Previous Section Home Page

Mr. Hurd : If the hon. Gentleman had asked about Libya I might have replied, but I cannot reply in respect of the directive that he mentioned. However, as it is clearly an important matter, I shall write to him giving the information that we have.

We are not talking just about the EFTA countries. At Lisbon we also agreed on the importance of relations with Turkey. We have circulated to partners Britain's ideas on enhancing the relationship between the Community and Turkey. We want to discuss at the July meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council how the Community might take these ideas forward. Then we have the bids of two very friendly countries in the Mediterranean--Cyprus and Malta. Those bids have to be considered on their own merits, and we need to develop relations through the association agreements that we have. We expect the commission's opinion on Malta, and possibly its opinion on Cyprus, later this year. I am quite clear that, whatever the result of those opinions, the Community needs a new and closer relationship with Turkey, Malta and Cyprus


Column 984

--a relationship which does not close the door on eventual accession and which, meanwhile, strengthens the practical links.

Then there are the new democracies in central Europe. We should like the Community, by the turn of the century, to embrace those democracies also. The Community is a pole of attraction for all these countries, and at Lisbon the partners endorsed our view that the Community should continue to build its relationships, particularly with Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, whether or not Czechoslovakia divides itself. Agreements with the countries that I have just mentioned have already been signed. They need to be carried through quickly and effectively, particularly the provisions on the liberalisation of trade. We want to conclude similar association agreements with Bulgaria and Romania, and we want to enhance trade and co-operation agreements with Russia and the other main states of the former Soviet Union.

Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East) : While I apologise for introducing yet another burdensome subject for an already overloaded presidency, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether, during this presidency or perhaps next year, we could make a start on the thorny subject of trying to reduce the number of working languages in the Community to three or four? This is especially important in view of the enlargement projects. I am aware of the enormous difficulties that will be involved, but we shall incur incredible expense if we do not broach the subject despite the huge problems there will be in getting agreement.

Mr. Hurd : My hon. Friend is quite right. The system is expensive and cumbersome, and will become more so. It would be a little difficult for the British--I must say "British"--whose language is spoken quite extensively by other people, to put forward that proposal. However, that did not deter the Daily Mail a few months ago. But experience will probably be more effective than would an initiative during our presidency.

There is a second stone that we have been pushing up the hill. Although it has been a rather painful process, we are now making progress with the objective. I shall not say a great deal about it as it falls into the domain of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who will wind up the debate. I refer to future financing. The background has changed for the better. In the old days, whenever financial issues in the Community got difficult it was often suggested that the 12 Foreign Ministers should produce what was called a political solution. That meant a solution that excluded the Finance Ministers and involved spending money that they were reluctant to spend. That is no longer the mood of the Community. The politics of the political solution has changed. What was once regarded as the somewhat eccentric rigour of the British Treasury has become the conviction--indeed, the necessity--of many member states. At Lisbon it was clear that many member states--not just us--are unhappy with the idea of large increases in Community spending at a time of economic retrenchment at home. We pointed out that unnecesary spending could make ratification of the treaty even more difficult. So, during our presidency, we shall be looking for an agreement which respects what was set out at Maastricht on a cohesion fund but which also respects budget discipline and the need for sound public finances. We have


Column 985

all made it clear to our partners that there can be no question of any reduction in the United Kingdom abatement, which has so far been worth more than £12 billion to this country. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor, when he replies this evening, will obviously develop these themes.

Finally, there is widespread interest throughout the Community, and certainly in this House, in the concept of subsidiarity or minimum interference. Let me say something about the background to this.

Mr. William Cash (Stamford) : Earlier this week the Prime Minister made reference to subsidiarity. He said that it was his intention, during the course of his presidency, to ensure, as regards the Community as whole, that we would do everything to bring that principle into reality in the working practices of the Community. Does my hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary intend to apply the principle to the central bank and all that goes with it? At the bottom of the process, at the level that is most important to the citizen, there is the exercise of the vote in the choice of a party at a general election. In effect, that would be taken away by the transfer of economic and social matters to central bankers. Can my right hon. Friend give us an assurance that he will see that that principle is applied to the central bank?

