Previous Section Home Page

Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. I am sorry, but the 10-minute rule must operate firmly.

Column 1020

7.12 pm

Mr. Mike O'Brien (Warwickshire, North) : I want to address two issues that were raised by the Foreign Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman). The first is the situation in what was formerly Yugoslavia, and the approach of the EC and Britain to intervention there ; the second is the question of ratification of the Maastrich treaty following the Danish referendum.

It was inevitable that the break-up of the Communist regimes in Yugoslavia and eastern Europe would lead to conflict. Too many people were going to find themselves inside borders that they rejected. The process of unravelling the problems of Communism may well take many decades ; in the meantime, we shall undoubtedly witness much human suffering until the various communities have sorted out a relationship and borders within which they can live. It is right for the Government to be reluctant to intervene militarily in that process.

In the United States, the influential senator Richard Lugar, minority chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has called for force to be used in Bosnia. I understand that he discussed the matter with the Prime Minister recently and that the Prime Minister urged caution. The right hon. Gentleman was right to do so. Too often in the past, the Americans have sought to go in and impose a solution, and in Yugoslavia such action could be disastrous. Nevertheless, it is possible to foresee circumstances in which the level of killing will reach such a scale, and the abuse of human rights will become so awful, that some kind of intervention would be required.

I hope that--unlike his predecessor, who is now in another place--the Prime Minister will not feel obliged just to follow the United States. It must be clear to people in this country that, if we come under pressure in the next few months, we should not be involved in any intervention except under United Nations auspices--not the auspices of the Western European Union or the EC. Intervention must be for humanitarian and not political purposes ; it must be restricted to the protection of life, rather than the imposing or deposing of any regime ; any military intervention must be at the minimum level necessary to secure a limited humanitarian objective ; and intervention should take place only after the failure of all other diplomatic methods.

Like many other British people, I know Yugoslavia only from visits to it-- holidays, for instance. It is not "a small country, far away, of which we know little". Many British people will feel genuine concern for the suffering of people in towns such as Mostar, Sarajevo and Dubrovnik, and will know those places from personal experience. The United Nations may well need to take action at some stage. At that stage Britain should be supportive, but such action should be taken cautiously and with reluctance.

At a time when all eastern Europe is in flux, it is even more important for the countries of the European Community to provide a bulwark of stability and reassurance for those beyond their borders. That brings me to the second issue raised by the British presidency. Is the Maastricht treaty to be ratified before the end of the year, following the outcome of the Danish referendum?

The British presidency is in an embarrassing position : it will not be able to carry all members of the Government's party with it on ratification. That difficulty, however, is entirely of the Prime Minister's own making.

Column 1021

Opposition Members take a certain pleasure in observing the withdrawal of the European Communities (Amendment) Bill, and then seeing the Prime Minister threaten his own side with resignation if the Back Benches do not support him later in the year. It is significant that, when offered an opportunity in the House recently to say that that was not his position, the right hon. Gentleman did not take it.

Maastricht is such an important issue that it is incumbent on a national leader to prevent himself from getting into such a situation by ensuring that there is a broad national consensus in favour of his approach to such a crucial matter. There was potential for a statesman to see a broad consensus across party lines ; after all, did not Labour fight the April election on a manifesto that was more pro-European than the Tory manifesto? We wanted Maastricht plus the social chapter. Instead of creating a consensus, however, the Prime Minister took a narrow view, which he outlined in the House on 20 May. He declared then that his Bill was based on Conservative principles.

That failure to reach out beyond the needs of the business community is the central failure of the Government's position. The Maastricht Bill had to be withdrawn because it went no further than the boundaries of the Conservative view of Europe, and the Government could not rely on securing the votes to ensure its passage. That is why Opposition Members who accept that the Maastricht treaty--as signed by the majority of European states-- is worth while are unable to support the Bill that the Prime Minister seeks to take through Parliament. That Bill leaves British workers with fewer rights than European workers. Perhaps inward investment will come to the United Kingdom because of a freer market, but the worst business men always create sweatshops and like less regulation. The best business men ensure that they provide good conditions on which to give workers a real investment in the future. Labour has decided not to vote for a sweatshop Britain. The social chapter opt-out means that that is what Britain could become. In our view, Europe must be more than a Europe of bankers and business men. It must be a Europe for working people, too.

At the centre of the European ideal must be the desire to reach out to everyone, to ordinary people, and to say to them, "You are part of this, too. The opportunities are yours and the benefits can be yours." It must not be a Europe for the few, in which the many benefit only from a trickle- down theory of economic prosperity. If we are serious about Europe, we must show that it reaches out, touches and benefits everyone directly by improving standards in the workplace.

