Previous Section Home Page

Madam Speaker : Order. The right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) has just this minute said that he is not prepared to give way. I clearly heard him say so.

Mr. Ashdown : I shall make a little more progress ; then I shall happily give way.

The last reason which is given for voting against the Bill, and which lies at the heart of the Labour party's amendment, is that we should wait for the Danes. I cannot imagine a more demeaning attitude for the country to take than to have to shelter behind the skirts of the Danish people. Every other nation in the European Community has ratified or will ratify the agreement without waiting for the announcement from the Danish people on their reconsideration.

Column 318

Only one question needs to be asked by the British people and the House : whether Maastricht is in Britain's interests. I believe that it is. Whether it is regarded by the Danes as being in Denmark's interest is totally irrelevant.

At the heart of the Labour party's amendment is the belief that the debate should be delayed for a further six weeks. What the speech of the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East would have us believe was a great and towering issue of confidence is merely an opportunity for the Labour party to sit on the fence for another six weeks. That is not a convincing argument.

Mr. Wareing : Last Friday, I talked with a Liberal Member of the Swedish Parliament, who said that, in two years, the Swedes are to have a referendum on whether to join the European Community. The Swedes are carefully watching the way in which the large countries such as Germany, France and Britain are treating Denmark. Does not the right hon. Gentleman believe that, if we are to persuade the Swedes and other small countries to join the European Community, we should treat them fairly?

Mr. Ashdown : The hon. Gentleman completely misunderstood the position--as he so often does. It is not a question of treating the Danes fairly. Of course we should listen to them and seek to do what we can to accommodate their views. But that does not have any bearing on whether it is in Britain's interests to join the Maastricht process. It is in Britain's interests, not Denmark's, which is the issue that the House and the country must address.

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

Mr. Ashdown : No, I wish to make considerably more progress before giving way again.

Let us consider the Labour amendment. The Labour party wants a six-week delay. What happens in those six weeks? First, severe damage will be done to the respect in which this country is held abroad. I have no doubt that the voice of this country in its EC presidency will be undermined during the six-week delay.

Beyond that, what is the six-week delay about? It is about a Labour party that went to the electorate in April to ask them to vote for something, and now ends up voting against it. It is about considerably more damage being done to the British economy. It is about the fact that the uncertainty that now acts as one of the primary blocks against trying to get the country out of recession will remain for a further six weeks. It is about the fact that the inward investment on which we so much depend in reviving the economy in order to save jobs will not improve for a further six weeks. Therefore, we shall pay for the Labour party's six weeks with more lost jobs and a deeper recession. One night of fun in Westminster for the Labour party will result in tens of thousands of additional lost jobs in Britain.

Several Hon. Members rose--

Mr. Ashdown : No, I shall not give way.

Sir Jim Spicer (Dorset, West) rose--

Madam Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman should not persist, as the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) has just made it clear that he is not going to give way.

Column 319

Mr. Ashdown : The economy is in a mess, and the Government are culpable. Of course the Government's economic policies are the origin of that mess, but there is one certain way to make that mess worse and to lose more people their jobs : for the motion to fall and the Maastricht process to be delayed. That would result in this country's economic mess getting worse, not better. The Labour party's action tonight will have brought that about.

Not long ago, a sensible article in The Observer said : "The Government is not going to be able to solve the economic crisis unless it secures a European solution."

Correct. It continued :

"The ingredients of a practical alternative to that grim future"-- by which the author meant the Government's recession

"are to be found in the Maastricht treaty".

Correct. The author concluded :

"It is essential that these are acted upon to-day."

The author of that article was not the Foreign Secretary or the Prime Minister, but the then leader of the Labour party, the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock). That is what he felt, but tonight he will vote against those sentiments.

The hon. Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice) has written one of the best books produced by any Member of the House in recent years on the European question. He said :

"The Labour party must sustain its new commitment to the European Community. A switch back to outright opposition--or even to scepticism-- would lack any credibility."

He is right. I am only sorry that he has decided not to support his words in the Lobby tonight.

We will vote not for the Government but for Britain's future in Europe. Tonight, we will vote not for the Prime Minister but to save jobs and to get the economy going again within the only context that makes that possible. This country's tradition does not lie in isolation from Europe. Our history has always been involvement and participation in Europe. Twice this century, when Europe has faced its darkest hour, this country has made great sacrifices to ensure that we play our full part. Now, when Europe again is facing considerable economic problems and when we are seeing rising nationalism and deepening threats to peace in Europe, it cannot be in the interests of this country to abandon that tradition.

