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Instead of positive action being taken in the Community, what have we had? Instead of the Government working together with the other member states at the heart of Europe--where the presidency of the Community takes the United Kingdom--their effort has been concentrated in other directions. They have proposed plans to close 31 pits, which will lock off millions of tonnes of recoverable coal reserves, destroy 100,000 jobs in the mining and related industries and devastate whole communities throughout the coalfields.
Next week, in the autumn statement, we will be told who is next to pay the price of Government incompetence. I suspect that it will be teachers, nurses, the low paid, the sick, the elderly and the poor. Because of Government incompetence, public services will be undermined even further and the recession prolonged even longer. [Interruption.] I know that Conservative Members do not want to listen to this, but that is what is happening.
As the public well understand, it is not just policies that are the problem --it is the Prime Minister as well. He has
Column 308the precise opposite of the Midas touch : from black Wednesday to the pit closure fiasco and onwards to the mysteries of whatever the Government's new economic policy is, his baleful presence courts disaster. I understand that even at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea fans would prefer he stay away because most times when he attends Chelsea loses.
Last month the right hon. Gentleman contributed to a book about football entitled "We'll support you evermore"--obviously not a Conservative party publication. When we think of the Prime Minister's record since the election, a passage about his experience as a football supporter hits the truth with uncanny precision. He wrote : "After all, I have nearly 30 years behind me of high hopes at the start of a season fading into disappointment with a string of disappointing results by January."
As we have repeatedly made clear, as recently as our last annual conference, our commitment is to closer economic and political co-operation in Europe. [Interruption.] But we have a different agenda for the Community from the Conservatives. We want a Community for people, not just a market for business. That is why we will continue our efforts to overturn the foolish opt-out from the social chapter, which is regarded as essential by all the other 11 member states.
I noticed that the Prime Minister's speech consisted of telling us that we should be at the heart of Europe, but for most of the time he told us how he had successfully disengaged us from it.
We also recognise that the British economy is and will continue to be closely integrated both financially and industrially with our EC partners. Those realities mean that Britain's industrial and economic performance depend crucially on developments in the European Community. But it also means that if we are to contribute to and gain from the Community, because it is always a two-way process, we must have a strong and dynamic economy. Under the Government we have been pushed to the sidelines principally because of economic weakness. That affects our stance in Europe just as it affects it over the whole range of Government policy.
We set out our view clearly, and at some length, in the reasoned amendment for which we voted on Second Reading of the European Communities (Amendment) Bill and we will reflect that view in further proceedings on the Bill.
In a curious sense, this debate and the ambiguous and anodyne motion upon which it proceeds has no formal parliamentary status. It is a device, a happening, a political event justified by the Government at different times and on very different grounds, to very different people, as both expediency and the tide of war within the Conservative party dictated.
Those of us who have a sense of political reality can see clearly through all these manoeuvrings. This debate has been turned by the Government into an occasion to garner support for a discredited Prime Minister and a discredited Government. We on the Labour Benches will not be conned by the Government's contrivances. We will vote against a Government who are undermining our society, destroying our economy and thereby wrecking our future in Europe.
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Sir Edward Heath (Old Bexley and Sidcup) : Before I begin what I hope will be a brief intervention in the debate, which I understood was to be about Maastricht, I should like to make it absolutely plain that what I am going to say has been in no way affected by bullying from the Whips ; it has not been affected by the recent structure of an anti-Maastricht mafia in the House of Lords ; nor has it been affected by the widely publicised secret session of the 1922 Committee. In fact, I have to confess that what I am going to say will be purely my own thoughts.
I should like to begin by recalling to the House the end of the debate that settled that Britain would become a member of the EC. When I wound up that debate, I spoke about letters that I had received after the veto by President De Gaulle in 1963. One of them was from an ambassador who was accredited to the Community in Brussels during the negotiations. I quoted that letter, which said : " When you left India some people wept. And when you leave Europe tonight some will weep. And there is no other people in the world of whom these things could be said.' "
I went on to say :
"That was a tribute from the Indian to the British. But tonight when this House endorses this Motion many millions of people right across the world will rejoice that we have taken our rightful place in a truly United Europe".--[ Official Report , 28 October 1971 ; Vol. 823, c. 2212.]
