Previous Section Home Page

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent) : Will the hon. Gentleman, in his eloquent address, put an estimate on the cost to this country of the efforts that we had to make--when we had, as he believes, our full sovereignty--twice this century to restrain the exercise of national sovereignty by those who are now our partners in Europe?

Rev. Ian Paisley : That is an irrelevant question, because we could have wars again in Europe. Indeed, a bloody conflict is now occurring, yet the EC is not handling that properly. The right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees), a former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, gave a warning to that effect. Surely we


Column 487

shall not have wars among ourselves? I thought that the Germans had been regenerated and that the French had been converted. Are we not all good friends and neighbours? It appears that the hon. Gentleman's question is totally irrelevant to the debate.

The British Government need not go cap in hand to Europe. We have five strong bargaining points. First, the United Kingdom is one of the major contributors to the EC budget ; secondly, this country is the only net consumer in the EC of many of the agricultural products that are currently in surplus ; thirdly, Britain is overwhelmingly a net importer of EC manufactures ; fourthly, this country is the most important provider of fishing waters forming the EC's common fishing policy ; and fifthly, the United Kingdom is the only EC country sufficient in energy. Those are all vital bargaining counters. In view of that, and the references that have been made to the strength of NATO and Western European Union, we should not be going cap in hand to Europe.

It is regrettable that in this House and Strasbourg there seems to be a desire to divide the people of this nation rather than to strengthen the hands of those who are negotiating for us. When I was in Strasbourg yesterday, the leader of this country's socialists, Mr. Ford, pleaded with the Council not to allow the British Government to dictate terms to the whole of Europe. "Do not let them cripple our common future," was the point of his argument. If Jacques Delors has his way, our nation will be not a cripple but a corpse.

7.49 pm

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian) : It would have been surprising if the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) had enthused on anything based on the treaty of Rome. However, it is a happy day for a Member for East Lothian to be able to support a Labour party motion in a debate on the European Community. It has not always been thus, as old friends of John P. Mackintosh may recall. This interesting debate can perhaps best be described as a re-run of an old debate between little Englanders and British Europeans. In the old days, the debate within the Labour party was between sceptics, who feared that the European Community would remain forever a market for the benefit of the strong and privileged, and the Euro optimists, who believed that Europe could develop into a Community with social priorities. On one occasion, when I got carried away, I expressed the view that, to deal with the problem of multinational capitalism, we needed multinational socialism and that the European Community was the way to achieve it.

Happily, the doubts of the Euro-sceptics--or most of them--in the Labour party have been overtaken by the social charter, regional policy, environmental initiatives and the drive towards a fairer, broader and more democratic Europe. Surely democracy and the need for democratic accountability are crucial to this debate. There cannot be good government in a democratic society without genuine and credible accountability.

There is a growing democratic deficit within the European Community, as collective powers have developed and accumulated within the Council of Ministers and the Commission. We must redress that


Column 488

deficit. At the same time, to the eternal shame of this House, we have lost local, regional and national accountability in Britain as more and more powers have been centralised in Whitehall. In Scotland, that democratic deficit can be summed up as nine uncompromising Tories imposing their will, despite the fact that they are comprehensively outvoted by the other 63 elected members of Parliament from Scotland. That should be regarded as the basis of a constitutional crisis by any standards.

While we are safeguarding the rights of nations within the European Community, we must follow the Germans and Spaniards in providing democratic accountability and safeguards for the nationl and regions within Europe's conglomerate states. I remind the House that Britain is not and never has been a nation. Rather, it is a union of nations, which the Government have not respected in recent years. The principle of subsidiarity must not stop at Westminster but must go further.

Many Conservative Members have drawn great inspiration from the dreadful speech by the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) in Bruges in 1988. The speech included the following passage of awe-inspiring hypocrisy :

"To try to suppress nationhood and concentrate power at the centre of a European conglomerate would be highly damaging and would jeopardise the objectives we seek to achieve. Europe will be stronger precisely because it has France as France, Spain as Spain, and Britain as Britain, each with its own customs, traditions and identity. It would be folly to try to fit them into some sort of identikit European personality."

The right hon. Member for Finchley--the second hammer of the Scots--tried to fit the Scottish nation into an identikit Thatcherite personality that was totally alien and abhorrent to most of our national customs, to our traditions and identity. She spent her premiership concentrating unprecedented power at the centre of her Whitehall conglomerate, yet there she was, whingeing about the supression of nationhood.