Mr. Hurd : The basic choice is a question of whether there is a single currency and a single bank If we have a single currency and a single bank on which everybody agrees, that will not be a question of subsidiarity. But neither this House nor this country has made that choice, such was the skill of the negotiations conducted by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Mr. Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West) : Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Hurd : No. I want to get on.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) pointed out in his question to me yesterday, subsidiarity goes to the heart of how the Community exercises its authority. How does it get its authority? How and where should decisions be made? The Community is one based on law, and the treaty of Rome set the framework. We, the 12 Governments, take decisions in the Council of Ministers. The areas of policy where such decisions can be taken are set out in the treaty of Rome. That is what is meant by Community competence. Those areas can be extended, as they were in the Single European Act. Within those areas of Community competence, the Commission proposes the draft legislation.

Mr. Budgen : Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Hurd : I will give way to my hon. Friend if he contains himself for a minute or two.

The European Parliament has certain powers to propose amendments to draft legislation, and the Council of Ministers--the 12

Governments--takes the final decision. The Maastricht treaty added limited extensions to Community competence by adding new policy articles to the treaty of Rome. In many respects--perhaps most respects--these were a clarification or codification of existing practice. They showed where the boundaries lay.

But, in addition--and this for the first time--the treaty of Maastricht checked the growth of competence. It did so in two ways. First, it formalised, in the treaty framework,


Column 986

the legitimacy of intergovernmental co- operation between the 12 member states in certain crucial areas of policy-- foreign policy, justice and home affairs. Secondly, it defined the limits of Community activity in some specific areas by precluding what it called harmonising measures, such as those that have caused so much difficulty and controversy in the past.

Mr. Budgen : I am sure my right hon. Friend knows that many of our right hon. and hon. Friends voted for the Second Reading of the Bill following the Prime Minister's assertion that he had obtained a legally binding text on subsidiarity. The impression was given that the intrusive powers of the Community had been driven back in a final and satisfactory way. We now find that a large number of distinguished legal academics say robustly either that it is gobbledegook or that it is wholly unenforceable and, therefore, that the basis upon which many people supported the Bill has turned out to be false.

Mr. Hurd : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for leading me neatly into the next part of my speech. In response to his importunities I gave way just a little too early. My answer to his question will come just a little late--in a minute or two.

The policies fall into three categories--those where the Community has no competence, some important ones of which are defined in the treaty of Maastricht ; those where the Community has exclusive competence, such as the negotiations on the Uruguay round ; and those of parallel competence, where both member states and the Community have a role to play. In that last area, a choice arises over and over again. Should the Community act, or the member states, when action is required? We must apply the principle of subsidiarity against the background of those three policy areas.

Article 3b defines subsidiarity. In its fully developed form, it applies in particular to areas of parallel competence, but it also has a general application, requiring all activity--including activity within the exclusive Community competence--to be governed by the necessity test : any action by the Community shall not go beyond what is necessary to achieve the objectives of the treaty.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister are right : the text is crucial. It will certainly be crucial once the treaty has been ratified, but even before that the principle can be put into practice. That is the importance of the conclusions reached at Lisbon, on which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister reported to the House on Monday. The Heads of State and Government decided at Lisbon that now--before ratification, before there is a legal text--urgent work should be conducted in the Community institutions, particularly the Commission and the Council, to find procedural and practical steps with which to carry through the principle as soon as possible. They have been asked to report to the Edinburgh Council, where I hope that we can make some firm decisions.

At Lisbon, we also called for a review of existing Community legislation rather than a process of simply working out the right way to apply the principle for the future. We called for a retrospective application of the principle of minimum interference. That report will also be submitted to the European Council in December 1993.