The Prime Minister's Maastricht is therefore a polo mint treaty : the middle has been knocked out of it. The centre is missing. The social chapter was a way of making that agreement beneficial, in real terms, to everyone. That is why, as the Prime Minister struggles during the presidency to find a way out of the Maastricht dilemma, he should seek no succour from this side. The Prime Minister's view of Maastricht is too narrow and too mean for us to give him succour. If the Maastricht Bill is not approved by the House by the end of the year, it will be the Prime Minister's fault. There need be no rush by the Opposition to set out our view on all the issues, such as a referendum. Let us wait and debate the issue. Let us watch the Prime Minister's

Column 1022

discomfort. But let us be clear : Labour should not vote against Maastricht if the Danish problem can be resolved. The temptation to do so for tactical gain must be resisted.

Labour Members of Parliament were elected on a pro-European manifesto. To abstain because the Government's Bill is a narrow, mean document is one thing. To vote against a treaty that Labour could have supported by opting into the social chapter would be wrong, in the light of our manifesto commitment. It would raise the whole question of Labour's sincerity on Europe. It would also mean voting against some of the benefits that Maastricht still brings, despite the Government : majority voting in the Council of Ministers on various issues that could benefit British workers ; increased democratic accountability through the European Parliament by its scrutiny of the budget and its approval of the President and the Commission. Labour would also lose the option of, perhaps, one day ensuring that the social chapter becomes law. We should also be voting against the principle, which I believe is important, of subsidiarity.

On Monday the Prime Minister committed the British presidency to defining what he called in the House the general principle of subsidiarity. Subsidiarity is now at the centre of what he will try to achieve during the next six months, but he should have found out what it means before he signed the treaty. His failure in negotiating the treaty was due to the fact that before he signed it he did not seem to know what subsidiarity meant, and now--

Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. I am afraid that the axe falls impartially on both sides of the House.

7.22 pm

Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test) : I heard with horror in this Chamber a few weeks ago that we are going to have Delors for another two years. Knowing the man as I do and the work that he has done in Europe and knowing also that each Head of State elects his Own Commissioners and that there are 17 Commissioners, I ask, "Is there no talent there ? Is there no contest at all ?" Will Mr. Delors want another two years at the end of the next two years ? I was amazed when I heard that Mr. Delors was our choice. I do not blame the Treasury Bench. It was a fait accompli in Lisbon. There was no other candidate for one of the supreme jobs in Europe. My protest goes no further. I know now that there has to be a pulling together behind the Prime Minister while we have the presidency of the European Community. [Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. There is a hum of conversation again. Those who carry on conversations while they are seated may find that it is difficult to catch my eye at a later stage in the debate.

Mr. Hill : The rejection of the Maastricht treaty by the Danish people in their referendum--the shock waves went through Europe and, luckily, through Mr. Delors as well--has brought about what I believe to be an adequate breathing space. It gives us time to reflect on the nature of the Maastricht treaty. Since the treaty was put together by several committees, it must surely be possible to polish and enhance it between now and the end of the year. We must give the Danes room to manoeuvre and time to reconsider their rejection of the Maastricht treaty. If we do not do so, there will be disharmony in the Community.

The mood of most British people is that they do not want to be ruled by a higher, centralised authority. When

Column 1023

I was a Member of the European Parliament, we had the most terrible arguments in 1973 over a common driving licence for a Community of, as it was then, nine. There has always been disagreement. That is the crux of the problem. Euro-sceptics will, I believe, support me when I say that people want decisions at that level to be made by their own national Parliaments.

The Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Foreign Secretary are going to have a very tough six months. The Edinburgh agenda will contain some very emotive issues. We are assured that Mr. Delors and this country are now on the same side. There is an amusing cartoon in the Evening Standard today. The Prime Minister and Mr. Delors are shown playing tennis on the same side of the net. That is impossible. There will be friction and increasing disagreement as Mr. Delors gets over the traumatic shock of the Danish referendum. Urgent consideration must be given to five issues. First, there must be minimum interference by the Brussels Commission. Britain wants subsidiarity so that power can be retained by national Governments and not given to bureaucrats in Brussels. Secondly, we all want the single market to be completed. The Twelve are desperate to dismantle trade barriers by the end of the year. That is a worthwhile goal. Thirdly, there must be a refusal to sanction increased spending ; agreement must be reached about funding and about providing aid for the poorer nations. Fourthly, we want the Community to be enlarged. Britain wants Sweden, Finland, Austria and Switzerland--all European Free Trade Association countries--to become members of the Community as soon as possible.

The Select Committee on the European Communities in the other place has published a report on enlargement of the Community. It refers to the fact that, of all the nations that have applied for membership of the Community, the first application was made by Turkey, with a population of nearly 57 million. The next is Austria, with almost 8 million people who want to join, and so it goes on. The difficulty is whether to have a Community full of wealthy nations or whether the wealthy nations should support the poorer nations. One must be explicit about that in enlarging the Community, because there are already problems.

