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Mr. Stephen Milligan (Eastleigh) : My right hon. Friend will be aware, as is the rest of the House, that we had encouraging news today about unemployment, which has now fallen for three months in succession. We are the only country in Europe in which unemployment is falling, much earlier in the economic cycle than expected. One reason for that, cited by many economists, is the flexibility that employers in this country have to hire people because they are not burdened with excessive social regulations.
Mr. Hurd : My hon. Friend reinforces the point that I am trying to make. The debate is only now really catching fire on the continent of Europe. The Opposition have not yet tuned into it, but they will have to do so fairly soon.
Mr. Hurd : No. I must get on, as I promised, to amendment No. 2. Amendment No. 2 featured as amendment No. 27 in a previous life. I made the Government's position clear in the debate on 5 May. The effect of the amendment has been to add the social protocol to those parts of the Maastricht treaty--such as the intergovernmental pillars--that are not being incorporated into United Kingdom law because they do not need to be.
I come now to the point of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). The amendment does not--and its movers did not claim that it did--force the United Kingdom tof my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General, but we are confident of our legal ground, which has been explained to the House on a number of occasions.
Mr. George Robertson (Hamilton) rose--
Mr. Hurd : I will come to the hon. Gentleman in a moment. Before I come to the critics on the Conservative Benches, I will deal with the general stance of the Labour party. It has, of course, altered constantly over the years. The Labour party has adopted as many positions as possible. In the early 1960s it opposed our membership of the Community ; in the late 1960s it was in favour ; in 1972 it was against ; by 1974 it was in favour of someone else's taking the decision ; by 1975 it was recommending a yes vote in the referendum ; in 1981 it was back to opposing the Community as a capitalist plot--some hon. Members still believe that. I think that we are now in the parliamentary lifetime of the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson). In 1987 the Labour party was back in the pro-membership fold. In 1992, it claimed to support the Maastricht treaty--but it is a funny kind of support that we have had in the proceedings in the House. So the weathercock of the Labour party has turned and turned again.
Now the Labour party has reached a decision on how it will vote tonight. I do not know, of course ; I only know what I have read, and I may be wrong-- I hope that I am. The whole House is waiting for the decision of the Opposition Front Bench. Against this background of the weathercock, will Labour Members vote yes or will they vote no? What will be the intellectual climax of all these years, these decades of reflection and debate in the Labour party? It will not disappoint us ; it has now come up with something new. Tired of yes, tired of no, Labour Members will abstain.
Some of us remember Mr. Frank Maguire, who, in 1979, for a fairly crucial vote, braved the perils of the Irish sea and came from Fermanagh and South Tyrone to abstain in person. There they are, the talent, the courage,
Column 389the massed firepower--the relatively massed firepower ; all of 35 Labour Members are present--who have come here from all parts of the kingdom to abstain in person.
Mr. Corbyn rose--
Mr. Corbyn rose--
Mr. Corbyn : I thank the Foreign Secretary for giving way. I assure him that at least 60 Labour Members voted against the Bill on Second Reading and I am sure that they will vote against the Maastricht treaty again tonight, primarily because it takes away from national Parliaments the power to set economic policy and hands it over to an unelected set of bankers who will impose the economic policies of price stability, deflation and high unemployment throughout the European Community.
Mr. Hurd : The hon. Gentleman has made the transition in my speech easy. He believes that the Community is a bankers' ramp and a capitalist plot. Now I shall speak to those of my hon. Friends who are persuaded from time to time that the Community is a socialist conspiracy, or possibly even, as I believe my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) has said, a communist plot. Let me move from one group of critics to another.
Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East) rose--
Mr. Nicholas Budgen rose--
Mr. Hurd : No, I want to get on. I have given way to my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) many times over the years and I have already given way to him once this afternoon. The second group of critics are my right hon. and hon. Friends, so I should like to deal fairly and gently with the deep and genuine concerns felt by some of them. Their concerns are mainly about the existing Community, but they also fear that the treaty of Maastricht will make it worse. I believe that their fears of a lurch into a super-state are misguided. We share their concerns about aspects of Community life and ways in which the Community functions under the existing treaties. However, none of that would be cured by rejecting Maastricht--indeed, the opposite would happen. We believe Maastricht to be an improvement on the previous position. It is not a perfect treaty, but, as negotiated for this country, it will suit us well. As the continental commentators noticed at the time, it was largely settled on our terms.