There was a majority of 112 in that vote. It was many times the size of the Government majority because 69 right hon. and hon. Members from the Labour party voted with us and 20 abstained. They defied a three-line Whip from their party to vote with us and among them was the present Leader of the Opposition. I greatly admired his integrity and I have continued to do so since, until this afternoon. I must say that I am saddened and dismayed by his performance and by the attitude which he has taken towards Europe. He knows full well that, if he had wished to attack the Government on their shortcomings or the Prime Minister personally, he could have immediately tabled a vote of no confidence. That is the customary practice in the House. He knows that, had he wished to comment on the fact that the Prime Minister had not carried out his obligations in delaying the discussion on Maastricht or dealing with the Danish proposals, he could have said so, and he could have urged the Prime Minister to speed things up. But neither of those things has he done. So today, for the sake of the plaudits from some of his Back Benchers, he has forsworn his integrity. Having done that, he will find that he will never be able to regain it.
Those of us who have followed these events in Europe for more than 40 years have longed for the time when we could feel that the Leader of the Opposition was genuinely in favour of the European Community. This was the first occasion on which we have had it, and today that situation has been thrown away. It is a loss to the Labour party and a loss to our country. And it is a loss which, I am afraid, cannot be made up.
What is not always realised here is that those people in Parliaments in the European Community have no comprehension whatever of what is going on with a manoeuvre of that kind. That is the damage that is being done by what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said today. The damage is widespread, because we must face the fact that, in the Community as well as outside, Britain's position has become widely suspect--
Column 310[Interruption.] I am stating the position, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman could have helped to deal with that.
The delay in action on Maastricht--in recognising the treaty--has caused dismay throughout the Community. The Prime Minister himself, said that, with the exception of Denmark, all the other countries will have ratified the treaty by December.
Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland) : I normally listen with respect to the right hon. Gentleman, even though I do not always agree with him, but he is fundamentally wrong when he alleges that people in Europe are either dismayed at, or will not understand, the position taken by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith). Moreover, I can tell the right hon. Gentleman why, because I personally discussed our position with Jean-Pierre Cot, the leader of the socialist group in the European Parliament, and with other European socialist leaders. They fully understand and support our position.
Sir Edward Heath : All that I can say is that, in the past five weeks, I have discussed the matter with Heads of Government in the Community, in Japan, China and worldwide. They do not understand the attitude of the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East.
As far as this country is concerned, other members of the Community take the view that the delay is quite unjustifiable, and I say that bluntly to the Prime Minister. The fact that the Danish referendum, by a very narrow majority, went against the Government is no reason why the British Prime Minister and the British Government should have delayed our confirmation of Maastricht--none at all. The Prime Minister has a responsibility, as President of the Community for these six months, to try to find a solution to the Danish problems with the co-operation of the other members. It is not his responsibility to say that Britain, in the meantime, must fail to take action on Maastricht. The other member countries--10 of them--have all taken action and will have completed it by December. I wish that we had done the same.
I am therefore delighted that the motion says that we shall go on to Committee stage, but I am saddened again by the Prime Minister saying that part of it will be before Christmas and that we shall go on with the Committee stage next year. That is no indication to Europe that we are whole-hearted in being at the centre and in reinforcing Maastricht. The House is capable of dealing with the Bill in Committee immediately--there is nothing whatever to stop that. I hope that the Prime Minister will consider the impact on the other members of the Community by delaying still further the passage of the Bill.
Mr. Dalyell : Technically, what is there to stop the Prime Minister doing exactly that for which he asked--putting the Bill in on Monday? Although I have voted with the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath), albeit in 1971, I shall vote with my party tonight because this is a gratuitous motion that is about the Conservative party's political needs.
Sir Edward Heath : The hon. Gentleman, whose vote I acknowledge, is entitled to his interpretation of the motion, but to what does he object in it? He says that it is to achieve unity on this side of the House. Very well, but what is wrong with the motion? One thing that is wrong with it is that it talks about "a free market Europe". It is not a free market Europe and it never will be--a free market means a market that is open to the whole world. It is a single market for the members of the Community, for those who become associated with it and for those who later become members. To take one specific example, we have a quota system for textiles from the developing world--from India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. We have had that for many years and we shall go on having it. I am told that it is worth 100,000 jobs in this country. We are not going for a free market, but it is the use of such language that causes so much trouble inside the Community, particularly in view of the fact that the Prime Minister's immediate predecessor has now said openly that what she wants is just a free market and not a Community. That is what is causing a lot of trouble.
Mr. Wilkinson : Will my right hon. Friend accept from one who, on a free vote, voted for our accession in 1971 that it is his concept now of a closed, protectionist Europe which he seeks to perpetuate that is so anathema to us? It has helped to perpetuate the difficulty in achieving a successful negotiation on the general agreement on tariffs and trade, particularly on agriculture.