There has already been a request from Portugal for a 30 per cent. increase in the budget. That has been pushed to one side for the moment, but it will always be there. As enlargement of the Community continues, more and more money will be needed to carry out what is necessary for regional planning and development, for the transport infrastructure, new ports and shipping. That must come if one brings in the smaller nations. The difficulty is that there are two or perhaps three nations which are in a position to pay more than their percentage. The ambition to enlarge has been a problem for many years. The ambition to enlarge the Community from nine to 12 was bad enough --it was enlarged from six to nine--and at least seven other countries now wish to join.

I am definitely opposed to a referendum. We are sent to the House to make decisions. It is terribly easy to get out of making decisions by calling for a referendum, but that is not the House's way. The difficulty facing my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and the Foreign Secretary is that the Maastricht treaty must

Column 1024

survive in a way that allows the Danes to vote on a new treaty. The newspapers are querying whether the Danes, under their constitution, can go back on their decision, but I am sure that they will be able to do so if they are offered a new, polished treaty.

Another problem is that we are to have a single market at the end of the year. The other day I said that the Institute of Freight Forwarders would certainly need some assistance in the single market. Many other categories will need similar assistance. We do not live in a world which ignores its minorities, so I plead for that assistance.

7.31 pm

Mr. Denzil Davies (Llanelli) : The Prime Minister was recently reported as describing the European Commission--no doubt in a moment of frustration--as a "voracious super-state monster". It is not only the Commission but the very notion and institution of the union which makes it a voracious super-state monster. As the United Kingdom embarks on its rather brief presidency, with its round of dinners, cocktail parties, special neckties which, we read, are being distributed by the Foreign Office for participants and, no doubt, trips to Kew Gardens for the women, the monster devours on. At Maastricht it ate practically the whole of monetary policy and gobbled up fiscal policy and, indeed, most what is left of economic policy.

While the Prime Minister was swooning--and he is still swooning--over subsidiarity and while the Foreign Secretary assured European women that he, the Foreign Secretary, was no spiv--I must say the use of that word dates him--the poor Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has never shown great enthusiasm for the monster, had an arm chewed off--or, if it was not chewed off last week, certainly it will be next week when he agrees on behalf of the Government never again to reduce value added tax below 15 per cent.

For the past 20 years I have sat here and watched three Conservative Governments, led by the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath), the Baroness and the present Prime Minister respectively, sign three treaties which have all nurtured and emboldened the monster of union. I suppose one could call the 1972 treaty of Rome "Jaws 1". The oddly named Single European Act 1986, which is a treaty not an Act, was "Jaws 2". We now have "Jaws 3"--the treaty of Maastricht. The job is almost finished. "Jaws 4" will not be long--in 1998 or 1999 we shall no doubt have the final European Act, and then we can all go home.

The characteristic of the Conservative party in relation to the three acts of union has been that of self-delusion, whether contrived, artificial or real. The treaty of Rome was marketed to the Conservative party as a measure which would rejuvenate the British economy, dish the socialists and the unions and put Britain at the head of Europe. The Baroness deluded herself that the Single European Act would unleash an army of entrepreneurs into the heart of a dirigiste continent, preaching and baptising as it went. Qualified majority voting was conveniently forgotten, ignored or not noticed. As we have heard today, the present Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary--since the Danish referendum the poor Foreign Secretary looks as if he is suffering from what I understand is now described as post- traumatic stress syndrome--are now deluding themselves that

Column 1025

subsidiarity will be the great vehicle for stopping the monster gobbling more and more, despite the massive centralisation involved in economic and monetary union.

The Tory party's history has been one of self-delusion all along. As for my party, many of my right hon. and hon. Friends become zealots when faced with the monster. There are still some here--perhaps two or three--who were with the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup when he started the long march towards European union in 1972. Indeed, I believe that two or three helped to hold up the standards of legions when it seemed that the official standard bearers found it rather diffficult. Some other hon. Friends joined a bit later but now they are lustily marching with the legions, singing the old campaign songs as they go to the ultimate triumph at Brussels.

To assist the Prime Minister--I hope that it will not happen--and to help the standards of Maastricht would be a mistake for the Labour party. In my humble opinion--I say this with no malice or disrespect--to do so would mean the permanent abandoning of some of the fundamental beliefs and principles which have been the cornerstones of the Labour party's political philosophy.

The demands of Maastricht are very severe. Maastricht demands a central bank as the sole controller and arbiter of monetary policy. That has never been the Labour party's policy. Maastricht demands the pursuit of price stability which in the end can only mean nil inflation, at the expense of all other economic goals, including a reduction in unemployment. Again, I submit that that has never been my party's policy.