I finish with a letter that appeared in The Observer, which I saw on Monday night. It spoke of an old man who was seen by the graveyard in El Alamein. Looking at the rows of white crosses ahead of him in the desert, he said, "This is the reason why I believe the Maastricht treaty must be ratified : that must never happen again." The question before the House tonight is whether that old man, in that single sentence, was able to express more wisdom than the whole of the House in this debate tonight.

Several Hon. Members rose --

Madam Speaker : Order. I remind the House that speeches between now and 8 pm must be limited to 10 minutes.

6.3 pm

Mr. Paul Channon (Southend, West) : I agreed with much of the impressive speech of the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), but I rise to tell the House for the first time for some time, in case there should be any muddle, that there is no unanimity in Southend on the

Column 320

European Community. Therefore, in the presence of my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor), for once I should like to give my views.

The debate is ostensibly on a motion to proceed with the Bill. We all know that, if we want to, we can proceed with the Bill anyway. The debate is taking place because the Labour party and many of my right hon. and hon. Friends wanted it. If we proceed to debate the Maastricht Bill, either now or in a few weeks' time, we shall still have the opportunity to amend it, throw it out or do whatever the House wants to do. All the fuss and debate revolve around a Labour amendment to delay the proceedings of the Committee for six weeks. [Interruption.] That is what Labour's amendment says. I said "ostensibly" because we all know that other considerations lie behind it.

In reality, the House is making an amazing fuss about very little indeed. All of us will have a chance to say more if the Bill is considered, but the basic principles are clear.

Fear was expressed that the Bill might be pushed through. Goodness knows how the Bill will be pushed through. It will have the longest Committee stage of any Bill since the war. I shall be very surprised indeed if it is pushed through.

Let me give the House my views, for what they are worth, which I suspect is not much. I think that it is essential for the United Kingdom to stay in the European Community ; not every hon. Member agrees, but the overwhelming majority do. All the old arguments still apply. I am strongly in favour of completion of the single market and of attracting inward investment. There are some signs of people involved with inward investment being worried about what will happen if we do not ratify Maastricht. I must say to my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath), to whose experience I bow, that I am in favour of much freer trade. Indeed, I fear that action may be needed on textiles, to which he referred. There are both undesirable and desirable provisions in the treaty. If I believed, for example, that ratification of Maastricht would lead to Mr. Martin Bangemann's view of affairs prevailing, I should not be in favour of it. It is interesting that no one has mentioned Mr. Bangemann, which shows that no hon. Member takes his predictions seriously. [ Hon. Members :-- "No."] I shall look forward to hearing from my hon. Friends in due course.

I do not believe in a federal Europe, and nor do the Government, the House and the Opposition. I believe that Maastricht represents if anything a step back from federalism rather than a step towards it. Of course Maastricht is not ideal. I do not know any hon. Member who thinks that it is. I am not mad keen on it. I go further than many of my hon. Friends : it would have been much better if it had not happened at all. It was thrust upon us and we had to take part in it. It would have saved us much trouble if the French had voted against it, but they did not and we must face the facts of the real world rather than of the world that many of us would like.

Do we want to be in or out? We cannot take an a la carte approach and choose the parts that we want. When my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister returned from the meetings in Maastricht at the end of 1991, was he received with derision by the House? Was there universal opposition to what he came back with? Not at all. It was a triumph. We were told, and I believed, that my right hon. Friend had achieved remarkable success in getting the British point of view accepted. I remind the House of the

Column 321

motion that was passed on 19 December 1991, with the support of most of my hon. Friends, including my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East. It reads :

"This House congratulates the Prime Minister on achieving all the negotiating objectives set out in the motion that was supported by the House on 21st November ; and warmly endorses the agreement secured by the Government at Maastricht."--[ Official Report, 19 December 1991 ; Vol. 201, c. 555.]

I repeat :

"This House warmly endorses the agreement secured by the Government at Maastricht."

My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East and many hon. Friends--who, I read in the newspapers, hold slightly different points of view now-- supported that.

The negotiation was a great success. I have a copy of the Dutch magazine to which my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-West (Sir A. Grant) referred in the speech by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister :

"The third main protagonist in Maastricht is the British Premier John Major. He was the winner of the negotiations."