Why do I say that? Because, as a result of the treaty, there will be a strengthened basis for co-operation in foreign policy and in fighting cross -frontier crime and illegal immigration. The two big new areas of work under the Maastricht treaty--foreign policy and the Home Office subjects of law and order--will be managed between national Governments accountable to national
Column 390Parliaments. The Commission will not enjoy a monopoly of initiative and the processes will not fall under the jurisdiction of the European Court.
In many parts of the world it makes sense for us to work together in foreign policy, because that way we are more likely to get results than if each of us goes our own way. For example, we cannot solve the different Yugoslav crises from outside and we all therefore feel frustrated and angry. However, although it has been imperfect, what good news there has been has been achieved through the process of European co-operation on foreign policy : creating a peace process and supporting the efforts of Lord Owen and Mr. Vance ; imposing sanctions ; providing the peacekeeping monitors and the humanitarian aid, and the European troops to escort it ; and helping to contain the conflict.
That is not enough, which is why we have all continued to be frustrated and angry, but one thing is certain : the situation would have been much worse if the old states of Europe had divided, as they have done before, between client states in the Balkans. History has shown where that disintegration of European policy can lead.
Mr. Dykes : Does my right hon. Friend agree how striking and noteworthy it is that the three western European applicant countries, and perhaps Norway, too, have unanimously said that their keenness to join is enhanced and augmented by the Maastricht treaty? The treaty has increased their enthusiasm.
Mr. Marlow rose --
Mr. Marlow : I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. The Maastricht teaty is taking us towards a halfway house on the road to a European institution that would control defence and foreign policy. Will my right hon. Friend say that the Government will not agree at a later stage to defence and foreign policy coming within the ambit of European institutions?
Mr. Hurd : They do not. They exist as one of the pillars for co- operation. I am glad that after all the weeks of debate, my hon. Friend concedes that, because it has been much disputed by some of those who have worked with him.
I cannot say what will happen in 1996. I argued strongly and successfully against majority voting on foreign policy. I do not wish to commit this Government to what will happen in 1996 or thereafter. I simply speak of what is in the treaty today, where this whole area is firmly in the sphere of co-operation between Governments. Our special interests and responsibilities in this field are safeguarded--basic decisions on common foreign policy and security matters are by unanimity, the treaty takes account of our
Column 391distinct position as a permanent member of the Security Council and the position of NATO is preserved as the key to Europe's defence. One of the most important innovations in the treaty is the principle of subsidiarity. The matter has been much debated in the House and it lies at the heart of our view of how the Community should develop. It stems from an Anglo-German proposal. We put that case and argued it through and there it is in the treaty. As enshrined in article 3b of the treaty, it means that three questions must be answered before Community legislation is put forward. Can the Community act, which is the question of competence, and it can act only when the treaties allow it to act ; should the Community act ; and how much should the Community do? That offers us the chance to arrest the centralising, harmonising tendency of which I have spoken. Under the treaty of Maastricht, that will become a legally binding provision of the treaty of Rome. Before that, and anticipating that, we have worked, as the House knows, to create it as a political fact.
Mr. Roger Knapman (Stroud) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that since the date of the paving debate--I have just been to the Library to check--265 regulations and directives are to come before the House from the EC? Shall we be doing a favour in our quest for reduced bureaucracy and red tape to vote for or against those regulations and directives?
Mr. Hurd : Some of them are required to put the single market into effect, while others are required for shared environmental purposes. The volume, the total, has substantially reduced because the Commission has been cutting its legislative proposals in response to subsidiarity, even before ratification of the Maastricht treaty. There are still some which we strongly object to and resist and we have our own proposals for scrapping existing legislation. That process--what I described as the political fact- -is in being, even before the treaty is ratified, and we certainly want to carry it further.
Mr. Cryer rose --
Mr. Cryer rose --
Mr. Hurd : Thus the structure of the treaty, the concept of the pillars of inter-governmental co-operation and the concept of subsidiarity lie in prudence. There are others which I will not detail. We regard the tightening up of the definition of a number of areas of competence--the exclusion of harmonisation, the provision for the better enforcement of Community law, the increased accountability of the Commission and the confirmation of the role of the European Council--as steps forward.