Maastricht demands restrictions on public expenditure way beyond the restrictions of good sense and good judgement because such restrictions are to be written into the rule of law and into a treaty. Again, that has never been the policy of the Labour party. Finally, there are the regions. We Labour Members of Parliament mostly represent the old industrial areas of Britain--Wales, the North of England and Scotland.

Mr. Enright : And Yorkshire.

Mr. Davies : I include Yorkshire in the north of England, although if my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Enright) wishes me to do so I shall mention Yorkshire separately.

The old industrial areas of Britain are declining. To alleviate and ameliorate economic and monetary union those areas would need a massive transfer of funds from the centre, such as could be accommodated only by a European income tax and a European value added tax. That will not happen.

Under the Maastricht treaty the older industrial areas of Britain get nothing, not even from the social cohesion fund. There is a fund, but it is for the poorer areas of the Community such as Ireland, Spain, Portugal and Greece. There is nothing for areas of the Community such as Wales, Scotland, the north of England--and Yorkshire--which will suffer grievously from the concentration and centralisation of currency and of power over money. We get nothing, so even on the ground of regional policy I see no case for the Labour party to support the treaty.

To add insult to injury, we shall have to pay into the new social cohesion fund to assist Ireland and Spain. The people of the declining valleys of south Wales are generous, but they will be asked to contribute to a social fund for Spain, Portugal, Greece and Ireland. If our

Column 1026

people are to be asked to contribute to alleviate poverty I would rather we helped to alleviate the real poverty in the world--in Ethiopia, for instance, and in Mozambique, Sudan and the other countries which are really suffering.

There is nothing in the Maastricht treaty that requires the Labour party to throw overboard the fundamental principles on which it is based. Maastricht is not worth it. Let us not help the Prime Minister to carry it through.

7.41 pm

Sir Teddy Taylor (Southend, East) : Despite the fact that I have only 10 minutes to speak, it would be wrong not to pay tribute to the superb maiden speech of my hon. Friend the Member for

Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant). Those of us who heard him know that he spoke not only with great sincerity but with great clarity. He did not use a note, and obviously felt things deeply. If I had to criticise that new hon. Member, it would be because he sought assurances.

The problem in all our European debates and discussions of the legislation has been that hon. Members have sought assurances and have been given them, the legislation has been passed, and then we have found to our horror that things are not exactly that they appeared to be.

The Single European Act provides many examples. People were told that there was not much in that measure ; it was simply a move towards free trade. Yet now we find that there is a power to legislate by majority vote on a whole range of human activities. Time and again assurances have been given--on VAT, for example. I was astonished to hear the Chancellor of the Exchequer say earlier in the debate :

"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"- -

my right hon. Friend was talking to a Labour Member

"his party and mine, are committed".

Let us look back at what was said at the time. We were told, "Don't worry about it. We have a veto. We can stop anything that we want to stop. And we do not need to harmonise taxes to achieve the internal market." If anyone doubts that, he must look back and read what was said. Sadly, we are constantly being consoled with assurances and with little words. Remember all those words about fighting a federal Europe. Goodness knows what those words meant--a federal Europe would be far better than what we have now. Then there was all that nonesense about subsidiarity. We all know in our hearts that there is nothing in the legislation to achieve that. Subsidiarity is a form of words which every lawyer to whom I have spoken says means very little.

It is very important that over the next six months the Government have a duty to inform people, to tell them what the score is. The first thing to tell people is that Maastricht is not small stuff. The Bill is not a small Bill which will not affect people, and subsidiarity will not sort it all out. Maastricht is huge stuff. It is a huge surrender of sovereignty. I was amazed to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Sir P. Hordern) say that the single currency was not bad because we used to have the gold standard, and was that not a good idea because it kept inflation down? Of course it did. We used to have Bretton Woods, so inflation was kept down. I remind anyone who agrees with my hon. Friend that the gold standard brought certain problems of which we are aware, and I advise them to read the treaty. If people

Column 1027

read it, they will realise that this will not be simply a question of a gold standard, to which we, as a democratic Government, try to adhere. The proposition is that a central bank will be appointed for eight years, and will not be subject to control by anybody. The Government are not even allowed to make representations to the central bank ; nor are the trade unions or local authorities. The bank will run the show, and it will tell my hon. Friend the Member for Horsham and all our colleagues in government to stick to a particular borrowing requirement or a particular industry. If we do not do as we are told, we shall be fined as a nation--we shall be in a position more pathetic than that of the smallest rate-capped council.

I ask all hon. Members not to give the impression that Maastricht is small business. It is huge business. It means that our Treasury ceases to be effective. Effectively, all decisions on economic affairs will be transferred to the central bank.