The supression of historic nations is a dangerous business, as we see in many parts of Europe today. The House would do well to recognise that, within the next couple of years, Scotland will have its own Parliament for a people who overwhelminghly aspire to have home rule within the United Kingdom and direct access to European institutions on the same basis as the German Lander and Spain's national regions.

I appreciate that this debate must be difficult for many people from all political persuasions in England. It must be difficult for English people to reconcile themselves to sharing powers with other nations after such a long history of independence and, latterly, of dominating other nations. But history is marching on, and not even England can opt out of the reality that is developing in Europe. It can stand on the sidelines while everyone else moves on but it cannot stop the process. This is not the Flat Earth Society but the real world, and we should take part in it.

The House could learn a little from Scotland's experience in 1707, when the rulers of Scotland were persuaded--or perhaps bribed--to enter what was described as "an incorporating union" with England. It was very controversial. There was to be a common market, a monetary union and a political union. It left many important national institutions secure--the legal system, the banks, the Church and the administrative structure, but the one fatal flaw was that we sacrificed our


Column 489

Parliament. Otherwise, that union has been a tremendous success, with shared resources and opportunities, and great achievements over the years. However, the lack of parliamentary accountability over the Executive in Scotland has now degenerated into a running sore, particularly as the political priorities of our two nations have increasingly diverged in the past 50 years.

Increasingly, Scots look to European institutions for protection against the excesses of an unaccountable British Government. This Parliament is supposed to apply democratic scrutiny and accountability to Scotland's national administration, but it does not do so. Under present circumstances, it cannot do so.

The great totem of this debate seems to be the sanctity and sovereignty of this House. It has been described over the years as the Mother of Parliaments but in recent years it would be more appropriate to describe it, for so many of our citizens, as the ugly sister. What sort of mother inflicts a poll tax on its people ? What kind of scrutiny system allows a poll tax to be inflicted on a nation? There are lessons to be drawn from that.

There are fundamental flaws in our democratic system, both in the United Kingdom and the European Community. Major constitutional reforms are long overdue and I welcome the fact that the Laour party is leading the debate in those areas. If the House is to rise to the occasion of this debate, it should tell the Prime Minister to go to Maastricht and work positively toward economic convergence and monetary and political union with the European Community, even if it involves going in the direction of federalism. We must also take radical steps to correct the democratic deficit in the European Community and the United Kingdom. The Prime Minister will not do that, but the Labour party will.

7.58 pm

Mr. Julian Amery (Brighton, Pavilion) : There has been a galaxy of talent in this debate from the Front and Back Benches, but the most important speech was made outside the House of Commons yesterday--by Mr. Delors in Strasbourg. The words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) about our being on a conveyor belt to federalism were still ringing in my ears when I picked up the morning papers and read that Mr. Delors had said that Ministers had betrayed everything and that there was no federalism left in the proposals contained in the Council of Ministers' draft. The British had undermined them.

I rubbed my eyes and wondered what it all meant. I then thought that it would be rather fun if MI6 had suborned Mr. Delors and persuaded him--I do not know how--that perhaps he should stop being a federalist. Or was he throwing dust into the eyes of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister so that he would think that he did not have to work so hard ? On analysing the speech, I concluded that it was a real cry of anguish from a man who is a genuine federalist and saw his whole work in danger of being betrayed.

Those of us who are frightened of federalism should take heed of the entirely opposite view expressed by Mr. Delors. He said that the Council of Ministers was betraying the principles of the founding fathers, by whom he meant Jean Monnet and the Demochristian leaders--Adenauer, Gaspari and Schumann--who were genuinely federalist. However, they were not the only founders.


Column 490

Winston Churchill was the man who started the process. He thought of European union as something like the old British Commonwealth as defined in the Statute of Westminster. Why did he think that? People often forget that, at the beginning of the century, we offered Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Newfoundland a federal empire with a single Government, single navy and total free trade--money did not enter the debate, because we were all on the gold standard. Those countries turned down the offer. So we developed the idea of a Commonwealth, although we did not call it that in those days. In the first world war, in the treaty of Versailles, in the slump of 1929-31 and in the second world war, these countries worked together with us to such an extent that we constituted between us a sort of super-power.