Sir Edward Heath : I am not in the least out to maintain a protectionist Community. As I said before, when I negotiated Britain's entry I had to lower all our tariffs by a very large amount, which infuriated business and industry, but it was necessary. Is my hon. Friend saying that he wants to abolish all quotas and just let in all textiles from developing countries? Not for one moment, and he would not hold his seat if he did. Let us be realistic about the matter.
I want to say a word about another important matter--the responsibility of Ministers. We are told that the public do not understand what is really at stake. Very well, then the responsibility is ours for not explaining it to them. But what is also clear is that, when the Commission is acting, it is acting under the authority of the Ministers who approve their recommendations. Yet how often does a Minister stand up at this or other Front Benches and say, "Yes, I agreed to all that. It is not the Commission's fault. You can't blame the Commission, we accepted it"?
I hear complaints from my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow), whom I heard the other day boasting on television that he did not understand two words of French. I do not know what there is to boast about.
Mr. Marlow : I am grateful to my right hon. Friend-- [Hon. Members : --"In French!"] Peut-etre que mon ami peut dire a cette maison, what is meant by "acquis communautaire"? Just two words in English, so that we understand.
My hon. Friend"s problem is that the Commission keeps coming forward with proposals, but that is the structure of the Community. That is the way in which the Community has become, in 40 years, an outstanding
Column 312success. It has restored the beacon countries of Europe to their present state of prosperity. It is the structure of the Community and the Commission that have achieved that.
It is deplorable that there is a constant attack on the President of the Commission, Jacques Delors, who has done a superb job.
Sir Edward Heath : Why does my hon. Friend say that that is wrong? The single market was settled six years ago. It was agreed by the British Prime Minister. Who has carried out all the work and shown leadership in getting the single market established? The answer is the President of the Commission. He is the one who has done it. It is because the Commission has been a success that the countries to which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister referred--Sweden, Austria, Switzerland and Finland--want to become members.
The campaign by The Sun against Jacques Delors, urging people tomorrow to put up posters and speak of "Fawk Delors", is sordid, filthy and unworthy of any British newspaper. In fact, that newspaper is American owned and American directed. It makes me ashamed to be in a country in which it is published. It is-- [Hon. Members :-- "Australian".]
Apparently, we are the only country that wants to get rid of the President of the Commission, and quite wrongly so.
Great emphasis has been placed on subsidiarity. Very well. I agree with what the Leader of the Opposition said towards the end of his speech to the effect that subsidiarity is necessary in some ways. However, we must take a positive attitude towards what will be done in the Community. If we are to be at the heart of it, we can do more things together than we can by saying, "We are not going to touch this."
At present, it is vital that the Commission and the Community concentrate on economic recovery for the Community as a whole. Subsidiarity has little to do with that. In fact, it has absolutely nothing to do with it. Where are the continuing discussions at the highest level about economic recovery in the Community? We hear nothing of them. We were told that the meeting at Birmingham had been called to deal with the flaws in the exchange rate mechanism, but they were not discussed. No one has yet told us what the flaws are or were. Many of us suspect that the flaws were to be found in us and not in the ERM. Until we face the facts--face reality--we shall never be able to overcome our present difficulties.
The difficulties that we now face are, in my view, some of the most serious that have confronted the United Kingdom since the second world war. I would say that there is absolutely no doubt about that. It will take time to overcome them. We cannot keep on saying, "Yes, recovery is just around the corner." We have seen what has happened in the United States as a result of a President taking that line. Our difficulties will take time to overcome, and in overcoming them we shall need friends. We need friends wherever we can find them and, above all, we need them in the Community.
To say after a meeting, "We have won everything, we have beaten them, we have got what we wanted" is not to
Column 313make friends. It is a community. Very well, let us look after British interests, but let us look after Community interests as well. If we do not take that approach, we shall not make friends. As I said, we need them desperately at this moment.
Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton) : Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that, if he were true to himself, he would admit that in his heart much of his European passion--his passion for the European ideal--is based on a severe distrust of the United States? On this day of all days, as a new President is elected, will he take the opportunity to reaffirm his belief in the special relationship that we have with the United States, which is of equal importance to the relationship that we have with the Community?