Again, we have been given assurances, such as, "Isn't it great--Britain has not committed itself to a central currency?" We are supposed to rise up and cheer, to say, "Hooray! Isn't that great!" If we are tied to a single European currency by the narrow band of the exchange rate mechanism, what freedom shall we have? It will be the same silly freedom as was provided by the Scottish pound note. Where is the freedom of the Scottish Treasury? There is none. The idea is a load of rubbish. [Interruption.] Of course, it is lovely to have a Scottish pound note, and it is lovely to have lovely ladies from the Scottish National party here, such as the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing), but the fact that Scotland has its own pound not does not mean that it runs its economy. I ask the Government to get the facts across to people, and to stop hiding them.

I do not say that in a narrow way. Let us consider the European legislation. It all pours through the House, and we cannot do anything about it. It used to be debated on the Floor of the House after 10 pm, and some Members used to talk about it and complain. That had to stop. European legislation was shoved down to the Standing Committees. We were told, "Don't worry. They will be broadly based Committees, and all strands of opinion will be represented. It will be lovely." In fact, Standing Committee A lasted for one year--and now look what has happened to it. All the Euro-sceptics are out. They have all been kicked out of the door--I am one of them. The Committee now consists of people who are basically of one point of view. I am sure that they are nice, genuine people who are kind to children and dogs--but that is not democracy. It is totally wrong. The same applies to parliamentary questions-- [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) may consider this funny. If he does, I suggest that he goes to the Table Office tomorrow and asks what is the size of the current mountain of butter and beef. He will be told, "I am terribly sorry ; you cannot ask that now." Let my hon. Friend ask what the deficit in trade with Europe is. He will be told, "I am terribly sorry ; you cannot ask that now. You will find that in computers now." That is wrong, and contrary to every principle of democracy. Questions cannot be asked and laws cannot

Column 1028

even be revealed. The Guardian reveals this morning that a massive important new step in immigration is being taken, but we shall not hear about it.

If we accept that Maastricht is a big thing, why cannot we ask the people of Britain? It is wrong that they are not being told. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire asked the Government for an assurance that we were not moving into a single centralised Europe. I am sure that the Government will tell him, "Don't worry. We shall not move into a centralised European state." But under Maastricht there is to be a common European citizen. Every one of us and all our friends and neighbours will be citizens of a European union. All economic policy will come out of a central bank which nobody controls. There will be a massive transfer of extra powers to the European Community. If all that is to happen, we shall already have a centralised European state. People in Britain might want that, and if they want to vote yes that is fine. But if we force people into that state without consulting them and telling them all the implications, they will wake up at some stage and will be very angry.

I have listened to all the stuff about Yugoslavia and about how the EEC will make a positive contribution. I plead with people to consider Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union and other places where people have been forced together without being consulted, against their wishes. At some stage they get extremely angry.

I hope that, in the future, the Government will not be the mugs of Europe. Because we tend to be nice people, because we are mainly Conservatives, we tend to try to keep to the rules. I urge people to consider what has happened with the European fighter aircraft. In fairness to the EEC, that grand project was a matter between certain European states. It is a shame that the EFA was not an EEC project, because we could have kept on building those aircraft and shoved them into a food mountain under the common agricultural policy. Germany came to an agreement with us, but then pulled out because that was in the interests of Germany. Sadly, we sometimes forget that within the great EEC there is a need to look after ourselves.

I appeal to the Government and to the Chancellor, who I accept as one of the most decent chaps that I have ever met in politics. I am not saying that in a silly way ; I believe it. Will the people of common sense in the Government please, please wake up while we still have the opportunity to do something about the economy? Our economy is bleeding to death. We have a massive public sector borrowing requirement--the biggest rate of borrowing that one could ever dream of. I am sorry that the Chancellor has to go to the market to borrow all that money. Our balance of payments is at a disastrous level and the level of unemployment is appalling.

I recognise those problems, all hon. Members do, but we do not want to talk about them because there is nothing we can do. We cannot reduce interest rates because of the wretched exchange rate mechanism. How is it logical for anyone to pretend that the currency is worth something which it is not worth? How can we then deprive ourselves of the opportunity to do anything about that? I accept that we should have a feeling of charity towards others, but such thinking is against common sense. It is against everything that the Conservative party stands for. It is also against everything that Labour stands for. I believe that all the parties should wake up.

Column 1029

7.51 pm

Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) : I have listened with some interest to this debate, which is like so many that we have had on this issue. We must remember that there is a real world outside the House. It is a real world where the German economy is the dominant economy of Europe. We must recognise that international trade patterns are dominated by the development of large companies that move resources around the continent and the world.