I apologise to my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup : that is a quotation ; it is not I who said that. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister wanted "an opt-out from the EMU" and he got it. The magazine went on to describe that what happened at Maastricht was a resounding British success. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister managed to defuse the issue ; he did not compel this country to go in for the social charter- -I know that there are differences between the two sides of the House on that. We were not committed to economic and monetary union ; we were not committed to a single currency ; and we made progress towards subsidiarity. Of course there are worrying features of the agreement, at least from my point of view. The Commission itself described it as expanding many of their existing responsibilities and bringing in new policy areas. Yes, there are things that are not perfect in the Maastricht agreement. We also know that all over Europe there is increasing concern about the powers of the Commission and the way in which it is out of touch with public opinion in the various member states. If that were not so, we would not have had the situation in France, we would not have had the situation in Denmark and we would not have the powerful body of opinion in this country against the powers wielded by the Commission, or at least against the way in which it chooses to exercise its powers.

What happens if we say no to the Maastricht treaty, if we say no tonight and eventually do not ratify it? Do hon. Members think that it will make the centralising tendencies of the Community better or worse? I believe that it will mean that this country will be in a very much weaker position, not a stronger one, if we stay in the Community. Of course, if I were a Member who believed in our getting out, that would be a different matter. Those hon. Members who want to leave the Community have an entirely different point of view. But for those of us who want to remain, how do we remain as an effective negotiator if we do not in the end sign what we have agreed in a free negotiation and which the House has approved by an enormous majority? Who apart from us in the Community will argue for less Commission control or more subsidiarity?

I say to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs that we must make

Column 322

real progress in Edinburgh on subsidiarity. It has been an amazing achievement by the Government, but it must be there in black and white, meaning something rather than a pious message. We must win Mr. Delors' prize. Mr. Delors' monetary prize will, I hope, be won by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary when he gets to Edinburgh.

Mr. Hurd : I will buy you all a drink then.

Mr. Channon : My right hon. Friend can buy us all a drink--well, he may well be right, but he must win that battle because it is very important for the future of the Community and for the future of the Bill as it passes through the House.

The House has the power to alter or throw out the Bill ; neither the motion nor the amendment will affect that. We will debate the Bill in due course. It is ridiculous that we have turned this debate into such an enormous occasion and that we have had the Labour party turning away from its position of supporting the European Community and the treaty in order to try to make some cheap party political capital out of the genuine concern among some of my hon. Friends about parts of the Maastricht treaty. The Labour party seeks to exploit that. I understand why, but the House must not let itself be fooled : there is nothing of merit in the Labour party's case. All it can put forward is this idea of amending our motion to make the line-by-line consideration take place a month later.

I urge my hon. Friends, if they are in any doubt whatsoever, to support the Government motion. It will not prevent them from proposing amendments to the European Communities (Amendment) Bill later if they want to do so, nor will it prevent the House from taking a view on the Bill or throwing it out in the end. The amendment is merely a device to exploit the very understandable differences of view on the Government side of the House. I urge my hon. Friends not to be taken in by it, and to support the motion. 6.13 pm

Mr. Bryan Gould (Dagenham) : I begin by congratulating my Front Bench on the decision to oppose the Government in the Division later this evening. It is a course of action that I and many colleagues urged on them, and I am naturally delighted that they have taken the advice and reached that decision.

The stated reason for the decision is that this evening's motion and the whole debate have very little to do with the issue of Maastricht but everything to do with bolstering the flagging fortunes of a discredited Prime Minister ; but I want to make it clear that, for myself and perhaps for others voting on this side of the argument this evening, there are other and perhaps even stronger reasons for doing so.

I shall be voting against the motion, for instance, because I believe that it is premature. It is premature because it flies in the face of the assurance that the Prime Minister gave in September that we would not reconsider the matter until the Danes had resolved their situation. The Danish Government have, of course, put forward their proposals, but there is no guarantee that the Danish people will listen to those proposals any more than they did when they decided the matter in the first referendum. Nor is there any guarantee that the requirements of the Danish Government will be accepted or even entertained

Column 323

by other European leaders. The Foreign Office has revealed that it understands that very well, and Mr. Delors' initial response shows all too clearly that arrogance and disregard for public opinion which got us into the Maastricht mess in the first place.