De Gaulle shared Churchill's view. He put it in his caustic way that he wanted to see a Europe on English lines but without the British.

Mr. Delors got it wrong. He said that no intergovernmental group had ever been successful. It is curious that a Frenchman should have got it wrong, because, without the Commonwealth, France probably would not have won the first world war and would not have been rescued from the second.

There have been two great strands of European thinking : the federalist and the union of states, represented by the British and the French. I do not believe that either strand will prevail. A balance will be struck between the two, but at present the balance is wrong. The Council of Ministers should be the Cabinet of Europe and the Commission should be its secretariat, with the Parliament supervising the Commission's work.

President Giscard d'Estaing got it about right when he would not let Roy Jenkins come to the Ministers' dinner and said that he had better come for the cigars and coffee afterwards. We have allowed the Commission to get too much power into its hands. My right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) saw the danger clearly, but made a mistake by demonising Mr. Delors. She should have crossed swords not with a civil servant, but with the Chancellor of Germany or the President of France, who were her opposite numbers. She made the mistake of building up the image of Mr. Delors.

We need to strike a balance somewhere in between--we need more institutions than the old Commonwealth had, but certainly not a united states on American lines. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe) said yesterday when he quoted Churchill, we are planting a tree--I would call it a forest--not putting together a bit of machinery. That tree will grow in its own mysterious way, and when we look back on it we shall be able to say that it is neither a federation nor a confederation, but something new, based on new constitutional forms, which have not yet been devised.

We must remember that behind my right hon. and learned Friend's vision, which I share and hope to try to convey, there is a basic fear. The movement to European union came out of a fear of Germany. That country was down, but there was a fear that it might revive, and revive it has. There are now 80 million--if one includes Austria, not far short of 90 million-- Germans. Under de Gaulle and his successors, the French thought that they were the jockey who controlled the German horse. But once the wall fell, all that changed, and we now have not a Paris-Bonn axis, but a Paris-Berlin axis. Is that feasible?


Column 491

I remember sitting in the gallery of the French National Assembly in 1954. The French Parliament was then a Parliament, not what it is today, and the Assembly would not accept the plans for German rearmament unless Britain also participated in it. Mr. Herriott was a large man--I remember him well--and it was because of his speech, in which he said that the French would not enter the process unless the British also did so, that the British Government made their proposal for the Western European Union. This was the real foundation of Europe.

The problem is to know how to cope with the greater Germany. There are two ways in which to do so. We took the first option in 1954, when we decided to bring Britain more fully into the European combination. The French would not agree to German rearmament without British participation, so we had to play our full part--if Britain, France and Germany came together with the other European countries, that would constitute an important beginning. Beyond that process, the enlargement of Europe is the key. I am not against deepening and strengthening the combination, but we must bring in northern and eastern Europe. This is our "new frontier". We must do everything to encourage eastern Europe into the Community ; nothing must be done to exclude it. My impression is that the Government understand those points well, and on that basis I support the Government tonight. 8.7 pm

Dr. Dafydd Elis Thomas (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) : It is a privilege to follow the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery), and I am sure that we all appreciate his historical references : he speaks with the experience of having participated in the processes, particularly the second great European civil war, the starting point of the Community.

Another fascinating aspect of this two-day debate is that there have been interesting divisions of opinion across the Floor of the House which are not reflected in the motions. We can see the different emphases placed on issues by the various parties and the problems faced by them in adjusting to the changes taking place in mainland Europe. Whether we use the metaphors of forests or pillars in the debate about ever closer union, the fact is that there is a moving together of the economic, environmental, social, cultural and political strands towards a greater convergence, and we must decide how we relate to that process.

My passport is in my breast pocket near my heart. It is not there is case I have to leave the country urgently, but because it is smaller than the old British passport and fits there more conveniently. It is a pleasant, burgundy colour, and the first words in it are "European Community". I have no problem with a notion of being a European citizen. That phrase is repeated inside the passport in nine languages, one of which, Irish, I recognise as a Celtic language. It is closely related to one of the languages that I speak, Welsh.

