge. The Prime Minister's formulation is that it is for the other 11 member states now to demonstrate to us in watertight treaty terms that the right of all member states to determine their own foreign policies is not being abandoned or abdicated. I say that for another reason. I still have grave doubts as to whether it is right to go for a single currency, fixed exchange rates and the whole of that considerable abdication of political sovereignty. I recognise, however, that sovereignty, as with most other things, moves with the times. It may be considered to be a vital British interest that we are not on the outside of the single currency in five years' time. That judgment will have to be made at that
Column 326time. I do not know how we can make that judgment until we have seen the texture of the decision that we are being asked to make. One thing, however, is clear. We cannot have a single currency, a single immigration policy, a single foreign policy and a single defence policy without being a united states of Europe. If we go for a single currency because we wish to protect, above all, the position of the City of London--still the premier financial centre of Europe--and if we also concede ground on foreign policy, in terms of majority decision making, and on defence policy by creating effectively a defence community, and if we allow the Commission to issue visitors' visas, we shall be on a slippery slope. This House would then resist even more the move towards a single currency than it might otherwise have done.
That is the advantage of postponing the decision on a single currency. We should not find it easy to go for a single currency if we had already moved down the federalist route in a dangerous way on foreign and defence policies. It is in the interests of this country, therefore, to stand firmer now on foreign policy than appears to be the Government's position. Frankly, I do not believe that there should have been all this talk about a little bit of majority voting on foreign policy.
It would be better if the Government made concessions in other areas. I know that it will be difficult. Some of them may involve social policies ; others may involve environmental policies on which we shall have to give ground during the next 10, 15 or 20 years. It is essential, however--if we do not want a united states of Europe to retain the right, within a co- operative framework to try to forge a consensus on foreign policy--to make our own decisions.
The treaty on foreign policy carries with it more than a commitment to co- ordinate our policies. That can lead only to a number of results. It means that Britain will no longer have a permanent presence in the Security Council in 10 or 15 years' time. It also means that there will be occasions when decisions cannot be taken, such as that taken by the former Prime Minister at Aspen, with President Bush, to put troops into Saudi Arabia. Such decisions will not be able to be made by a single Prime Minister without reference back. The present Prime Minister would be unable to come out of No. 10 Downing street and say, "We are standing by the constitution of the USSR and we condemn the coup as unconstitutional." That was quite different from what was said by President Mitterrand and Chancellor Kohl.
If we value independence in foreign policy making, let us not forget what happened in 1940. If we want to have that freedom again--to stand out against the trend and, if necessary, to be on our own--then I pray that the Government will look hard at the question of retaining the right of a single foreign policy, with the decisions made by this country alone. In that context-- [Interruption.] I do not know what Labour Members are saying. All I know is that the Labour Government, who were in favour of the European Community, did not need any convincing that they were not in favour of a federalist united states of Europe. The danger is the convert being more zealous than the Pope in suddenly believing that we can abdicate on all issues of policy. If the Labour party is abdicating the right to retain foreign and defence policy in this country, it is not speaking for the country, and the Government will exploit that against it in the next general election.
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Mr. Alistair Burt (Bury, North) : I make no secret of my gratitude for being a member of a fortunate generation who have not been called on to fight in Europe. There are coats of arms all around the Chamber of hon. Members who gave their lives for peace in Europe. I thank those who fought for that gift and who built the lasting institutions of NATO and the European Community from the ruins of 1945. We should never forget their origins, nor the driving force among continental Europeans who suffered occupation and war on their soil. The driving force of a European structure that would end the fear of war on the continent is sometimes not fully understood in these islands. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe) said, the Community is a living thing. It has advanced at the pace of its peoples and must continue to do so. Maastricht is a further part of that evolution--not the end of it. Historically, it is less significant than the passing of the Single European Act in 1986.