We are clear that there would be lasting damage to British interests if, with ratification completed or in sight in 11 member states we were now to destroy the treaty. British reservations would not dissolve the desire of our partners to pursue the agenda at Maastricht. They would certainly seek to move ahead in some areas without us,
Column 392while our influence on other fronts--for example, the GATT talks, enlargement and the single market--would be put on to the margins. We would still be in the Community and in the single market, but our ability to promote and defend British interests would be diminished. Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) rose --
Mr. Shepherd : In all the debates to which my right hon. Friend referred--the 160 hours or more--we never returned to the first principle of democratic and accountable government. The profound rejection expressed by many people across Europe is based on their belief that it is not a democratic treaty. It contradicts government by and for the people, and so on. That is the fundamental objection. During all the hours of debate, the occupants of both Front Benches scrupulously moved aside from, and did not discuss, the issue of democratic and accountable government. This House is built on that. Why are the Government weighing more highly than democratic government the institutional arrangements that are profoundly anti- democratic?
Mr. Hurd : It is not anti-democratic to have a structure which puts emphasis in the new spheres of work on national Ministers co-operating together and being responsible, as I am, to national parliaments. There is nothing undemocratic about that.
There is nothing undemocratic in assessing and increasing the role of the European Parliament in monitoring the work of the Commission. So we have a Community which has both characteristics : the Community and Community institutions and the work between Governments. Both must be accountable, I agree with my hon. Friend, and that is what is in the treaty and that is what we have endlessly discussed. My hon. Friend is shutting his eyes to what is in the treaty because he wishes to haunt himself with what is not in the treaty.
I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), who is the most eloquent of all the critics on this score, that we are not sufficiently confident in the way in which we look at the Community. In recent years, British ideas have been decisive in the construction of the single market, the development of co-operation on foreign policy and against terrorism through Trevi, in reforming the CAP, in limiting Community spending, in designing association agreements with the countries of central and eastern Europe, in championing subsidiarity and in securing agreement to enlargement.
That has been formidable progress, yet too many people, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills and others, still believe the Community to be in some way a conspiracy by wily and over-clever foreigners to outwit us. That is not how the rest of Europe sees it. As it happens, and without any leading from me, one European Foreign Minister told me this week that, having thought about it, he thought that 40 per cent. of the intellectual content of the Community today owed its origin to my noble Friend Lady Thatcher-- [Interruption.] I know that, for more than one reason, these are perilous waters, but I am simply reporting what an intelligent observer, reflecting on subsidiarity, on the single market and on the British rebate, had to say.
Column 393In the next few years, the Community has a huge programme of work. I am thinking of GATT, enlargement and help in reforming the east of our continent. Beyond that, in 1996, there will be a further intergovernmental conference to review the treaties. The Maastricht treaty does not prejudge that review. We intend that at that conference British ideas should enrich the agenda.
Looking to the future beyond the Maastricht treaty, we need to build a more decentralised and diverse Community, outward-looking and free-trading. We need to look again at the Community institutions--for example, to make the Commission more accountable. We need to build up further the role of national parliaments. That is acknowledged in the Maastricht treaty, but it needs to be built up further. We need to end the assumption that, outside the established areas of the core policy, all member states must automatically do everything together at the same speed. We want a debate and to achieve a consensus in this country and beyond it on that type of agenda.
The House will look at its decision tonight in the perspective of 50 years. That is the age of the Community--it is not quite 50 years old--which is very short by any European measure. It was natural that, in its early days, the founders set themselves to struggle against the past and to assert the future of the Community in contrast to the all-powerful nation states which had brought Europe to disaster twice this century.
It was natural that at the beginning the founders should treasure as an advance every move towards integration and every increase in the competence of the Community, as if by each such move of integration Europe was climbing rung by rung out of a pit. But now, and particularly during the past three or four years, we can see the limits of such an approach. The diversity and variety of Europe are no longer seen as anachronisms and we are no longer heading towards a union in which such diversity will be smothered or swept away. I quote from a recent speech of Chancellor Kohl which illustrates how his thinking has changed :
"It is clear to me that we all need the political union of Europe but that does not mean that I shall cease to be German, John Major will cease to be British or Francois Mitterrand will cease to be French. We shall remain what we are. Our identity will remain. We are not building the United States of Europe. The statement which Churchill made here in Zurich appeals to me a lot, but unfortunately it is misleading. I have to admit that I have used it for far too long. The United States of Europe would mean that we would be like Texas or California. That is not the case. We shall remain in this Europe to a large extent nation states with our own identity and separate administrations in many areas. What we need now is a firm European roof over the old structures."
I would not use those exact words, but they are very interesting. They show how the thinking of even as fervent a European as Chancellor Kohl has changed. The European union set out in the treaty will not be a unitary state. Nor will it be a federation on the lines of the United States, Canada, Australia or Germany.