I shall vote against the Government this evening because, of all the provisions in the Maastricht treaty which one might or might not wish to support, it is surely perverse for our Government to turn their back on the social chapter, the one provision in the treaty that offers at least the chance of a people's Europe rather than a bankers' Europe. This is the one provision that gives some protection to working people right across Europe against the depredations of employers looking for the lowest wages and the poorest working conditions.

I shall vote against the Government this evening because the Prime Minister has consistently misled his own party, the House and the country about the true effect of the treaty. The Prime Minister claims that it is a decentralising treaty. He says that the provision about subsidiarity has real and precise meaning. That simply flies in the face of the actual provisions of the treaty. The treaty is clear, and we must understand that when our partners write these words they mean them.

The treaty is clear : it establishes a European union of which henceforth we are all to be citizens. Mr. Bangemann spoke the truth. Why should he do otherwise? It is as plain as a pikestaff to anyone that the treaty is designed to be a major step towards a federal Europe. The very term is itself inadequate to describe what is aimed at. What is aimed at is a unitary state, a European superstate with centralised political institutions, and it does no credit to the Prime Minister, in that maladroit way, to say that Mr. Bangemann is wrong and that his own interpretation is right. The most charitable thing that we can say about the Prime Minister is that he appears not to understand the treaty that he negotiated.

I shall also vote against the Government tonight because of what the treaty has to say about economic and monetary union and a single currency. It is ironic, is it not, that we are again being beguiled with those seductive messages from the captains of industry and the leaders of our economy to the effect that we must accept Maastricht for the sake of our economic future. Hardly a dot or a comma has been altered in the similar protestations and messages in support of our membership of the exchange rate mechanism, uttered with the same certainty and confidence just eight weeks ago. The reality is that to accept Maastricht would be to throw this economy once again into the abyss ; to entrench in permanent and irreversible treaty law all the mistakes of the ERM which created a deepening recession, destroyed jobs, homes and businesses and blighted lives.

That is what we now face by way of the treaty of Maastricht on economic policy. We must not accept it. The provisions of the treaty simply fly in the face of the best economic interests of this country. How can we accept a treaty that sets up an independent central bank which is to control and decide all the major questions of economic policy in a way which is directly and specifically said by the treaty to be unaccountable to any other influence, let alone the democratically elected Governments of the Community?

How can we accept provisions which direct those bankers, if they need such direction, to concentrate exclusively on price stability, even in the depths of the

Column 324

worst recession for two generations? How can we accept convergence criteria defined exclusively in monetary terms ; criteria which would require us, if they applied today, to lop £20 billion off public spending? How can that be accepted? What a breathtakingly audacious attempt this is by the bankers to secure for ever their dominance over elected politicians. No responsible Member of the House should give away such centrally important powers of self-government, and certainly not without so much as a word of consultation with those by whose authority we sit in the House.

What is proposed is not just a new arrangement ; it is intended to be irreversible. That is the point of enshrining it in treaty law. No British electorate, in any subsequent British general election, could vote in a Government, even a party which stood on the explicit programme of implementing a different economic policy, who could produce a change of policy without a direct breach of our treaty obligations.

I make this case not just for the British people but for the people of Europe as well. I speak as a European politician as well as a British politician. Those who argue that the decision is whether we remain in Europe are frankly wrong. They are not only wrong ; the reverse is the case. It is those who are pressing Maastricht who are jeopardising the European project because they will subject that project to such intolerable strains that it will burst asunder. The argument that somehow tonight's vote can be skated over, that it does not matter, that there will be other opportunities--as we heard from the right hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon)--is insidious but wrong. So, too, is the argument that we have heard so often that we should just accept this step because it will take us to the heart of the negotiations where we can influence events. We know from Mr. Delors' own lips that there is to be no negotiation ; no change to the treaty. Once we accept it, if we accept it tonight, that is that. Whatever the Prime Minister says tonight to his Back Benchers about the nature of the decision, be in no doubt that, if he wins, he will say tomorrow that Maastricht is back on the rails and Maastricht will then be ratified.

I say to all those who now have to make up their minds that we shall all be put to the test tonight. We shall all have our own reasons. None of us need accept the motivations ascribed to us by others. Some will decide out of genuine conviction, others, on the Liberal Democrat Benches, will prefer pious posturing, and some will be willing dupes of deliberate blandishments and threats. But the decision will depend on perhaps a small group ; people who understand their responsibilities, who know the great struggle for democracy in this country, who know what is at stake is this country's future in Europe. Those people will lift their eyes to a longer horizon. They will understand what is at stake. They will exercise their responsibilities in a proper manner and with proper regard to the interests of the people not only of this country but of Europe.