My hopes for Maastricht are twofold. Firstly, I hope that we shall use Maastricht to reiterate our concerns about what is wrong with the European Community. The Commission is outside a sensible structure of democratic accountability and has shown a tendency to impose a Euro-synthesis at micro -level--silly proposals for the nooks and crannies of our life that antagonise the man and woman in the street.
Sadly, that insensitivity to national sympathies undermines the fundamental principles of European co-operation and has helped to build a stronger anti -European feeling in this country than is truly justified. We are right, therefore, and are acting in the best interests of the Community and this country, to seek to correct such unnecessary Commission interference by expanding the role of the European Parliament.
I hope, too, that we can convince our neighbours about the sensitivity of time. The past 45 years are but a fraction of more than 2,000 years of recorded European civilisation, yet we have achieved much. There is no need to settle the final irrevocable shape of Europe at Maastricht. Indeed, there may never be such a thing. Forcing nations together too quickly risks undermining the progress that we have made. We seem to be more alert to that than many others ; hence our firm determination, which was re- emphasised by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister this afternoon, to make subsidiarity work. That must be the right way to progress.
Secondly, I wish to see our participation at Maastricht emphasising and improving those matters on which the Community is going in the right direction. It would be a tragedy, as some have argued, to see the door closed on closer economic convergence with the prospect of a single European currency at the end of it. I do not believe that our European neighbours will hang back from this for long. They have, on the whole, run fairly successful economies since the 1950s or since their accession to the Community. They firmly believe that greater economic rigour, based, it must be said, broadly on Conservative principles, will continue that prosperity. They have some claim to know what they are doing.
Should it be proved to the satisfaction of the House that the benefits that I have described will accrue, any decision to stay outside would be of immense disadvantage to us.
Column 328Foreign investors would see us not as the launch pad to Europe but as some backwater. For those whom we represent-- for their employment, standards of living and the standards of their families--those should be the major guides to our thinking on Europe.
I hope that we shall make progress, along the cautious lines suggested by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister this afternoon, on a common foreign and defence policy. The right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) was right in his analysis of Yugoslavia : nations forced together ultimately come apart. But those that come together for mutual support can and do survive.
The real genie that has emerged from the bottle of a changing Europe is nationalism. What structure can be devised to contrain the pressures and forces behind that? Are we truly prepared to offer no model of co-operating nations sinking their differences to achieve greater security, or are we prepared to live with a Europe that is increasingly fragmented, where nations' first demand on sovereignty is to equip themselves with weapons to tackle or to defend themselves from new nations on their own borders that have the same heightened state of frenzy and determination to do the same? We cannot be sanguine about the emergence of nationalism and the fragmentation of Europe. The European Community could provide a structure for people to bury their differences, not their dead.
At the end of the debate, the House will give its support for the Prime Minister carrying on playing a full part in European evolution--an evolution about which we have been too hesitant for too long. For too long, we have been hidebound by fears borne of self-selected memories and infused by a false jingoism--a vision of Europe in which Britain sees itself surrounded solely by enemies and not friends.
That is not an image of Europe that my generation sees from its experience of visiting Europe and its peoples. My generation delights in being British. Who delude themselves that the greatest attributes of our national character begin and end in this House? My generation also delights in the glory of all that is best in being European--its art, music, languages and modern-day prosperity, which are visible in European cities and all too often put ours to shame. We delight in Europe's architecture--or at least the architecture that has survived the bombing, destruction and mayhem that have been the legacy of hundreds of years of war in Europe, when the cause of nationalism has been invoked to unleash the slaughter that dragged young men from these islands to their untimely deaths.
My generation will not listen to those who will close the door on further European development. We have no blueprint for where, eventually, we or our children will go, but I know that we do not want to be isolated and alone, buffeted by currents and currency over which we have no say and no control and excluded from greater co-operation with European Conservative friends in sister parties who seek our help in building a lasting Europe.