On the lawn of the White House, in front of President Nixon, I said that there was no such thing as a special relationship. Again, what is the impact of that on our colleagues in the Community? If we say, "We are special and you are not", what is the impact on south American countries, which are so close to the United States? In effect, we are saying, "You are nothing. We have a special relationship." To take that view is to show no understanding of international relations. That was fully accepted by the Americans. The Americans do not refer to a special relationship. They take that approach because they do not want to upset the rest of those with whom they are working. What we have--some would say that it is more important-- is an historic relationship. We can argue about how good it has been, and if we reflect on recent history, including the history of atomic weapons after the second world war, we might begin to doubt the strength of the historic relationship. Of course I want good relations with the United States, but I am not prepared to give up Europe because of relations with the United States. I am not prepared to do that for one moment.
Dr. Spink : I am indebted to my right hon. Friend for giving way. Given the election result in the United States, does he agree that it is likely now that protectionism in the United States will grow? That makes it even more important that we support the Government tonight to reinforce our relationship with Europe, which is so necessary for jobs and prosperity in this country.
Sir Edward Heath : I would not like to commit myself to saying that the President-elect will go for tariffs and other policies of that sort. On the other hand, I agree with my hon. Friend that Europe is necessary for us from the point of view of industry, growth and financial investment in this country. These factors have already been damaged by uncertainty. Talk to any of those who are involved in investment and they will say that, the longer the uncertainty continues, the more investment in this country will be damaged. That is true. That is why I am urging that the process be speeded up.
Column 314We must recognise that the Community is essential to us and that we must work in it and with it. We no longer run the world, although some behave as if we do. It is-- [Interruption.]
There are those who are contemplating abstaining or voting against the Government. In more than 42 years in the House, and having been associated with my party for about 50 years, I accept that there have been major differences.
I cannot recall, however, any episode in which those who have taken a different view from that of the Government were prepared to endanger the life of their Government. I look back to the India battles at the beginning of the 1930s when I was at Oxford. That group was never for one moment prepared to endanger the then Government.
Sir Edward Heath : I was not a Member of the House at the time. I look back to the Suez problem, which arose in the 1950s. That, of course, was the time when the Suez group was operating. At no point was it prepared to damage the then Conservative Government.
Some of my right hon. and hon. Friends hold views about Maastricht and the European Community as a whole that are different from mine. I know that some of them never wanted to belong to the European Community. I have always respected their views. I do not believe, however, that it is right for them tonight in any way to endanger the outside world, the Conservative party or the United Kingdom by voting against the Government.
Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil) : Once again, I find myself following the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir. E. Heath) in a European debate. By and large, I could not find a single point of disagreement with what he said-- [Interruption.] It is often the case that on specific issues one can agree with those from other parties. Indeed, it is often the case that, when that happens, the nation benefits.
The right hon. Gentleman expressed sadness about the position adopted by the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) and the many others who showed great courage in 1972 but who have now decided to change their minds-- [Interruption.] I shall seek
Column 315to show that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is, I greatly regret, driven more by opportunism than by anything else.
estion before the House this evening is probably the most important question with which we have dealt in recent years. It is about Britain's future in Europe, not about the survival of the GovernmentThat is the central issue at stake today. The right hon. and learnedGentleman has a deservedly fine reputation as a parliamentary debater. I believe that, when he looks back on his speech today, he will find that it did not enhance that reputation. The whole of his speech-- [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) says from a sedentary position that we are frightened of losing our seats-- [Interruption.] Madam Speaker : Order. If the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell- Savours) wants to intervene, he should do so in the proper manner ; otherwise he must restrain himself.
Mr. Ashdown : The hon. Member for Workington might reflect on this fact. In 1972, we voted on a matter of principle, and we voted for Britain's future in Europe. There was a deeply unpopular Government at the time, and we heard exactly the same charges against us from Labour Members then that we hear now. They said that we would never be forgiven. However, within three or four months, we had won the by-elections in Sutton and Cheam, Orpington and Berwick-upon-Tweed. Two years later, we won our largest vote ever, because we stuck to our principles when the Labour party did not stick to its. I want to deal with the matter that took up practically the whole of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's speech, the central question whether we are debating a motion of confidence. His speech, which turned on a lawyer's legalistic analysis of text rather than anything substantial, must be set against his statement the day before yesterday that this was a "virtual confidence motion". If he examined Britain's constitution, he would realise that there is no such thing as a "virtual" confidence motion.
The way to judge a confidence motion is by a single criterion--if the Government lose the vote, will there be a general election tomorrow? The answer is no, as all right hon. and hon. Members have conceded. Instead, there will be a vote of confidence, which the Government will win--turkeys do not vote for Christmas. On Friday, we will wake up without a general election but with Britain's future in Europe desperately damaged. We will not vote for that.