Beneath the words "European Community" the passport states : "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland"

--the name of the state of which I am a member. However, the name of the state does not coincide with the description


Column 492

of my nationality. The machine-readable plastic on the back of the passport states "British citizen". The birthplace of this particular British citizen is given as Carmarthen, although the authority that issued the passport was the passport office in Liverpool. The complexity of location, identity and administration does not cause me a personal identity crisis. I feel an affiliation simultaneously with all those different centres of administration and levels of government --European, UKanian, British, Welsh and English regional. I have no difficulty with the idea of unity in diversity, which is what I believe the tower of Babel was about--without going into detail on the theological references of the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley).

Like the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson), I have always viewed the political structure of the United Kingdom in a diverse way. The United Kingdom is a multilingual, multinational, multicultural, multi- ethnic state. With its diversity and variety of people, it has always been so. All the people of these islands, including people whose families moved here from the new Commonwealth countries, are citizens of Europe. This is not an island race and never has been.

Europe has changed and will change through population movements and through cultural and social changes. This is a subject on which I can speak with authority, because the Celtic culture of which I and other hon. Members are living exhibits is being celebrated this year at a marvellous exhibition in the Palazzo Grassi in Venice which is entitled "The Celts, the Origins of Europe". The Celtic experience in these islands proves conclusively that languages, identities and cultures can and do survive within state structures in which they are not properly represented.

I would have no fear for the future of the English identity, although some English Members seem to have such a fear, as we move towards greater European unity. Such a unity will be based not on the model of the United Kingdom as a unitary state, but on the model of European federalism. I agree with the points made earlier that the likely outcome of the debate on Europe about federalism and nation statism would fall somewhere between the two.

I mention federalism because part of our difficulty in the debate is an understanding of the terms arising from different political traditions. The debate about European union is seen by probably a majority of British people--and certainly by a majority of British politicians--through our experiences of being inside a unitary state in which political power is seen to be located in one place. If we think, as so many hon. Members do, that political powers exist only in one place--that is, here--then when those powers are transferred or seen to be exercised elsewhere, it appears as a threat to sovereignty. In that sense, the British notion of sovereignty differs from that of our European partners because that definition of sovereignty arises from our parliamentary history and procedure. Arising from that understanding of sovereignty there is a misunderstanding of the definition of federalism. Those who live not in a federal system but in a unitary state cannot apparently understand the notion that political powers can be organised in other ways. For example, within the German federal model, which was imposed upon Germany by the United States and the other allies, there are clearly defined levels of powers and responsibilities. Each level of government is, as it were, sovereign in its


Column 493

area of competence, and that brings us to that other concept with which the House seems to have difficulty, the concept of subsidiarity.

As the hon. Members for East Lothian and for Durham, North (Mr. Radice) said, because the United Kingdom is a unitary state, local government--or what is left of it--regional administrations and the national territorial offices, Scottish Office, Welsh Office and Northern Ireland Office, are all creations of the Westminster Parliament and can be abolished by it, as were the metropolitan councils and the Government and Parliament of Northern Ireland.

Mr. Brian Sedgemore (Hackney, South and Shoreditch) : And the GLC.

Dr. Thomas : Yes, and the GLC.

That could never happen in a federal system, because, on the mainland, federal system, the powers of local, regional and national authorities and the powers of state governments at all levels are guaranteed as constitutional rights. Subsidiarity is precisely about that. It is about not carrying out functions at multinational level which can be better carried out at member state level, and about not carrying out functions at that level that can better be carried out at national, regional, or local level.

Subsidiarity is the essential principle of how federalism works, operating according to levels of power. Not surprisingly, as Jacques Delors has said, subsidiarity

"comes from a moral requirement, a limit to interference from a higher authority vis a vis a person or a community".

Of course the term has its roots in the social doctrine of the Catholic Church--the need to disperse human political power in a fallen world. I shall not take that theological debate any further. It is in those contexts that we need to understand the vocation federale as it appears in the Luxembourg draft. It is a process, an ideal, a desire. The fact that the United Kingdom, with its parliamentary system, has a different culture and tradition arising out of the particular history of the unitary system does not make our traditions morally better or more politically effective or efficient. The principle of parliamentary sovereignty has more often blocked than aided the possibility of popular sovereignty. It has made it difficult for politicians and parties to deal seriously with the relationship between citizens and the state and, in particular, the relationship between different parts of the state and its centre. I am not the only one who argues that the unitary state in the United Kingdom is the preservation into the 20th century of a constitutional order designed for the 17th century. Tom Nairn beautifully described it when he said :

"the state is like the advanced passenger train, a 21st century vehicle intended to run on existing tracks."