If sovereignty is misused to mean the freedom to be poor and to miss out on economic benefits acquired by our neighbours, it is not a freedom that I seek for my constituents. The torch is passing from those who fought for peace in Europe and who nursed its early steps to those who will take it further, curbing its excesses and building on its strengths. This will be to the benefit of our nation, other European nations and the Community as a whole.
Column 329Labour Front-Bench spokemen, with their inconsistent and embarrassing record on Europe, cannot lead our people on this issue. They have neither confidence nor credibility. Only my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary can do that. I believe that they have a greater vision of Europe, away from the narrow, and I am proud to stand four square behind that.
Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South) : In the referendum, I voted against our continued membership of the EC. I believed that, as a fundamentally undemocratic institution dedicated by its founding fathers to the free movement of capital and labour, it would be used to undermine many of the great social gains made in this country in the past 100 years. In particular, I believed that it would be used to undermine an elected British Government dedicated, as the Labour party is, to the fair distribution of wealth and power.
I also believed--and I still do--that it was then at least arguable that this country, with its vast reserves of coal, gas and oil, its huge fishing grounds and an assured supply of relatively cheap foodstuffs from the Commonwealth, stood a good chance of prospering outside the European Community. Many of us who voted against the European Community did not anticipate that we were about to embark on a 12-year period in which Britain would be ruled by a Government well to the right of that of all other members of the European Community, by a Government who had far less regard for the welfare of our least fortunate citizens and for our environment than the unelected mandarins of the European Commission.
I do not know whether it was right for Britain to join the European Community. It is early days yet, and the jury is still out. It will be for historians in another century to decide whether it was right or wrong. However, I accept that there is no going back--that, like it or not, Britain will be a member of the European Community for the foreseeable future and that we must therefore do what we can to ensure that the Community develops in a way that is beneficial to all our citizens and, indeed, to the human race as a whole. If we are to maximise our influence, we must enter into a positive dialogue with our partners and not give the impression that we are sullen and resentful.
There are several obvious benefits that we should acknowledge from the outset, the first of which is a common defence and foreign policy. I look forward to that--it does not cause me any problems, with great respect to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) and to the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen). A common foreign and defence policy would release this country from its slavish dependence on the United States, which has been the shameful hallmark of all post-war British foreign policy under Governments of both parties.
The second advantage of EC membership derives from the exchange rate mechanism, although that advantage is not unqualified. As some hon. Members have said, I accept that there are disadvantages. There is a powerful argument that, by joining the ERM, we have effectively surrendered control of our economy to the central bank. I do not know whether that is so, but I do not believe that either the
Column 330central bank or the German bankers could make a bigger mess than the Treasury and our bank have done in the past two decades. The one advantage of ERM membership is that it would no longer be possible for the Tories and their friends in the City to organise the run on sterling that traditionally accompanies the elections of a Labour Government. [Laughter.] Perhaps the Tories think that it would be, in which case I hope they will tell us, but Labour would no longer be held to ranson by speculators as it has been in the past. That is a major advantage not only for the next Labour Government but for the health of democracy in this country.
My main criticism of the European Community--and it is a large one--is that it is fundamentally undemocratic. Unelected Commissioners supported by an enormous and remote bureaucracy have arrogated to themselves powers for which they are virtually unaccountable. The European Parliament is unwieldly and cumbersome, and it is hard to see how, with its present organisation, it could be otherwise. I believe that any further power ceded to the Commissioners and to the bureaucracy in Brussels should be conditional on the introduction of democracy to EC institutions.
Those who hold power should be subject to rigorous scrutiny by those who are elected and who are, in turn, accountable to their constituents. That is a fundamental principle. I do not believe that the solution is necessarily to give more power to the European Parliament--national Parliaments might be the most effective means of holding to account those who represent our interests in Europe. It is time that we at Westminster adapted our procedures to enable proper scrutiny of what is done on our behalf by Ministers and officials who represent us in Europe.