From listening to some of today's speeches one might be tempted to think either that the EC does not exist or that it is about to be set up. One could be forgiven for thinking that this debate centres on whether Britain should be a member of the Community. I say that as someone who campaigned for the no vote in 1975. But we must recognise that the world has changed, that the Community consists of 12 countries, that it is a magnet to other countries in the east and that, potentially, it could consist of up to 25 countries. We must decide what is in Britain's best interest. Surely it is not in Britain's interest to pretend that we can opt out of international processes without damaging consequences for our economy. I am critical of many aspects of the Maastricht treaty. If it had been negotiated by a Labour Government, it would have been far better. The Labour party would not have put before the House the Bill that has subsequently been withdrawn because the Maastricht treaty would have been better in the first place. My party would have presented not a Maastricht-minus Bill, but the full Maastricht Bill. Many of my hon. Friends and I face a dilemma and I suspect that our voices are not as loud in the Chamber today as they are within our party. We do not want progress towards a social Europe, which would act as a counterbalance to the free market of the treaty of Rome and the Single European Act, to be stopped in its tracks. We want to continue that process to achieve a balance to counter the free market ideological approach that some Conservatives favour. That is why they favour the opt-out.

As the European Trade Union Confederation said in its statement after the Danish referendum, it is crucial that we do not stop the progress towards a social Europe. We must try to accelerate that process and strengthen the social and democratic aspects of the Community as a means of counterbalancing the free market process. I do not agree very often with the Evening Standard, but today it called for the European Parliament to be given the right to initiate legislation to counterbalance the power of the Commission. We should consider such a proposal, because it is clear that we will be unable to have a truly democratic community if we simply leave decisions to the Commission and the Council of Ministers. It is clear from its new immigration proposals that that Council is quite happy to do things in secret.

We must use the democratic institutions of the Community. Our Parliament, the Parliaments of other member states and the European Parliament must work together to return power to the people. Our country has no written constitution, and it has no rules about spending and advertising on various campaigns. The real exponents of democracy are not those who call for a referendum, but those who believe in parliamentary control at appropriate levels. That means giving more powers to national

Column 1030

Parliaments and the European Parliament so that the institutions of the Community and the Council of Ministers are subject to control. It would be a terrible mistake if the Labour party supported a call for a referendum. My opposition to referendums rests on the view put forward by the best Prime Minister that we ever had this century. On 24 May 1945, when deputy Prime Minister, Clement Attlee wrote to Winston Churchill :

"I could not consent to the introduction into our national life of a device so alien to all our traditions as the referendum, which has only too often been the instrument of Nazism and Fascism". If one gives a Government the power to write the questions and set the rules, one knows what the answer will be. There might be a different outcome in countries such as Italy where citizens have initiative referendums, but that possibility is not open to us. I suspect that the Conservatives will come up with the idea of a referendum to get out of their problems, because they know that they will be able to get the result that they want. Nevertheless, I do not think that anyone in the Opposition or anyone who believes in democracy should support such a device.

The way in which we, the Opposition, resolve our dilemma depends on the Bill that the Government produce. If they produce a Bill that is the full Maastricht treaty, I am sure that there will be a strong feeling of support for it among my hon. Friends, although, of course, we have some criticisms of it. If they produce another

Maastricht-minus Bill, that could cause more difficulties for me and my hon. Friends. The Government must decide on the type of Bill that they want to introduce, but I do not believe that anyone should expect the Labour party to solve the Conservative party's internal problems. I, for one, will not go into the same Lobby as the racists and xenophobes of the Tory right wing, and nor will many of my hon. Friends.

We are presented with a great opportunity. My hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice) has written a perceptive book about the failure for many years of British politicians of all parties to seize the opportunities presented in Europe. If we take the wrong decisions during the six months of the British presidency and if we drag our feet and try to undermine the processes going on in Europe, we will be left behind once more. I have no doubt that the Franco-German economic and political co- operation linked to the Benelux countries and the countries of central and eastern Europe will continue. That process is inevitable. We have a choice : to be part of an alliance with the French, Italians and others to try to influence the current processes, or to become simply part of the deutschmark zone by default. That is our dilemma and our choice. I hope that we take the right decision.

7.59 pm

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford) : As this is the first time that I have spoken in this Parliament and under your chairmanship, Mr. Deputy Speaker, may I congratulate you on your assumption to office? If you continue to chair our proceedings through the dinner hour and late at night, I fear that you will have to hear from me more often than you might choose.

I want to begin by referring to one or two points that have been made in the debate because they are points that I would otherwise have made in my speech. I agreed with

Column 1031

the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) when he said that the European Community made a serious mistake when it permitted the recognition of Slovenia and Croatia prior to their negotiating their way out of the state of Yugoslavia in a peaceful, sensible and orderly manner.