I do not know how many those people will be. They may be few in number, but, for the sake of Britain and Europe, I pray that they are enough.

Column 325

6.23 pm

Mr. Tim Renton (Mid-Sussex) : I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould), not just because I disagree profoundly with every word that he has uttered for the past 10 minutes, but because, in the few minutes available to me, I want to address my remarks to those such as him who are not just interested in whether tonight we vote for postponement of the Committee stage for six weeks or more but who, like him and like some of my hon. Friends, do not believe in the Maastricht treaty at all, do not want to see it ratified, and do not want to see us progress further with our continental colleagues towards a closer union.

All hon. Members will have noticed that, in all the eloquent words uttered by the hon. Member for Dagenham, he offered not one single word of an alternative. He wanted to turn the clock back. He assumed that life could go on as it had in pre-Delors days ; no Maastricht treaty, no change, just an economic area. But it is not like that. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said clearly, the other 10 countries will certainly ratify the treaty before Christmas. We have no reason to believe that the Danes will not ratify too within the next year-- [Interruption.] --no reason at all.

In any event, my hon. Friends should look around them. On 1 January 1993, if all goes well, the European economic area will come into being, along with the internal market. The seven EFTA countries will all have a full part in that. Those seven have accepted the full body of EC legislation, existing and to come, dealing with the internal market, social policy, environment and competition. On top of that, Austria, Switzerland, Sweden and Finland have applied for full membership of the Community, Maastricht and all.

Are those countries all wrong and the hon. Member for Dagenham and a few of my hon. Friends, whose sincerity I respect even if I think that they are blind, all right? Or have those new applicants who accept the Maastricht treaty looked back in history, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) did, at the past 40 years in which, year on year, Germany, at the heart of the Community, has had a growth rate 1 per cent. per annum higher than us, and France, at the heart of the Community, has had a growth rate 0.5 per cent. higher than us ; and have they decided that that is the example that they want to follow rather than that of Britain, which is constantly at the fringes of the Community, a late entrant, always asking for exemptions from this and that, and regularly getting poorer than its continental neighbours?

I remember well the time when the deutschmark was 12 to the pound. It was then 10 to the pound. It was then four to the pound. It is now between 2.40 and 2.50 to the pound. If we back away from the Maastricht treaty, not only will it scare off new external investment in Britain--there are already signs of that happening as I see in my constituency--but the deutschmark rate will fall to 2, 1.50, to 1, and we shall progressively become poorer while those in the Community who move to closer union will become richer.

That will be the unalterable tide of history. Those who say that we should beware the Maastricht treaty because it is federalism and will lead on to this, that or the other never come forward with any alternative. I agree with those who say that this is not a perfect treaty. My right

Column 326

hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary did a marvellous job of negotiating in difficult circumstances. The treaty is not well drafted, it is difficult to read and there are parts in it that none of us likes. But our partners, our friends in the Community, are getting on with it. We have to be there too, to change it, to make it better, but also to see that Britain is more prosperous than it otherwise would be.

I make my position clear. Some years ago, I worked in Canada for five years, just when Canada was negotiating its free trade arrangement with the United States. I know how painful and difficult it was to create that free trade market in north America. Mexico is now part of it. Any idea that we could join a north Atlantic free trade area now is turning history back 25 years.

I have been many times to Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Singapore as a business man. They are all developing their own free trade areas within the Pacific rim countries. Do those of my hon. Friends who wish to oppose Maastricht seriously believe that we can stand back, a little England, on the edge of the continent and have inward investment, prosperity, full employment? It is just not possible.

I strongly agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) ; we need to do a better job of explaining the treaty to everyone in the country. We should not run away from it. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will take that point on board, and will tell us what he has in mind. I do not think that he should emulate the document put out by a number of EC members, which takes the form of a small card ; nor do I think that the lengthy 140-page consolidation of the treaty is quite right. I strongly recommend something like this pamphlet headed : "Info-pratique--Maastricht--faites votre choix. Les 35 points cle s pour voter."

I am sure that all hon. Members on both sides of the House will want to read that document, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will find a means of ensuring that similar documents are delivered to every household in the country at Christmas or thereabouts, so that it is available to the public when we are debating the Bill's Committee stage. There should be no deficiency in the provision of information. Although the decision must be made in the House, it is possible to ensure that our constituents are much better informed than they are now. A pamphlet summarising the terms of the treaty is undoubtedly needed.