As I said, it is too early to say whether we were right to join the European Community. I accept that, now that we are a member, we have a duty to make it work, and to do so in a positive spirit. If the EC's institutions are to command public confidence, they must demonstrate that they are concerned with more than--as the treaty of Rome implies--the merciless application of the free market. I welcome the social charter. Indeed, I want to see it beefed up. I welcome the recent interest of EC commissioners in environmental standards, and I look forward to the day when they lay down minimum standards for the treatment of farm animals. That is a matter on which a Labour Government could take a lead. However, I equally understand that some Conservative Members of Parliament do not welcome such developments. When they signed us up into the EC without asking the British people, they thought that we were joining a rich man's club which would be exclusively preoccupied with the interests of capital. They thought that they and their friends would have the freedom to go on looting our country without reference to higher authority. It has come as a shock to many of them that the European Community has developed broader horizons. Long may it continue to do so.
I believe that the greatest test of the European Community will be the way in which it relates to what are surely the two greatest issues of our time- -the survival of the planet and the benign development of the earth's resources for the benefit of all human beings, not merely for those who are fortunate enough to live within the EC. If a federal European Community becomes merely another great power which is motivated solely by
Column 331self-interest and which throws its weight around accordingly, we shall have failed. I hope that we do not fail.
Mr. Nicholas Ridley (Cirencester and Tewkesbury) : I shall not follow the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullen), who regards the issue as a capitalist plot, because many of the capitalists among my colleagues appear to be unhappy about their own plot.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on a clear exposition of our position and on setting out his stall so clearly. When the Tory Whips put it about in the summer that they did not think that there would be any trouble about economic and monetary union but that they were worried about the political union treaty, my suspicions were immediately aroused, and they remained so. Having heard my right hon. Friend, I believe that he has a good appreciation of the ground that should properly be given at Maastricht on political union, and I shall therefore concentrate on economic and monetary union.
I wish to complain about the Commission's slogan, "One market, one money ; single market, single money." One might as well say, "Single men, single beds". The two do not necessarily follow, and the same is true of the market. I believe that the purpose of the Maastricht summit is to determine the next period of Europe's evolution and that it is a vitally important event. The issues at stake are not merely what is good for Britain or for the Tory party or how to win the election--although those matters are important--but the correct future course for Europe.
We must consider the effects of a single currency not merely on ourselves but on the other 11 members. My right hon. Friend rightly insists on convergence. I agree that it is ridiculous to think of a single currency unless there is convergence, but if there is convergence, there is no need for an institutionalised single currency and an institutionalised central bank. If there is no convergence or if, once convergence has been achieved, it is followed by divergence--which is all too likely--a single currency will of course not work, because it will be put under such strain by the non-converging or the diverging member states that it will break apart.
The only remedies in the hands of the authorities are grants. If grants which have been described as "massive" or "of disproportionate size" are to be paid, those who pay them resent them and those who receive them believe them to be inadequate. The result is tension and, eventually, a move towards separatist and nationalist parties. I hardly dare say it, but we have observed such a phenomenon in Scotland as a result of the single currency between England and Scotland.
We must have convergence, and convergence can take place without any need to institutionalise it. That brings me to an issue that I wish to stress., My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe) and others have said that, if we do not join the single currency, or if we do not allow one to take place at Maastricht, the other 11 will go ahead and fix it. Yes, I think that they probably will. However, they would do so outside the treaty of Rome--outside the framework.
There would be several big differences. First, any grants that are payable under the single currency from the rich to
Column 332the poor, or to the people who cannot keep up or who diverge, will be paid by members of that little club, not by the people who are not part of that club. That must be right. Secondly, the countries concerned would suffer the same problems of divergence, and of how to produce the grants to compensate the least successful. Those countries will find that they have great problems in managing a single currency, because Europe is so divergent.
Thirdly, there are many examples of small countries trading highly successfully in large markets. Hong Kong has never been part of a fixed parity arrangement. Canada is another example-- [Interruption.] Canada has a floating currency with the United States, although it is part of a single market in north America. There is no reason why people who tie themselves to a single currency that proves to be unhelpful should do better--in fact, they will probably do worse--than those who trade in that single market with a currency that is adjustable. It is important that the single market should be a real one.