What has been said in the debate about parliamentary sovereignty only covers up what has really happened in terms of Government centralisation and corporate decision-taking elsewhere. Our political traditions themselves are now in crisis, and part of that crisis is reflected in the debate. I ask the House not to prevent us from resolving that crisis by refusing to contribute actively to the political culture of that Europe of which we are an integral part.


Column 494

8.15 pm

Sir Michael Marshall (Arundel) : I shall not follow the line of the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Dr. Thomas) because in a sense he has made one of the points that I would have made, which is simply that he reflects the United Kingdom and the fact that, as part of a union, we should understand some of the arguments in a wider sense than is sometimes suggested in the rather navel-contemplating activities which sometimes characterise our debates.

As a confessed Euro-enthusiast, I came to the House to help secure entry to the Community, but I have my reservations and shall touch on them in a moment. There has been a sense of deja vu about much of the debate. Those in favour of membership of the Community are broadly still in favour and those who are against are still against. In that sense, we have not learnt anything new, I do not share the worries of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) about the terms of the motion.

As I look at the complexities of what will be considered at Maastricht, I am convinced that we are exceptionally fortunate to have in my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary representatives of our Parliament and country who will bring back an agreement that is acceptable to the House and the country. However, I should like to draw to the attention of the House and the Government one or two worrying matters. I shall deal first with the role of our Parliament and people and our industry, and then deal with the role of Europe and the wider world beyond.

In terms of the role of our Parliament, I agree with those who feel that it is our responsibility to give leadership and not to fall back on referendums and seek in some way to arouse a great argument in the country which I do not think is there to be aroused. Despite my best endeavours, it is quite difficult in my constituency to attract people to a discussion on the issues before the House. There seems to be a general feeling, in some ways a slight sense of fatalism, that we are in and will not come out. In that sense, some moves are inevitable and we look to our leaders to achieve the best deal that they can--that is the general sentiment.

In considering some of the difficulties, I should like to take into account the views of our business and industrial communities, because little attention has been paid to them in the debate. In the real world, business is years ahead of us in carrying through what the process of being a member of the Community implies. In terms of multinationalism in Europe, we should consider what is happening to large parts of British industry and the effect of flows of inward and outward capital.

We speak in many old-fashioned ways about the British share of the market or about some kind of quota arrangement, but such matters are no longer relevant. I shall take two examples from within or near my constituency, the first of which is Matra Marconi. In its activities, whether in the defence market or the space market, it is difficult to define what is the British share. The shares depend on how the various constituent plants in that company carry out their contractual obligations, and the earnings from these share-outs are spread out across the company and reflected in investment patterns. In horticulture, which is important in my constituency, joint British and Dutch companies are a major feature.


Column 495

The argument that we have had about the Dutch subsidies for heating and so on begin to drop away when we see the shared resources, shared opportunities and shared employment that can come from such joint ventures. My test of Maastricht is to ask how and in what way will the decisions being made assist the broad industrial development of Europe--naturally that includes Britain--while being realistic about what the multinational industries that we are developing mean to us all.

The House will understand why I now move on to deal with a wider world. I am especially concerned that some of the aspects of the proposals for Maastricht will raise the hurdles and make it more difficult for countries in central and eastern Europe and the Baltic states, quite apart from the EFTA countries which have fewer problems, to accede to the EC. Therefore, I was glad to hear my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary speaking about the pace of change. I still think that we have been driven at a faster pace than would have been sensible, and that we should have had an opportunity to bring in slightly wider membership before getting into this rather closed shop.

In that regard, I strongly urge the political case for bringing some of the countries of central and eastern Europe into the Community very soon. I am sure that this view is shared throughout the House. The ending of the cold war must be replaced by an alliance wrapped round with hoops of steel. We want to ensure that those countries that are increasingly moving not only into multi-party, democratic ways of government but into a free market are brought without our system. We can then concentrate on the remaining problems.

I believe that we shall see the accession of EFTA countries, bringing with them in their train, because of their special links, the Baltic states, and the pressures will accelerate. However, that process will be inhibited by some aspects of the Maastricht proposals, and that is why the detailed way in which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister outlined our position, rejecting and resisting some aspects of those proposals, was helpful.