Column 987

The Cabinet discussed the work given to the Commission and the Council of Ministers with the full Commission in London yesterday. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister gave the Commission a clear steer, emphasising that nothing would allay the fears of those who questioned the Community more successfully than an effective work programme this year to apply the principle of minimum interference, not just to future proposals, but to existing Community legislation--and to proposals that are in the pending trays, awaiting consideration by the Council. The Commission will be working urgently on that, and I am sure that it is a welcome step.

If the arrangements work as we intend them to, the effect of the principle will be felt not in judgments by the Court in three or four years' time, not in academic or legal argument, but in its practical application in the Community institutions day by day as decisions are proposed and made.

Sir Peter Tapsell (East Lindsey) : I am much reassured by what my right hon. Friend has said about subsidiarity, with which I am sure we all agree. If we could secure a greatly improved text of article 3b which would definitely be enforced by the Community, and which the European Court would not always define in a federal sense, we would be a long way towards achieving what everyone wants.

Let me, however, give my right hon. Friend an example of how the system works in practice. Only a few days ago, the Chancellor of the Exchequer--to his personal chagrin, I am sure--had to come back and report that we would lose the freedom to reduce our VAT rate below 15 per cent. That drives a coach and horses through the principle of subsidiarity : it will give Britain less control over its sales tax than is exercised by any state of the American Union. There is absolutely no reason why we should not be able to reduce our VAT rate. If the recession worsens, we may wish to do so in order to increase purchasing power and demand.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris) : Order. The purpose of an intervention is to ask a question, not to make a statement.

Mr. Hurd : I do not question your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I expect that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will wish to deal at length with my hon. Friend's question when he winds up the debate. It illustrates an important point : in all kinds of matters, of which VAT is certainly one, there is a long history of Community discussion in the context of completing the single market. The issue has not sprung up suddenly in the past few weeks. As my hon. Friend knows, no conclusion has been reached ; but I believe that the ideas advanced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, if they were finally accepted and agreed, would be very much in this country's interests.

Mrs. Edwina Currie (Derbyshire, South) : Does not the whole principle of subsidiarity rest on the ability of Parliaments, and indeed of Governments, to carry out their side of the work? Is that not shown crucially by their ability to implement their promises and to stick to the results of votes that have been held in Parliaments such as this?


Column 988

Mr. Hurd : My hon. Friend has worked that point in very ingeniously, but it chimes appropriately with some of what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has been saying.

What we must do--and it is not entirely easy as we move from generalities to specifics--is work out what the Commission must do as a result of the conclusions reached at Lisbon. What we must do, in the interests of this country, is work out the areas in which action is needed at a European level--for example, in the completion of the single market--and then to ensure that that action is effective. There is no point in ineffective action at a European level. We must then distinguish between such action and acts of interference--whether on the part of Brussels or, consequentially, on the part of Whitehall--that are unnecessary to any substantial European or national interest.

We must identify the division between the subjects with which the Community has recently dealt before the Maastricht treaty comes into effect. We want the Community, the Commission and the Council to pull back from activities and proposals whose purposes could be handled equally well by member states.

When I look at my diary and those of my colleagues, I sometimes find the prospect of the next six months somewhat daunting. We face a huge array of summits and conferences in all parts of the world. That, however, is the least of the pressures that we shall experience. The world is in a disorderly state, and in problem after problem--from Yugoslavia to Russia, and from Russia to South Africa--the EC is expected to play a part for which its institutions and procedures are not yet fully equipped.

Within the Community, there is a huge volume of work to be transacted, but there is one strengthening and reassuring thought. The agenda that is before us for six months is composed, in large part, of issues in which this country strongly believes, such as enlargement, the reduction of interference, a prudent settlement of the Community's finances, a GATT settlement and completion of the single market. Those are not causes wished on us by others ; they are causes in which we strongly believe and which, partly by coincidence, it now falls to us to implement. We shall do that with energy and persistence, supported--I hope and believe--by the great majority of the House.