Let us examine what is on offer in the Dutch provisional treaty for Maastricht on the economic and monetary union aspect. What is on offer is that we should be able to have an exemption, but there are four or five defects in the nature of that exemption of which the House should be aware.
First, we shall have to be subjected to the monitoring and scrutiny of our budget deficit. The right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) and others have rightly found that objectionable in a sovereign Parliament. The ultimate remedy of discipline, such as fining us or stopping us having grants, would not be available if we had the exemption, but the whole panoply of a public rocket to the Chancellor of the Exchequer about the size of his budget deficit would be found highly embarrassing by hon. Members, and they would resent it if it ever happened.
Secondly, in the preamble to the draft treaty which concerns the principles, there are strong and unequivocal aspirations towards adopting a single currency. Under Community law, that puts a tremendous onus on us to behave in conjunction with that ultimate objective and ultimately to join. People have criticised my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) for allowing the Single European Act to go through because of the preamble. Is not the lesson from that that we should take note of the preamble to the Dutch treaty and that we should wonder whether the preamble should be altered so that it does not apply to those who are exempt ? The draft treaty brings in the full panoply of the treaty of Rome and the whole legal apparatus to enforce compliance with the preamble.
Thirdly, it would automatically fall to us to contribute to the grants, which might be massive, that have to be paid from rich to poor even if we were exempt. I stand to be corrected by the Financial Secretary if I am wrong. I believe that the grants would be paid under the structural fund, the social fund and the regional development fund to which we are already signatories and paid-up members--or paying-out members. Whatever excesses resulted from a single currency among the 11, with ourselves being exempt, bills of billions of pounds might land on us for us to subscribe to an enterprise in which we were not taking part. That cannot be right, and I hope that the Financial Secretary will deal with that point when he winds up.
The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) referred to eastern Europe. It cannot be
Column 333right to say that we will build this tight, centrally controlled structure with what is really a common economic policy, run centrally from Brussels through the Economic and Finance Council and through the independent central bank, and to expect the Poles, the Hungarians, the Latvians and who knows who else, to be able suddenly to put their currencies into that system. That would delay by decades the time when we can welcome them on board.
It is not impossible to see membership for those eastern European countries in a short number of years, but if we were to proceed to the single currency described in the Dutch treaty, we should essentially make those countries second-class citizens for decades. We should confine them to taking what is handed out from Brussels, which the European Free Trade Association countries have been forced to accept. Those are the defects.
The future course of Europe will be decided at Maastricht, and important decisions will be made. We should show the type of Europe that we want. It is curious how near we are to unanimity in the House. We want a Europe open to all, we want a free trade area which is open to the world, and we want freely co-operating nation states within that system. If we were to sign up to the concept of the single currency, even if we had an exemption, we should find that we were living with a lie. We should be living with a principle with which we disagreed. That is why I hope that my right hon. Friends will bring back from Maastricht something better than what is on the table from the Dutch.
Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield) : Three points about the debate have interested me. First, there is fundamental agreement among the three party leaders. The Prime Minister is on the eve of negotiations so he has to be cautious. The Leader of the Opposition, who hopes to take over, can be bolder. The Liberal Democrats, who are far from office, can be quite clear about their objective. There is no disagreement about the idea, that we should move from the original membership of the community through the Single European Act to something stronger. Secondly, a degree of caution has emerged from people who, when they discussed the matter 20 years ago, were far more uncritical. Thirdly--I say this with some satisfaction--21 years after I urged a referendum, I have won the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) and the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) to my cause. I had to wait 21 years, but it has been worth waiting for some recognition of the fact that the people have a right to a say in their Government.