In that widening of the Community, we are being observed by the newly emerging democracies, not just in Europe but in Africa, Asia and Latin America. We have to find ways within the developments in the Community to assist in the process of democratic and economic development. We have to consider the imbalance of world trade, and we must come back to the GATT question. These are some of the background pieces of the argument that we tend to ignore as we narrow in on what is mainly a domestic debate.

I should have liked to touch on many other aspects of the matter--the future role of the Commission, the European Parliament and, as I said in an intervention, the question whether we are suffering under the six-month rule of presidency moving around--that need to be debated once again. The structure by which we approach some of these questions is far from ideal. However, when we look at the world at large, I hope that we can reflect an outward-looking attitude for Europe, not only towards eastern and central Europe but to the many other questions that remain to be resolved. For example, one third of the world has the problem of too much food and two thirds of it is at or below survival level.


Column 496

These broader questions must be considered if we are not to be too Eurocentric in our arguments. I have the greatest faith in my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary. I hope that, even at this late hour, the Opposition will realise, if they see themselves as serious contenders for government, that there is much to be said for all parties coming together. When we travel abroad, parliamentarians across party lines can be effective and punch our weight. Sometimes when we have internal arguments such as those of the past day or two, we lose some force and credibility. With that plea, difficult though it may be in an election year, I thank the House for listening to my speech.

8.25 pm

Sir Patrick Duffy (Sheffield, Attercliffe) : It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Arundel (Sir M. Marshall). However, I know that he will understand if I do not dwell on his remarks. I wish to recall the speech of the right hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson), in which he argued that the debate should have a financial approach and should not be guided by Foreign Office or security considerations. He reminded me of Thomas Hobbes's classical work "The Leviathan", in which it is argued that there is no instinct more profound than security in the conduct of human affairs. That is where my concern lies.

I hope that the House will bear with me if I explain my long-standing attachment to Europe. I am one of the few remaining Labour Members of Parliament who defied the party whip on 28 October 1971. However, unlike my hon. Friends who incurred a censure motion or just a rebuke, on a Wednesday night during the following month of November, I had to travel up to Sheffield to face a sacking motion. After a crowded meeting that lasted for more than four hours, I survived by only five votes. That long debate, which had gone on all summer and into the autumn and had been conducted, as some hon. Members will know, in the constituencies as well as here, bit into my soul. I could have regarded the referendum option then as a convenient bolthole, but I did not. I have never doubted that the role of a Member of Parliament worth his salt is to stand his ground, defend his corner and stand by what he believes.

Despite the long-standing attachment to Europe, I now see that a Europe that co-operates whenever possible and agrees to disagree when no common ground can be found is more desirable. I have backed off a federal preference. Because of my experience, I see that we cannot stand on the sidelines while others frame new structures, whether they are economic, political, social or, given my special interest, defence. On the other hand, the difference within Europe on that emerging architecture remain so profound that I can see no alternative to the intergovernmental treaty approach and its implied perception or a European "temple with columns" as against Mr. Delors' "tree with branches".

This preference is confirmed by a brief examination of the prospect for a European community defence policy. We are all aware that the nature of the threat to the security of Europe has changed dramatically. There is a recognition, in the face of potential instability to the east and to the south, of the need for the western alliance to remain strong. It would be dangerous to undercut NATO's sole responsibility for the defence of NATO territory. We need to renew, not replace, the security guarantee that NATO has given us for the past 42 years.


Column 497

We should also ask ourselves whether we will be prepared to foot the bill for going it alone without the Americans, as if Europe could do so without America's satellite and intelligence network or its transport facilities. I was surprised when the right hon. Members for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) and for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) said that there could be an independent European pillar within the alliance, perhaps within the foreseeable future.

NATO is an alliance which has stood the test of time and also won the confidence of former members of the Warsaw pact. Only a month ago a Soviet figure as senior as Mr. Yuri Deryabin, the Soviet deputy Foreign Minister, was endorsing NATO as the security organisation for all of Europe and seeking formal ties. Yet a clear division has emerged in recent weeks between leading members of the alliance on how a revitalised and reinforced the Western European Union should link NATO and the political arm of the EC.