4.58 pm

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) : The House will have listened attentively to what the Foreign Secretary said about Yugoslavia. He talked of a wish to avoid the attachment to senior or larger European Community members of clients states in the former Yugoslav area. I very much fear that that error has already been made, and that a number of its consequences have led it to tragedy. I believe that it was a serious error for the Council of Ministers to allow itself to be dragged by Germany into making a date for recognition of the republics. The right hon. Gentleman said that that was subject to certain conditions, but Germany, in the interests of the client republics there, made it clear immediately that it had no intention of observing those conditions and would recognise, in any case. That whole process, following the December ministerial Council meeting, has been injurious to Yugoslavia.


Column 989

The recognition of small, unviable states-- unviable both economically and politically--by the European Community and the provision of the cachet of recognition by the European Community has, in my view, encouraged other republics in Yugoslavia to declare their independence. While I would not be so rash as to say that the tragedy of Bosnia-Herzegovina is a direct consequence of recognition, if that decision had not been made six months ago it is possible that Bosnia-Herzegovina would not have been so speedy and so confident in declaring her independence.

I very much hope that this process will be brought to, at any rate, a pause. The consequences of recognition of Macedonia in terms of relationships with both Greece and Bulgaria as well as with Albania could be very serious indeed. I hope that we have learnt some of the lessons from what I regard as a very serious error by the Community because of its failure to think through the concept of a common foreign policy, even though we on the Opposition Benches support the concept of a common foreign policy.

There are lessons to be learned. One lesson--I am glad that the Government have learnt it and I support what the right hon. Gentleman said both yesterday and today--is that military action is more easily entered into than got out of. When I was talking to the incoming Prime Minister of Israel and discussing with him the start of the six-day war--which, after six days, the Israelis won triumphantly--he said to me, "It is much easier to get into a war than to get out of it." At that time he had no idea that the war would last only six days. Going in with force on the ground, without having clear objectives, clear rules of engagement and a clear mandate from the United Nations Security Council, might do more harm than good to the people of the former Yugoslavia and would also place the lives of United Nations troops at risk. I do not see why that should be done, except in an inviolably good cause.

Secondly, sanctions should have been brought in sooner and been much more comprehensive. We advocated that. I am sorry that our advice was not followed.

Thirdly, I believe that the United Nations should have been involved much sooner. It is not that I in any way detract from the role of the European Community, nor do I detract from the praise that I have offered and that I continue to offer for the actions of Lord Carrington, but after the successful action that was undertaken under United Nations authority in driving Iraq out of Kuwait I believe that we ought to have built on the authority of the United Nations that was established at that time. Again I say that all action, whether it be European Community action, or Western European Union action, or action by individual countries, should be taken only under the specific authority of United Nations Security Council resolutions. I very much hope that the Government will take seriously the proposal that has been made by Mr. Boutros-Ghali--it may be that the Foreign Secretary discussed it with him today--regarding a permanent United Nations structure for military intervention. We advocated that two years ago. Even though one has a proprietary interest in the proposal, I believe that if a United Nations structure for military intervention had been available when Yugoslavia began to break up, some of the tragedies that followed could have been avoided.


Column 990

Mr. Roger Knapman (Stroud) : Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Kaufman : I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me for not giving way. This exordium is in response to what was said by the Foreign Secretary. I should like to proceed with the main topic of the debate, having said what I wanted to say to the Foreign Secretary in, I hope, a constructive manner. Time is being lost. It is important that we should not wait for a further tragedy or for another international crisis before a permanent United Nations structure for military intervention is devised and set up in the way that Mr. Boutros-Ghali has sensibly proposed.

The subject of the debate--not that I in any way regret what the Foreign Secretary said about Yugoslavia--is the presidency of the European Community upon which this country embarked yesterday. The presidency gives to the country which holds it the opportunity to stamp its approach on the processes and policies of the Community. It provides the opportunity to advance its own national interest within the Community and to advance the interests of the Community as a whole.