That card was given away by the Community's intergovernmental pillar on foreign affairs that is contained in the Maastricht treaty. When my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary appeared before the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, he said that he had not wanted to break the unity of the European Community, even though he had given evidence earlier that he was not in favour of the recognition of Slovenia and Croatia, those two small, unviable and uneconomic republics. However, I severely disagreed with the rest of the speech by the right hon. Member for Gorton.

The right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) made a rather optimistic speech. If I heard the right hon. Gentleman correctly, he seemed to believe that the Danish referendum had caused the juggernaut of Europe to stop. The Maastricht treaty was approved in the Folketing with 157 votes in favour and 22 against. In other words, the Parliament, the Government and the Social Democratic party in Denmark approved the treaty. However, the treaty was lost in the referendum when 50.7 per cent. said no and 49.3 per cent. said yes. I suggest to the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney that that is a very narrow buffer for the juggernaut.

During our presidency of the Community, I believe that my right hon. Friends will explain and reinforce the ideas behind the Maastricht treaty which are essentially a major departure from earlier treaties. The treaty of Rome and the Single European Act were both highly centralising. The Single European Act introduced majority voting on many of the issues on which right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House had natural objections because they rolled over opinion in this country. They have introduced harmonisation of a very offensive and unnecessary nature.

Britain stood outside those two treaties. We were not part of the initial negotiations on the treaty of Rome. The noble Baroness Thatcher, who has just taken her seat in the other place, was particularly concerned with getting our money back in respect of the European Single Act. She agreed to the centralising and introduction of majority voting as a compromise. She was not in the middle of the negotiating procedures. She was outside, shouting and demanding. That was not the right way to take care of Britain's vital interests. In that way, Britain's vital interests were very often ignored. By contrast, my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones), decided in the negotiations on the Maastricht treaty that Britain's interests and concerns would be central to their negotiating tactics and achievements.

In my view, and in the view of the House on three different occasions, and amid much acclamation, my right hon. Friends achieved substantially what they set out to do. I pay tribute to their negotiating skill. Let us consider

Column 1032

their achievements. They achieved a definition of subsidiarity which, I accept, may be defective. However, no such concept is contained in the treaty of Rome or the European Single Act. No matter how legally defective that subsidiarity clause is, it demonstrates the ideas shared by my hon. Friends the Members for Southend, East (Sir Teddy Taylor) and for Stafford (Mr. Cash). We do not want decisions to be taken in the centre of Europe unless they have to be for the benefit of the whole Community. We must build on that and we have an opportunity to do so. The Maastricht treaty contains provision for an intergovernmental conference on constitutional change in 1996.

We must build on the concepts of a more decentralised Europe and a Europe that takes account of subsidiarity. If that does not work, we must introduce more substantial definitions for what we mean. We should place institutional and constitutional blocks on the Community and particularly on the Commission to stop them acting when we do not want them to. There are obviously other opportunities.

However, if we reject the Maastricht treaty now, we will have to begin the negotiations all over again. We will undoubtedly face the serious federal instincts of many of our partners in Europe. Germany, France, Italy and Spain want a supranational Europe. They believe that the Maastricht treaty is a stepping stone to a federal Europe. If the intergovernmental pillars on defence, foreign and home affairs, which my right hon. Friends managed to have placed in the Maastricht treaty, work and are accountable and sensitive to the people and Parliaments of Europe, we can build on that experience and begin to decentralise even more. We will have shown a different way in Europe.

The countries of Europe are beginning to rethink the idea of a central Europe. They want a democratically-controlled Europe. They do not want a Europe which is a supranational state with no accountability, which is not enforced and which is not something with which people can identify. That is what my right hon. and hon. Friends have achieved in the negotiations. They have changed the climate of Europe in the treaty. It would be a major mistake if the Maastricht treaty were not ratified.

During the course of the six months of our presidency, I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will persuade the Community to ratify the treaty by explaining what subsidiarity means and taking certain enforcement measures. I hope that they will make it clear that the audit functions of the European institutions will be developed along the lines of our Audit Commission which reports to Parliament. That is what the Audit Commission in the European Community should do. It is now a European institution which eventually will have teeth. My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) and I have spent many hours late at night in this place commenting upon the Audit Commission's reports, but nothing is done. That is the problem. If we develop the progress that has been made by my right hon. and hon. Friends, we will be able to build the kind of Europe in which we can live--a democratic, accountable Europe in which the rule of law is paramount.

Column 1033

8.9 pm

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North) : I wish to impress on the Government the need to act decisively and with courage to deal with the situation in South Africa. Before I develop my remarks, I advise those who heard me described this morning on BBC radio as the former chairman of the Anti-Apartheid Movement that I remain the chairman of the Anti-Apartheid Movement and wish to do so until the job is done. Everyone who has been concerned with South African affairs has experienced a gamut of emotions since February 1990. When Nelson Mandela was released there was amazing joy and exuberance, first because it was right that he should be released, but, secondly and more important, because we believed that it heralded a new era in South African politics and its history, and that we would get negotiations and a move towards a peaceful settlement. None of us was idealistic or naive enough to believe that the process would not be difficult. We expected frustration.