Most member countries would like to have it both ways--to conserve NATO and its strong links with our north American allies and, at the same time, like the right hon. Members for Old Bexley and Sidcup and for Yeovil--I understand why--they want to give Europe a more pronounced role in its own defence. But the two objectives are not easily reconcilable in practice, as the sharp exchanges over the merits of two rival plans, one British-Italian and the other French-German, have demonstrated.

Britain and Italy want the WEU to be used solely for operations outside the NATO area, thus complementing the alliance and avoiding duplication, while France and Germany have envisaged a corps which might operate both inside and outside--although how that will be done remains unclear.

However, the Rome summit was useful, as the Prime Minister told the House yesterday, in laying down the parameters within which it is feasible for the Europeans to work out their defence co-operation and avoid this particular dilemma. Whether the problem has really been disposed of was the subject of my intervention yesterday in the Prime Minister's speech and today in the Foreign Secretary's speech. Let me explain why.

The Prime Minister played a prominent and commendable part in Rome in devising an agreed framework for a stronger European defence identity within the alliance. He secured agreement among NATO leaders, including Mr. Mitterrand, that NATO had a continuing role to play as the main decision making forum on defence matters in Europe. But might the isolation of Mr. Mitterrand on this question bode ill for Maastricht when the issue of a common European defence policy will be back on the agenda? The 11 : 1 vote in Rome against Mr. Mitterrand on this question is not yet reflected in NATO parliamentary circles, as the hon. Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith) who leads the United Kingdom delegation to the North Atlantic Assembly knows.

Hon. Members from both sides of the House were unable to secure agreement in London a year ago on out-of-area activities--the intended role of the new-look WEU. Nor did they succeed in disposing of the Franco-German proposal at their Madrid meeting before the Rome summit.

Furthermore, Mr. Mitterrand refused formally to acknowledge the primacy of NATO at that summit. Why


Column 498

Not? Neither could he agree to a separate NATO declaration on the Soviet Union and the danger of nuclear proliferation. Why not? At whom was President Bush's admonition directed?

Will it be enough for the Prime Minister at Maastricht, as he implied yesterday, to wave the NATO summit document in Mr. Mitterrand's face if the French leader makes any further move to separate Europe's defence responsibilities from NATO? Clearly, there may be scope and need for further bilaterals before Maastricht. Thus, whatever pillars may be involved eventually in the construction of the European temple, it is obvious that a defence pillar that is exclusively European cannot be seen as practical and workable. Nor is it considered desirable in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Nor is there support anywhere in Europe for a policy which might cut across NATO or duplicate its military structure. The security structures that we choose must be properly thought through and practicable. They must avoid duplication and must in all forms be complementary to NATO. That approach is not possible in a federal context. It can only be realistically pursued on the basis of intergovernmental treaties.

8.34 pm

Sir Norman Fowler (Sutton Coldfield) : The House listened to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Sir P. Duffy) with interest and with some admiration, knowing his record on the European issue. I have listened for almost 13 hours to virtually all the speeches that have been made during the past two days, and they have brought back two memories. First, they have brought back memories of my time as a Minister negotiating in Brussels. The highlight occurred while I was at the Department of Transport. In those days, responsibilities were divided between the Department of Transport and the Department of Trade, which looked after air transport. Thus, when I went to Brussels I went with the then Secretary of State for Trade, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit). Lunch was organised during a break in negotiations and to facilitate discussions a translator was put between myself and my right hon. Friend. This evening, I needed no translator to understand his message.

The second memory was as a Back Bencher in 1971, when I took part in the debate on entry into the EC and voted for entry. We in the 1970 intake took great interest in the views of others elected in that year. It is a simple statement of fact that two of the most vociferous, persistent and eloquent opponents of the EC then are now the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Foreign Secretary. So we are not entirely prepared to take lectures from the Opposition Front Bench on Europeanism. We hear what they say, but we also remember their opposition to Community entry in the 1970s, their fight to withdraw from the Community in the 1980s and their extraordinary position of subservience today.

Labour's European travels have been one of the greatest political mystery tours of the post-war years. No one knows where the journey is likely to take them next, but one thing that has been made clear by this debate is that no one in his right mind would believe that our negotiations in Europe should be left to the Leader of the Opposition.


Column 499

I speak as someone who voted for our entry into the Community, who supported and supports the establishment of a free and single market and who, like my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, believes that the Community can help to secure a lasting peace across the continent.