I have sketched--and we shall go on setting out--how we think the Community should evolve. The longer I am involved in Community meetings, the more clearly I see that what counts in the end is not the architecture or the machinery or the rulebook, but the will. I will give two examples of that in closing. We have a single European stance in the GATT negotiations, based on the absolute competence of the treaty of Rome. The Commission
Column 394negotiates on behalf of us all. That is not easy and every now and then the boat is rocked, but it is essential. No one would benefit, certainly not the business men in this country or those with whom we negotiate in the rest of the world, if the common European negotiating position in those negotiations disintegrated. The second example--central and eastern Europe--is different. There are huge tasks ahead and we have only just begun to grasp the difficulties. There is a huge task ahead for us Europeans, not just in economic terms, but through closer political links and in the field of security in central and eastern Europe. We have to act together on those things if we are to act successfully. The treaty of Rome provides no competence in this matter. The Commission has no monopoly. The treaty of Maastricht shows how this can be done by co-operation. It has to be done and this is not a matter that we can shirk or leave aside.
These are two completely different European tasks and they are essentially European tasks to be achieved through quite different pieces of machinery. It is the will to agree and work together which in both instances will be decisive. Let us reduce and criticise the detail, the regulation and the small-minded acts of interference, but let us do that not in a negative way but to find again the decisive will to act together successfully in the great matters where there is a European interest and where there must be a European effort. Because the Bill enables us to play our full part in reasserting that will power, I commend it to the House.
Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland) : I join the Foreign Secretary in paying a compliment to the House for the generally good-natured way in which a very long and arduous series of debates has been conducted.
We all saw that the right hon. Gentleman could barely suppress a sigh of relief as he sat down at the conclusion of his speech. It is true that, as well as some serious debates, there have also been some lighter moments. We have just observed a couple during the right hon. Gentleman's speech. We can always tell when he is in trouble, because his normal silky-smooth appearance changes. He goes slightly red. The decibel knob is turned up. Words come louder and louder, but meaning goes further and further away. That is exactly what happened when he tried to defend the Government's untenable position on the social chapter this afternoon.
The right hon. Gentleman was full of bluff and bluster about how the Labour party will or will not vote tonight. That is a bit rich coming from the right hon. Gentleman, who sidled away from so many votes on amendments in the last few weeks that we have lost count. He has twisted and turned, and given more explanations than the Vicar of Bray for why he was accepting this or that amendment on the social chapter, or for why he did not want a vote on the record and risk a defeat for the Government in the House.
I do not know why on earth the Foreign Secretary began his speech by launching into an attack on the press. It has been difficult for the press, let alone members of public reading the newspapers, to understand some of the Byzantine manoeuverings of the Government. Hon. Members have even faced difficulties in obtaining votes on some of the most important aspects of the legislation. I am not surprised that that made neither graphic reading nor instant headlines for the popular press.
Column 395The right hon. Gentleman's attacks on European employers were a bit rich also. I shall remind him of what a European Conservative conference had to say about the position that he was trying so ineffectively to defend. The meeting was the conference of the European people's parties heads of government and party leaders, so I assume that either the Foreign Secretary or his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was present. [Interruption.] Perhaps they were too embarrassed to attend and in view of the content of the resolution, I am not surprised. The organisation said that it
"Deplores the fact that the British Prime Minister and leader of British Conservative party took a negative position in Maastricht concerning European political union, particularly with regard to a common social policy."
Even the Government's Conservative allies and colleagues in the EC not only disagree with but deplore the very action that the right hon. Gentleman was seeking to justify.
Dr. Cunningham : Not at the moment. I shall return to that point. There have been lighter moments on other occasions also. There was the performance of the right hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones), the Minister of State at the Foreign Office. He huffed and puffed like Tristan the Tank Engine about amendment No. 27. "Ratification, ratification! Oh dear, it will not be possible!" Stern warnings were issued to the boys and girls playing with the signals. The Maastricht express would be derailed, he warned. This little game kept him amused for months on end. It was a simple pleasure, until "Whoosh! Up pops the Oxford flyer, Douglas the Diesel." Streamlined, slick and polished, up he streaked--at least that is what The Guardian said--because he had lost his trousers. "Oh dear! A terrible shunt." "Watch the signals," bleated Tristan. "Tiresome and undesirable," said Douglas. "Let's ignore them for the sake of completeness and clairty."
It was not the treaty or the legislation that was derailed : it was the Watford warbler. The advice that he had given and the protests that he had made were wiped out at a stroke without the apology by his right hon. Friend, who is sitting next to him today.