The presidency is a rare opportunity. At present, it comes round only once every six years. Since almost certainly the Community will be enlarged by four new members, and possibly even more, during the next six years, it is likely that United Kingdom presidency will not recur until the end of the century. The presidency is, therefore, an occasion when the United Kingdom Government can propound its own vision of Europe and for Europe, but two obstacles impede a constructive presidency for the United Kingdom.

The first is the lack of a clear statement by the United Kingdom Government of what objectives they seek to attain during the presidency. Almost every day we seem to get a new and different statement from the Government of presidency objectives. In his concluding remarks the right hon. Gentleman gave us a list, some of which, although they have been mentioned here and there, have never been stated before as specific presidency objectives.

On 3 June the Foreign Secretary told us that the Government's priorities included completion of the single market, preparation for enlargement negotiations, finance negotiations and development of closer relations with eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. Eight days later, on 11 June, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in stating what he called the Government's key priorities, had dropped the development of relations with eastern Europe and added very specifically what he called working towards a conclusion on the Community's future financing. Good luck to him, if he can achieve that in the next six months. Eighteen days later, the Prime Minister on his return from Lisbon suggested that his eyes were set on enlargement and that the new apple of his eye was subsidiarity. In the first half of June, the Prime Minister's two principal lieutenants could not spare even a word for subsidiarity when they were setting out what they called the Government's key priorities for the presidency, but now the Prime Minister cannot get enough of it. The problem is that he does not seem to know what it means. He cites and re-cites article 3b of the Maastricht treaty as though it were a mantra. The Foreign Secretary did the


Column 991

same today. But article 3b of the Maastricht treaty states only what the Community should not do. It does not state what member states should do.

The Prime Minister seems to imagine that subsidiarity stops short at national Government level and that there should be no decentralisation below the level of national Government. On Monday the Prime Minister denounced what he called the

"centralising trend which was evident in the Single European Act.--[ Official Report, 29 June 1992 ; Vol. 210, c. 596.] That terrible Single European Act! Is my memory playing tricks when I remember that that political equivalent of the black mass was guillotined with the enthusiastic support of the Prime Minister himself? He was an active acolyte in that act of desecration. The president prom at the Albert Hall on 6 September already includes the choral symphony. I recommend that the programme be augmented by another work by Beethoven, "The Overture for the Consecration of the House", or the reconsecration of the House. Although the Prime Minister now chants the litany of subsidiarity, he clearly has no idea what it means. The hon. Member for East Lindsey (Sir. P. Tapsell) made a pertinent intervention on the Foreign Secretary who, I am afraid, did not offer further illumination.

On Monday the Prime Minister said :

"Subsidiarity means that the test should be that, if it cannot be done at the national level, perhaps it should be done at the European level. If it can be done best at the national level, it should be done at the national level."--[ Official Report, 29 June 1992 ; Vol. 210, c. 589.]

This week the Chancellor of the Exchequer provided an interesting example off the Government's view of what should be done at the European level rather than at the national level--the decision to accept the Community as the arbiter for levels of value added tax. The right hon. Gentleman could have vetoed that because the decision was not taken by a qualified majority vote. It had to be taken unanimously.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Norman Lamont) : The right hon. Gentleman says that I could have vetoed it, but I am sure that he is aware that no decision was taken. In the end, I was the only person to oppose the proposition, so perhaps he will withdraw what he has just said. Also, does he recognise that under article 99 of the treaty of Rome we are committed to the harmonisation of indirect taxes in as far as that is necessary for the internal market? That is something to which he and I, his party and mine, are committed whether he knows it or not--and I suspect that he does not.