I do not want to go over old ground, because this is not a question of yes or no to the status quo ; we are looking to the future. Some people genuinely believe that we shall never get social justice from the British Government, but we shall get it from Jacques Delors. They believe that a good king is better than a bad Parliament. I have never taken that view. Others believe that the change is inevitable, and that the common currency will protect us from inflation and will provide a wage policy. They believe that it will control speculation and that Britain cannot survive alone. None of those arguments persuade me because the argument has never been about sovereignty.
Column 334I do not know what a sovereign is, apart from the one that used to be in gold and the Pope who is a sovereign in the Vatican. We are talking about democracy. No nation--not even the great United States which could, for all I know, be destroyed by a nuclear weapon from a third-world country--has the power to impose its will on other countries. We are discussing whether the British people are to be allowed to elect those who make the laws under the which they are governed. The argument is nothing to do with whether we should get more maternity leave from Madame Papandreou than from Madame Thatcher. That is not the issue.
I recognise that, when the members of the three Front Benches agree, I am in a minority. My next job therefore is to explain to the people of Chesterfield what we have decided. I will say first, "My dear constituents, in future you will be governed by people whom you do not elect and cannot remove. I am sorry about it. They may give you better creches and shorter working hours but you cannot remove them."
I know that it sounds negative but I have always thought it positive to say that the important thing about democracy is that we can remove without bloodshed the people who govern us. We can get rid of a Callaghan, a Wilson or even a right hon. Lady by internal processes. We can get rid of the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major). But that cannot be done in the structure that is proposed. Even if one likes the policies of the people in Europe, one cannot get rid of them.
Secondly, we say to my favourite friends, the Chartists and suffragettes, "All your struggles to get control of the ballot box were a waste of time. We shall be run in future by a few white persons, as in 1832." The instrument, I might add, is the Royal Prerogative of treaty making. For the first time since 1649 the Crown makes the laws--advised, I admit, by the Prime Minister.
We must ask what will happen when people realise what we have done. We have had a marvellous debate about Europe, but none of us has discussed our relationship with the people who sent us here. Hon. Members have expressed views on Albania and the Baltic states. I have been dazzled by the knowledge of the continent of which we are all part. No one has spoken about how he or she got here and what we were sent here to do.
If people lose the power to sack their Government, one of several things happens. First, people may just slope off. Apathy could destroy democracy. When the turnout drops below 50 per cent., we are in danger.
Mr. Benn : As my hon. Friend says, in the United States turnouts are very low. That is partly caused by the scale of the country. The second thing that people can do is to riot. Riot is an old-fashioned method of drawing the attention of the Government to what is wrong. It is difficult for an elected person to admit it, but the riot at Strangeways produced some prison reforms. Riot has historically played a much larger part in British politics than we are ever allowed to know.
Thirdly, nationalism can arise. Instead of blaming the treaty of Rome, people say, "It is those Germans," or, "It is the French." Nationalism is built out of frustration that people feel when they cannot get their way through the
Column 335ballot box. With nationalism comes repression. I hope that it is not pessimistic--in my view it is not--to say that democracy hangs by a thread in every country of the world. Unless we can offer people a peaceful route to the resolution of injustices through the ballot box, they will not listen to a House that has blocked off that route. There are many alternatives open to us. One hon. Member said that he was young and had not fought in the war. He looked at a new Europe. But there have been five Europes this century. There was the one run by the King, the Kaiser and the Tsar--they were all cousins, so that was very comfortable. They were all Queen Victoria's grandsons, and there was no nonsense about human rights when Queen Victoria's grandsons repressed people. Then there was the Russian revolution. Then there was the inter-war period. Then there was the Anglo-Soviet alliance. Then there was the cold war. Now we have a Boris Yeltsin who has joined the Monday Club. There have been many Europes. This is not the only Europe on offer.
I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) is a democratic federalist, as is my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes). They want an American-type constitution for Europe. It could be that our laws would hang on which way the Albanian members voted. I could not complain about that, because that is democracy, but it is unworkable. It is like trying to get an elephant to dance through a minefield, but it would be democratic.