There has been a lot of amusement, and there have been a lot of attempts by both the Foreign Secretary and the Minister to mislead the House. I shall come to a few examples in a moment or two. The Foreign Secretary and I nevertheless agree that the treaty represents an important series of developments for the EC. It creates new opportunities for European co- operation. The agreement on the pillars of the treaty ensures the opportunity for developing co-operation outside the Community institutions- -a welcome innovation.
The progress on European policy development and European co-operation can thus take place within the Community
institutions--the Commission, the Council and the Parliament--or outside them. Co-operation on common foreign and security policies and the common urgency to fight crime more effectively are issues of considerable importance which will be dealt with under the pillars of the treaty.
Labour has already made it clear on many occasions that it broadly supports the treaty concluded at
Column 396Maastricht. We believe it is a necessary framework for the economic, social and political development of the European Community.
We believe that the treaty is a necessary framework for the economic, social and political development of the Community. A significant number of specific aspects are welcome : regional policy, the cohesion fund, majority voting on environment policy issues, public health and training for young people. The principle of subsidiarity is welcome, too, although controversy surrounds the Government's attitude towards it.
New powers for the European Parliament are also welcome, indeed overdue, and deserve support as a necessary first step towards greater openness or transparency and more effective democratic control of the Commission and other Community institutions. Last year at our annual conference, Labour put forward our view on how the Community should develop--our agenda for change. I reiterate our belief that Britain's future is intimately involved with Europe and reaffirm our commitment to closer economic and political co -operation.
In 1992, the annual conference of the Labour party decided that "The Maastricht treaty, while not perfect is the best arrangement that can currently be achieved".
Mr. Cormack : If the treaty has these attributes, why has the right hon. Gentleman done everything he can to delay ratification? Why has he himself earned the criticism of his social democratic friends in Europe for the extraordinary attitude that the British Labour party has taken throughout the past year?
Dr. Cunningham : The hon. Gentleman is wrong on both counts. First, I have never, and nor have my hon. Friends on the Labour Front Bench, participated in any filibustering or procrastination on the Bill. On occasions, we have actually moved and voted for closures. If we had wanted to prevent the ratification of the treaty, there were endless opportunities on which we could have voted for amendments to prevent them. The hon. Gentleman's first point is completely wrong. On the hon. Gentleman's second point, I defy him to produce evidence that any of my socialist or social democratic colleagues in the Party of European Socialists, of which I am vice-president, have articulated the view he ascribed to them today. I reject it and they will reject it too.
Yesterday the Labour party national executive committee agreed a new policy document entitled
Column 397"Prosperity through co-operation : a new European future". That document looks at the post-Maastricht realities in social, political and economic terms.
Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South) : Can my right hon. Friend enlighten us all and, indeed, the public about the extent to which any draft of such a policy was circulated to all members of the party of which he and I have the honour to be members and which claims to be a democratic party?
Dr. Cunningham : The document was produced by a working party. It was submitted to the joint policy committee of our party. It went from there to the new policy forum of the party and to the national executive committee and it will go to the party annual conference in the autumn. Any suggestion--
Dr. Cunningham : I am trying to respond to an earlier intervention. I can hardly take another one while I am dealing with this one. I understand what you say, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I was responding to the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing).
Of course, the document recognises the shortcomings of the treaty. It sees Maastricht not as an end but as part of a developing Europe--something to improve and build on. We must look beyond the treaty to the Europe that we want to help fashion, but we do not share the Government's view of Europe. There are and remain fundamental differences between us.
We have from the outset drawn a clear distinction between support for a developing European Community and our opposition to the Maastricht Bill which has been before the House for so many months. We could not support the Bill on Second Reading and we cannot support it tonight.
The Government's decision to exclude Britain and the British people from the advantages of the social chapter is fundamentally unacceptable to us. We have consistently argued that the Government are wrong on this vital social policy aspect of the treaty. They are wrong because it will result in lower status and fewer rights for British people compared with their European neighbours, because it envisages Britain as a low-wage, low-skill sweatshop economy and because it sets Britain apart from, and against, the other members of the Community. As I have
Column 398said, those views have been widely endorsed by political parties, employers and leaders of Conservative parties across the Community. As the Foreign Secretary referred to the Federal Republic of Germany, let me remind him that when my hon. Friend for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith) and I met German Ministers in Bonn and spokespersons for the German employers federation I asked them, "Did it ever occur to you to ask your Government to opt out of the social chapter?" "Not for a moment," they said.