Mr. Kaufman : I shall make two points in response to the Chancellor's characteristically courteous intervention. First, he has clearly accepted that subsidiarity is not available here. If subsidiarity is not available, his protesting about it this week seems a vain exercise. While it appears that it is inexorable and inevitable and while it appears, from his own words, that he would accept it, he also said that it did not really matter because we were not going to reduce VAT below 15 per cent. in any case. What we have here could not be said by even the most friendly observer of the Government to be a clear definition of subsidiarity in relation to the setting of tax levels.

Sir Teddy Taylor (Southend, East) rose--


Column 992

Mr. Kaufman : I give way to the hon. Gentleman. I have a feeling that he will make more trouble.

Sir Teddy Taylor : An unnecessary row is developing. Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that article 99 does not say that we are committed to harmonisation? It says that we are committed to harmonisation only in as far as it is necessary to complete the internal market. If the right hon. Gentleman reads Hansard, he will see that during discussions on the Bill we were told that it had no importance whatsoever because Britain did not take the view that the harmonisation of excise duties was necessary to complete the internal market. If he is in any doubt, I ask him please to read Hansard . Many hon. Members voted for the Single European Act--stupidly-- because they did not know. They were told time and time again that it meant nothing at all.

Mr. Kaufman : There are two kinds of Member. The first is like the hon. Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) and the members of my party who opposed the bludgeoning through the House of the Single European Act. The second is like those in the Government who guillotined the Bill and now say that it is a piece of legislation which must be dumped as soon as possible in favour of subsidiarity, even though they cannot tell us what that is.

The Prime Minister does not seem to envisage or to understand that there are many occasions when action is most appropriate neither at the European level nor at the national level. Let me explain what I mean.

We all know that Lady Thatcher had the habit of carrying around her favourite texts which, at a moment's notice, she would whisk from her handbag--before she discovered the technological miracle of the compact disc. I offer the Prime Minister the free gift of a text to keep in his wallet next to his heart. It is a definition of true subsidiarity which reads :

"Decisions should be made at the level (European Community, national, regional or local) where the maximum democratic control and effectiveness is ensured."

That is a proper definition of subsidiarity. It is the Labour party's definition of subsidiarity, and it was devised and drafted by my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson).

As for enlargement--

Mr. Cash : Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Kaufman : I shall proceed a little further.

The Prime Minister made it clear that, for the United Kingdom presidency ending on 31 December, enlargement is little more than an academic issue. Although the Foreign Secretary and the Chancellor have declared that enlargement is a key priority for the United Kingdom presidency, all that the Prime Minister could murmur on Monday was that during our presidency

"unofficial discussions can take place".

Why? He went on to admit that the

"formal accession of any new state could not take place until after the Maastricht treaty is ratified."--[ Official Report, 29 June 1992 ; Vol. 210, c. 593.]

The Secretary of State for National Heritage has circulated an attractive booklet listing the events in the United Kingdom presidency's European arts festival, which includes such delights as the Ashington Eurofest, an international festival of pavement art in Liverpool and a special European children's programme featuring Ooly McDooly. I suggest that some traditional British nursery


Column 993

rhymes should be added to the agenda. When the Prime Minister talks about the date of ratification of the Maastricht treaty, it is appropriate to quote

" When will that be'? say the bells of Stepney"--

although I do not think that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) is in a tearing hurry. The response is, of course,

" I'm sure I don't know', says the great bell of Bow." Nobody knows when the Maastricht treaty will be ratified.

Mr. Cash : In the light of the right hon. Gentleman's brilliant definition of subsidiarity on behalf of the Labour party, can he explain how it is that Labour would be able to implement or, if it were ever in government, to introduce, the notion of a central bank? Would that not be wholly inconsistent with the definition that he has just given?

Mr. Kaufman : That has nothing to do with it. This is one of the rare moments when I believe that the Foreign Secretary gave a satisfactory reply to an intervention on that subject. I support the Foreign Secretary in that reply, because I want to do him the maximum damage with his Back Benchers.