There is a paradox in that there is a clear majority in this House in favour of ratifying the Maastricht treaty. People outside the Chamber and those viewing our debate from Europe will find it extraordinary that a decision that should be taken on whether it benefits our country is instead being swept to one side in pursuit of what I am bound to call discreditable opportunism.
If the right hon. and learned Gentleman had tabled a confidence motion, we would have voted for it. If there were an opportunity to remove the Government, we would not miss it. I take second place to no one in my wish to get rid of the Government, and I will not miss the first opportunity to achieve that. However, that is not on offer this evening.
Column 316If the right hon. and learned Gentleman chooses not to table a confidence motion but instead asks his hon. Friends to vote against something with which they agree in order to show support for a motion that he has not dared to table, he will not win the trust of this country.
Mr. John Smith : I note that the right hon. Gentleman increases his attacks on the Labour party according to the intensity of the representations he receives from his followers throughout the country. They will understand what I mean when I accuse him of staggering naivety. He knows that, if the Government win the motion, they will use it as justification for public expenditure cuts, their economic policy and other matters. The right hon. Gentleman will have to explain to his party and his voters why he was conned across the Dispatch Box.
Mr. Ashdown : When someone runs out of arguments, he indulges in just that sort of name calling. There is an argument for saying that, by voting against the Government, we could damage them. But the central question we must consider is whether we would damage the nation more. The Labour party will inflict damage on the Government, but, as I believe I can show, it will inflict ever greater damage on the country in the process.
There are sincere reasons for voting against the Government's motion--
Sir Teddy Taylor (Southend, East) rose --
Mr. Ashdown : The hon. Gentleman, to whom I will give way later, has always argued his case, as have the hon. Members for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) and for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) and my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Mr. Harvey)--who was elected on the basis that he opposed the treaty. I disagree with him, but he is entitled to his view as, indeed, are others. I accept that they have a case to put, to which I and the nation will listen with a great deal of respect. At least they are doing what they believe to be in the national interest.
However, those who want to assure Britain's future in Europe but who vote against the motion are putting party political interest before that of the nation. That is the main charge that I level at the Labour party.
Another case that may be made by the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East and those who vote with the Labour party tonight is that we may so damage the Prime Minister that he would have to be removed. I would weep no tears for that. But we must judge the issue against the national interest. Will it do Britain's condition any good for the current Prime Minister of a Tory Government to be replaced by the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke)? The answer to that question is no. Will it damage the country if we do not ratify the Maastricht treaty? The answer to that is unquestionably yes.
Other reasons have been advanced for voting against the motion tonight. One that we have heard articulated is that the motion is unnecessary. That was the first reason the Labour party gave for voting against the motion--until someone pointed out that this debate is being held precisely because the Labour party had requested it on 1 June, a request followed up later by the Labour party's spokesman on foreign affairs.
The second reason advanced was that Maastricht was imperfect. I accept that argument ; we were the first to state
Column 317some of the treaty's imperfections. But unless the Bill proceeds, we shall not be able to amend those imperfections later.
The right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East argued that to vote for the Government tonight was to give the Labour party's imprimatur to the opt-out of the social chapter. Then, why did the Opposition not vote against the Bill on Second Reading? They never did so ; they abstained. Neither I nor my party want the social chapter opt-out or the monetary union opt-out, but if Maastricht goes down, the social chapter and monetary union go down with it. Only if we ratify the Maastricht treaty can a future Government--hopefully a more European one--readopt both clauses, which we want to see.
Sir Teddy Taylor : As the leader of a party that has fought for people's rights year after year, does the right hon. Gentleman not accept that our democratic system will be greatly damaged if the Bill is pushed through without the people having the right to express their view? Could we not put a stop to the bogus nonsense and attacks by one party on another if we simply agreed now to give people the right to a say? Would that not stop all the nonsense of people concentrating on each other's motives?
Mr. Ashdown : I agree with the hon. Gentleman. As he may know, I have always supported a referendum on the matter, and I hope that one will be agreed under the Bill. I agree that the Bill involves a shift of sovereignty--one that I recommend to the British people and in which I passionately believe--but the House does not have the right to give away sovereignty that it does not possess.
Sovereignty comes from the people. I believe that there should be a referendum. If there were a referendum, we should not be seen to take our people into Europe, which I strongly recommend they enter, depending on their ignorance or in the face of their hostility. That has always been my view, and will remain so.
Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey and Waterside) rose
Mr. Ashdown : I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman : I have given way a number of times, and should like to make progress. I am aware that we are approaching the time for the 10-minute rule to be applied to speeches.
Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West) rose --