At the same time, it would be foolish to believe that the British public are not concerned about some of the developments inside the Community. They are concerned about what they see as an unnecessary interference in our national life. They are concerned about lawless acts being taken to prevent legitimate trade. They are concerned about the Commission for ever seeking to extend its operations. That is not an argument for leaving the Community, but it is an argument for the British public being represented by a tough Government who, while committed to the Community, are prepared and able to fight for the kind of Europe that we want, a Europe where the maximum is left to the nation state.

That is why the Government are right to set out their opposition to a federal Europe. I certainly do not want a united states of Europe, and I suspect that few Conservative Members would. That is why my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary was so right to say that much can be achieved by pure co-operation in, for example, police work, and why he was also right to set out his opposition to an extension of Community competence in areas such as social policy.

Let it be clear what I say about social policy. For example, I believe that employee involvement is one of the great challenges which stand before British industry. I sit on the board of a major company which has a worker director. I do not believe that that is the work of the devil, but such decisions are best decided at national level. We are saying not that employee involvement is in some way wrong, but that such decision making should be at the national, local or company level and voluntary. If a party wishes, for example, to have a minimum wages policy, let it set that out, as I suspect the Opposition will do, in its manifesto and argue it in an election. But it is completely unnecessary to have a Community policy on such things.

Much of our debate has concerned economic and monetary union, and, in particular, the single currency. What we must decide tonight is not whether to accept a single currency here and now, but whether we should reject it here and now, without further discussion or consideration and without allowing the arguments to develop. I confess that, over the past few months, I have not stumped the country advocating a single European currency in every constituency, but it strikes me as absurd to walk away at this stage, for several reasons. First, the Government are set to secure an agreement that will allow us to keep our options open in regard to whether we want such a currency and, at the same time, to influence the eventual outcome. That is a substantial negotiating success, on which the Government should be congratulated.

Secondly, industry would think us mad if we simply walked away. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel (Sir M. Marshall). One of the advantages that we recycled Cabinet Ministers have is an involvement in industry ; of course, some of the unreconstructed Cabinet


Column 500

Ministers have that as well. It is obvious to us that industry now considers Europe to be crucially important : Europe is the home market. We should at least listen when organisations such as the CBI set out the transaction costs of hedging, and all the other costs, and advocate movement towards a single currency. We need not accept the argument in its entirety, but it is certainly an argument against rejection at this stage.

Thirdly, if we walked away now, we should have to accept the probability that the other Community members would form their own agreement. Such an agreement might be outside the terms of the Rome treaty, but it could nevertheless be very effective. That, by definition, would mean that we would play no part whatever in the developments. The Government, surely, are entirely right : by keeping our options open, they preserve our national interests, allowing us to weigh the alternatives when the time comes.

Some now argue for a referendum--and it is fair to add that some proponents of that view do not seek to give voice to a long-held belief in the extension of democratic rights which they have already presented to the country consistently, month by month and year by year ; their real purpose is to find a way of killing anything that comes from Maastricht. If that cannot be done in one way, it must be done in another. There was no referendum on the Single European Act, and I personally remember no clamour for such a referendum around the Cabinet table at which I then sat.

I can say with absolute certainty that, over the ensuing months, it will be Parliament which decides. The crucial issue was identified by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), who rightly said that what the public must decide was which party best represented their interests. Is it the Labour party, which, over most of the past 20 years, has traditionally expressed antagonism to the Community, and which has now attained the uncritical zeal of the convert? Or is it the Conservative party, which took the country into the Community, helped to create the single market and makes it clear today that it will continue to fight for our national interests? No one needs a crystal ball to know the outcome. A few days ago, an opinion poll carried out by ICM showed that, by a margin of two to one, the public preferred negotiations to be conducted by my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, rather than by the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Foreign Secretary.

I am convinced of one thing : that margin deserves to be increased still further following this debate. I think that the public will believe that my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary are exactly the right people to represent our interests in Brussels.

8.44 pm

Mr. Brian Sedgemore (Hackney, South and Shoreditch) : Right on cue, a convert rises.

Undoubtedly, the people in this country who are the most excited about Maastricht are the young. Well they might be, because they have most to gain from the creation of a single European currency and political union. I outlined my views on both those subjects on 15 June 1990 in a 40-minute speech. I shall not attempt to repeat what I said then, for repetition makes bores of us all in the


Next Section

  Home Page