I recall an early meeting with Nelson Mandela soon after he was released. He said, "Don't imagine for one moment that the path of negotiations will be smooth and downhill all the way. There will be times when we will be going uphill, there will be twists and turns, and there will be times when the process of negotiation will stall, but we have to reach a successful conclusion." If we have felt frustrated about the length of time that has been taken in negotiations, we can imagine the frustration of the dispossessed and the poor of South Africa when so little is changing but taking such a long time.

Another emotion that we experienced was anger--bitter anger at the violence that has been perpetrated in South Africa. One cannot imagine what the savagery has been like. I have seen it in Ndaleni, Natal, and it is dreadful. Everyone knows and believes that the violence can be stopped if there is sufficient will.

I make a direct call to Chief Buthelezi--"Call off the dogs of war of Inkatha." I also call on President de Klerk--"Get control of the police and security forces, because ample evidence exists that, at least at the minimum, there is complicity by the police and security forces." I have spoken to white South African Members of Parliament who have given me first -hand evidence of the police and security forces disarming township dwellers and the people living in squatter camps and then, an hour or so later, Inkatha Impis perpetrate the butchery. It has to stop.

If 70, 700, never mind 7,000, whites instead of blacks had been killed, there would have been action. The Prime Minister or the Foreign Secretary would have been offering troops to go and end the situation. There would have been outrage and clamour from the international community for it to be stopped. A black life is just as important as a white life. Unless we understand that and try to deal with it, the trust that is necessary for negotiations will not be forthcoming.

Some people have asked why the negotiations have been called off. The Foreign Secretary says that the differences are narrow but significant. They are narrow in mathematical terms. The African National Congress says that changing the constitution should be by a two thirds/one third majority. President de Klerk says that it should be a 75 per cent./25 per cent. majority. But it is not simply a mathematical formula. In every written constitution that I know, two thirds/one third is the norm.

Column 1034

Indeed, that is the way in which the old South African constitution could be changed, under the legacy of the Statute of Westminster laid down by this Parliament. If it was good enough then, it is good enough now.

For de Klerk to insist on 25 per cent. is to insist that he retains the white veto and control and power over events in South Africa. The ANC moved to 70 per cent./30 per cent. but still de Klerk would not move. If we are to have a decent future for South Africa, we must get it right and make sure that there is a proper democracy. That apparently is the position of the Government who agreed to the United Nations declaration on South Africa in respect of a one person, one vote democracy. The Government must stand by that.

When President de Klerk released prisoners--not all of them have been released, by the way--he said that he had not travelled on the road to Damascus and been converted : he was abandoning apartheid and its institutions because he knew that they were not working. That was because of external pressure. It is absolutely necessary that there is external pressure.

The European Council of Ministers agreed to consider the situation in South Africa. It agreed to send a mission composed of the Foreign Ministers of Denmark, Portugal and the United Kingdom to look at the situation. At Question Time yesterday, the Foreign Secretary told me that when the time is right we will send them. The time is now right to send them. The situation must be acted upon--President de Klerk is saying, "I shall accept an interim Government," which is one of the demands of the ANC, but he wants the interim Government to be in place before there are agreements about the election of a constituent assembly or elections for a proper Parliament. Those matters must be resolved if we are to proceed. It is absolutely no use the Foreign Secretary saying, "Let us wait."

There have been movements in South Africa because of external pressure. President de Klerk said so--he admitted it. We must maintain that external pressure. People from all parts of South Africa say that we must act if we are to achieve progress. Progress is essential. People say to me, "You cannot possibly ask for sanctions to be reimposed." We took them off too early. We tempted President de Klerk to believe that he could play it long. Leaving the violence aside, his strategy was to stretch out the process, to weaken the credibility of the ANC and to weaken its organisational ability in the hope that, having formed an electoral pact with Buthelezi and Inkatha, when the election finally came round he would have enough votes in the new Parliament still to control events. That has been his plan. It has been like stretching a piece of elastic--the more one stretches it, the thinner it becomes. President de Klerk must remember that the danger is that, if one stretches a piece of elastic too far, it snaps.

We are at a moment of extreme danger in a desperately difficult situation. Some of us have seen moments in history when failure to act properly has led to cataclysmic consequences. I give only two examples--I am sure that hon. Members could give many more. We should look at what happened in the Lebanon--a prosperous country, well thought of, economically successful, but now collapsed into total disaster. Also, there is the current tragedy which is unfolding in Yugoslavia. That country is slipping into a desperate situation. There are many other examples.

Next Section

  Home Page