Let me say a final word, which I address particularly to Opposition Members --many of whom I know well, and many of whom I know to be, at heart, strong supporters of Maastricht. I suggest that they return late from dinner tonight. Perhaps their taxis will be blocked ; perhaps they will find some other good reason not to be present for the vote. I believe that they could all benefit from practising the wisdom of a Denis Healey or a George Brown, and turn up late after a good dinner in order not to vote in an embarrassing way.

Let me remind Opposition Members of the time in the 1970s when they were in government with a small majority. When the debate concerned defence or Northern Ireland, Conservative Members did not vote to bring the Government down ; we followed our principles rather than trying to defeat the Labour Government on issues in which we believed. Many hon. Members who think as we do on the Community now sit on the Opposition Benches, and

Column 327

they should be honourable enough not to be here to vote. If they do not take such action, they--like their new leader- -will earn the contempt of the British people, which will hang around that new leader's neck like an albatross. He will never forget it. The new Leader of the Opposition has done an incredible thing. In one great leap, through his wobble and his hypocrisy, he has made his predecessor seem a paragon of consistency and principle. I never thought that that would be possible, but the Leader of the Opposition has achieved it.

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Will you ask the right hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Renton) to withdraw his allegation of hypocrisy ?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris) : I must say in all honesty that I did not hear the word "hypocrisy", but, if the right hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Renton) used it, I am sure that he will withdraw it.

Mr. Renton : As you agree, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you were not listening with full attention. What I said was that the Leader of the Opposition had shown, or practised, an example of hypocrisy that he would never forget. I think that that comment has the general approval of hon. Members on both sides of the House.

Several Hon. Members rose--

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. The debate has been conducted with full- blooded enthusiasm by hon. Members on both sides of the House. The right hon. Gentleman might be advised to make it absolutely clear that he alleged no hypocrisy on the part of the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr. Renton : It is certainly true that I was not calling the Leader of the Opposition a hypocrite ; I was saying something rather different.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster) : He repeated exactly what he had said before.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. We do not need sedentary remarks. 6.34 pm

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian) : This seems to be a debate for short speeches, and I sincerely hope that mine will be the shortest of all.

I believe that the comments of the right hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Renton) were addressed to people like me, who have always strongly supported the principle of closer union in Europe. It seems a bit much, however, for a former Government Chief Whip to appeal to Opposition Members to stay away so that his wretched, discredited Government can remain in power, and he will not get away with it. There are a number of words for such behaviour, and certainly the right hon. Gentleman used some ugly words when he described my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition as a hypocrite. That was nonsense.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman is now stretching the Chair's patience. Let us return to the debate.

Column 328

Mr. Home Robertson : I think that I am right in saying that the right hon. Member for Mid-Sussex withdrew his comment. If so, we can leave it at that.

As I said, I have always strongly supported the principle of closer European union. Along with my constituency party, I campaigned for a yes vote in the referendum ; I only regret that I did not join my hon. Friends the Members for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) and for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) in the Lobby on Second Reading of the Maastricht Bill. Had I done so, the Bill would have been given a majority of 245. Nevertheless, we shall have further opportunities when the Bill reaches its later stages. I intend to vote for an "opt-in" provision relating to the social charter and all the other bits and pieces in regard to which the Prime Minister dug his toes in --and tried to claim credit for doing so earlier in the debate.

I come from a country that has shared its sovereignty with a powerful neighbour for a long time--ever since 1707--and I do not share the hang-ups of Conservative Members and my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) about a development along those lines in the Community. I hope, indeed, that the Community will develop in ways that will give smaller countries like Scotland a stronger and more direct input into the affairs of the Community, as well as their own affairs.

Let me stress the important point that I put to the Prime Minister when he made his statement last week. Subsidiarity must not stop at Westminster. It would be a travesty if the La"nder of Germany, such as Bavaria, were given more power according to that principle, while Scotland and Wales continued to be administered from Whitehall like colonies, governed by Westminster legislation. It would constitute the grossest irony if the European Council assembled in Edinburgh, of all places, and agreed to a package that would deny subsidiarity to the people of Scotland.

The Maastricht treaty--with the opt-outs negotiated by the Prime Minister-- is certainly far from perfect.

Next Section

  Home Page