Another way would be to have a looser, wider Europe. I have an idea for a Commonwealth of Europe. I am introducing a Bill on the subject. Europe would be rather like the British Commonwealth. We would work by consent with people. Or we could accept this ghastly proposal, which is clumsy, secretive, centralised, bureaucratic and divisive. That is how I regard the treaty of Rome. I was born a European and I will die one, but I have never put my alliance behind the treaty of Rome. I object to it. I hate being called an anti-European. How can one be anti-European when one is born in Europe? It is like saying that one is anti-British if one does not agree with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. What a lot of nonsense it is.
I ask myself why the House is ready to contemplate abandoning its duties, as I fear it is. I was elected 41 years ago this month. This Chamber has lost confidence in democracy. It believes that it must be governed by someone else. It is afraid to use the powers entrusted to it by its constituents. It has traded power for status. One gets asked to go on the telly if one is a Member of Parliament. The Chamber does not want to use its power. It has accepted the role of a spectator and joined what Bagehot called the dignified part of the constitution, leaving the Crown, under the control of the Prime Minister, to be the Executive part.
If democracy is destroyed in Britain, it will be not the communists, Trotskyists or subversives but this House which threw it away. The rights that are entrusted to us are not for us to give away. Even if I agree with everything that is proposed, I cannot hand away powers lent to me for five years by the people of Chesterfield. I just could not do it. It would be theft of public rights.
Therefore, there is only one answer. If people are determined to submit themselves to Jacques Delors, Madam Papandreou and the Council of Ministers, we must tell the people what is planned. If people vote for
Column 336that, they will all have capitulated. Julius Caesar said, "We are just merging our sovereignty." So did William the Conqueror. It is not possible to support the Government's motion. I have told the Chief Whip that I cannot support the Labour amendment. I invite the House to vote against the Government's motion and not to support a motion which purports to take us faster into a Community which cannot reflect the aspirations of those who put us here. That is not a nationalist argument, nor is it about sovereignty. It is a democratic argument, and it should be decisive in a democratic Chamber.
Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher) : The right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) made an extremely powerful speech. It throws up an interesting possibility which we shall not have the chance to explore. If my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) was still in her former position and the right hon. Gentleman had not been passed over for leadership of the Labour party, perhaps we would now face the possibility of a Finchley-Chesterfield coalition.
I differ from the right hon. Member for Chesterfield on the powers of the House. Many of the powers which he attributes to the House have been taken away from us, not by our choice but as a result of changes in the world. Many decisions about monetary policy over which the House would like to have control have not been made by the House in the years that I have been here--which is few compared with the 41 years of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield.
Early in the right hon. Gentleman's career in the House, many of the powers to which he assigns great democratic importance were taken away by the process of the market and the relationship between nation states. Money now moves through the exchanges 24 hours a day. The Chancellor of the Exchequer cannot suddenly decide that British monetary policy will be such-and-such without paying any attention to what is happening elsewhere in the world. The Chancellor does not ask the House what we should do about monetary policy : he tells us what he is doing. He tells us that he might not like to take a certain step but that interest rates in America are changing, the yen is changing on the world market, the deutschmark is doing this and the French franc is doing that.
It is no good deluding ourselves that we can hang on to something that we do not have. It is much more important to seek ways of overcoming the deficiencies in our control over our national affairs. That has been best achieved by the European Community, despite its faults and the justifiable criticisms that I and many others make. It has ensured the peace of a turbulent continent and the prosperity which acted as the catalyst for the changes in eastern Europe. It was not just the defensive alliance that made that change, important though it was. It was the catalyst provided by the proof that nation states could come together and co-operate not only politically but economically.
The Community enshrines 12 nations--340 million people. It was proof that a liberal, democratic, free-market system was infinitely superior morally and in terms of performance to that which existed in the east.