The other insuperable obstacle to a productive United Kingdom presidency, is, of course, the uncertain fate of the Maastricht treaty. At the end of the Lisbon summit, the participants issued their communique , the conclusions of the presidency. It is 49 pages long and includes a section headed "State of the Ratification Procedure on the Treaty on European Union". It is a happy section ; it is pleased with itself. It states :

"The European Council welcomes the result of the Irish referendum."

I am absolutely sure that there was another referendum, but the conclusions of the presidency--the document, the communique --does not refer to it in any way, and nor did the Prime Minister in his statement to the House on Monday. He came back from Lisbon and made a statement to the House but did not so much as mention the Danish referendum.

The European summit and the United Kingdom Prime Minister may regard the Danish referendum as something nasty on the pavement that it is best to walk gingerly round, but walk round it as they may, there it still lies-- although one would never guess that from the Prime Minister's post-summit publicity.

After the Maastricht treaty the Prime Minister's publicity machine said that he had won hands down--game, set and match. It was a triumph. I do not know how long this country can go on surviving triumphs of that sort. The House will be surprised to learn that after Lisbon the word from No. 10 was that that was "another triumph for Major". After the miracle of Maastricht came the Lisbon story. Hon. Members in the age group to which the Foreign Secretary and I belong may remember that famous British musical, "The Lisbon Story", featuring the beautiful Pat Kirkwood, and the hit song from it--"Pedro the Fisherman" :

"Pedro the fisherman was always whistling such a merry call, Girls who were passing by would hear him whistling by the harbour wall"--

presumably, for this purpose the term "girls" includes noble baronesses. The Prime Minister can whistle as much as he likes but, realistically, the tune cannot be very merry.


Column 994

The programme for a promenade concert--it is on 14 August ; get your tickets now--sums up the situation more accurately. That programme includes Mussorgsky's "Songs and Dances of Death", performed by the Danish national radio symphony orchestra.

Immediately after the Danish referendum the Government insisted that it would be business as usual for the European Communities (Amendment) Bill. The Foreign Secretary said that the Committee stage of the Bill would proceed. That afternoon the Committee stage was postponed--

Mr. Hurd indicated assent.

Mr. Kaufman : I take great care to be accurate. I may have got it wrong last time, although I do not acknowledge that I did, but at least the Foreign Secretary admits that I have got it right this time--that is progress.

The Foreign Secretary said that it was made clear that afternoon, in a business statement that did not even mention the Bill, that its Committee stage would not proceed. We have not heard about it since. This afternoon the Foreign Secretary said that we were in a period of pause. The right hon. Gentleman has a genius for turning understatement into an art form. No -one knows when the Committee stage will be resumed. The Prime Minister makes all kinds of noises about having given his word of honour, and being at the heart of Europe. But this week he has at long last publicly begun to come to terms with reality. Yesterday he said about the Bill :

"It would be desirable to finish it by the end of the year, but it is not essential."

In the House on Monday, he was even more specific. He said : "We must wait to see what action the Danish Government take explaining to us how they intend to proceed with the ratification of the treaty. Once the Danish Government do that, we will be in a position to proceed with the ratification here."--[ Official Report, 29 June ; Vol. 210, c. 586.]

Even the Prime Minister now admits that it is pointless for the House to proceed with ratification until we can see a clear way forward from the Danish referendum. That is what Labour spokesmen have said ever since the referendum. The Bill is now inoperable, because so much of it refers to and requires participation by Denmark, and it would be improper to proceed with an inoperable Bill. That is why we have repeatedly asked for a report to the House on the situation following the Danish referendum, and why we have said that, if the Government do not show a clear way forward, yet still attempt to proceed with the Bill, we shall vote against any guillotine motion.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South) : The right hon. Gentleman is making an entertaining speech, but will he make it clear where the Opposition now stand on the Maastricht treaty? Does the right hon. Gentleman hope that it will be ratified, and that the Danes will have second thoughts? Does he hope that the French will support it? He must have a view.


Next Section

  Home Page