The origins of the Community were political. They were an attempt to avoid what happened after the first world
Column 337war as a result of the treaty of Versailles, when the French and others tried to impose stiff conditions on Germany. In a generous gesture, the French understood that they could not do so again after the second world war. They decided that they had to try to build structures which would enable Germany to recover without its recovery impinging on French security. If they were to achieve that, it could best be done through common institutions. The House made a classic mistake in the mid-1950s, because we thought that they could not achieve it. We thought that the free market was sufficient as a way for nation states to join together. We were wrong, and the price of our error was that the early character and developments in the Community were not under our control. When we eventually joined in the 1970s, we had not formulated the rules.
Quite unashamedly, the reason that I hope our Prime Minister gets the deal at Maastricht on the conditions that he has laid down, not under any conditions--that is what only the Leader of the Opposition would do--is that I do not want us to make another great error. We have a remarkable opportunity, and that is often not realised in this country. The German Government are prepared to do a deal on the deutschmark, on German foreign policy and on many other aspects of German power because they do not want Europe to return to a battle over spheres of influence. Germany does not want the changes in eastern Europe to be turned into a battleground for western European countries.
The German Government are prepared to give up something and, along with the other 10 countries, they are even prepared to say to the British, "We want you to help us formulate the rules of this club on economic and monetary union, but you do not have to commit yourselves to joining it." That is a remarkable deal. Whether we debate some of the finer points about what might happen pales into insignificance. We have the right to join later ; we do not have to join now. That is a clear option and I am sure that it will be achieved. When the details come forth from Maastricht, I am sure that there will be no binding conditions on this country.
Many hon. Members who do not believe, for example, that we need fiscal harmonisation as well as monetary union could argue over the details, but the reality is that within the context of what we are achieving it is a great benefit to this country and we would be sorely wrong if we did not seize it, if we can get in the negotiations what we want.
The same is true of foreign policy. We are not being asked to give up all control over foreign policy, any more than the French would wish to give up control over their foreign policy. We are being asked to try to find common ground with our Community partners, and, if we do so, not to be held up by any one member over detail. That is a solution, albeit not yet perfect. Incidentally, it is important to me that it is not under the full weight of the treaty of Rome, but is on an intergovernmental, parallel basis, as part of a wider treaty of union. Therefore, I support what the Government are doing. This is a terrific opportunity for us to ensure that our voice, on world affairs and on the great uncertainties that exist close to western European lands, is heard on a basis
Column 338of coming together to make agreements between countries. If that can be made effective, we shall all feel that we are not only more influential but are likely to be safer.
We should view these big opportunities positively and not merely as negative encroachments on powers that we no longer have in reality. The British Government have a voice in world affairs, but clearly that is because their voice is used to influence countries which are in union with us so that when we go to the United Nations or try to seek solutions to crises we can do so as an effective, combined force. The objectives of the British Government can be better secured by encouraging other people to back us within the Community. That is the definition of a common foreign policy. It does not mean that the Foreign Secretary is tied and must silently do what someone else wants. We should be more proud of our strength of argument than that.
There is a possibility of achieving a Community which can sort out problems that, as many people in this country recognise, are no longer confined by national borders. we have achieved a remarkable development through the objectives that we set out in the Single European Act--an internal market of 340 million people, growing to 380 million with the inclusion of the EFTA countries. People can move between countries. Opportunities are opening up for companies and for people of all ages.
It is inevitable that measures flow from that which will affect the entire Community. After all, it is because of a British initiative that that has been achieved any way. The Government should be trying to ensure that decisions are taken on an enabling rather than an interventionist basis. Of course, we should oppose the imposition of controls which prevent proper competition. That would deny the basis of the success, to date, of a liberal, free-market economy. However, we should not deny the possibility of a Community level of decision-making which, by setting a framework and ensuring by subsidiarity that it is carried out by national Governments, can make Europe richer, better, environmentally safer and a better place in which to work, for all our people.
That is another goal. It is the goal that is opening up at Maastricht. We should seize that opportunity, and we are close to achieving terms of which the House would approve.