Previous Section Home Page

Column 629

we live in what is clearly--it has become almost a cliche to say it--an increasingly dangerous and unpredictable world. We are all concerned about the instability of eastern Europe and the Balkans. We all realise that we must take seriously the prospect of Russian revanchism under Vladimir Zhirinovsky, Rutskoi or whoever. That might lead to attempts to take back the Crimea, to a war with the Ukraine or to attempts to subvert the Baltic republics, which we never recognised as being part of the Soviet Union, even when they were occupied by it.

We all share the concern about the instability in the Maghreb, and about the destabilisation of Algeria and, potentially, of Egypt. Those countries are pretty close to home. Most of all, the House should be profoundly concerned at the prospective breakdown of non-proliferation after 20 years. It is all too likely that, at the turn of the century, there will be six, seven or perhaps eight new countries around the world with nuclear weapons. Libya, Syria, possibly Iraq--despite our best efforts--Iran, Pakistan, India, Israel and North Korea. Some of those countries--particularly those in the middle east and the Maghreb--are uncomfortably close to us. Against that background, it is becoming increasingly difficult on economic grounds for us to maintain a full-range independent defence capability. It is becoming increasingly difficult for us even to maintain the reduced defence establishment which resulted from the original "Options For Change" cuts. There is continual pressure from the Treasury for further effective cuts.

During the past year, it has been announced that several weapons programmes have been abandoned, including the tactical air-to-surface missile for the RAF and the MSAM system. We are told that there is a whole range of very desirable capabilities, such as attack helicopters, which we simply cannot afford.

We shall have to take difficult decisions as we go into the new century, as will the French, about the future of our nuclear deterrence. Are we to abandon it in a world in which there is not only increasing instability but an increasingly wide availability of nuclear weapons ? Are we to renew them and to maintain their operability ? Will we go for a fourth generation nuclear deterrent ? Frankly, it seems extremely unlikely that the taxpayers of Britain alone, or of France alone, will be prepared to carry those burdens. There is already legitimate concern about our conventional defence capability. People are saying that perhaps we no longer have the means available to us to launch another Falklands campaign or to take part in another Gulf war. I hope that that is not the case, and the Government have given reassurances on that point.

Whether or not that is the case now, it is clear that it will be difficult for us alone to provide the kind of defence capability which all of us--at least those on this side of the House--set store by maintaining. Therefore, economic logic as well as geopolitical logic leads towards the only possible alternative--increasing defence co-operation and integration with our partners in the European Union.

As a first step, I hope that we can go further than the individual procurement co-operation that has yielded such excellent results as Jaguar, Tornado and now the European fighter aircraft. I hope that the Government will take up the possibility of extending to defence procurement the public procurement directive. That seems once again to be in the


Column 630

interests of the whole Union, but particularly in the interests of this country. The Union would gain lower procurement costs as a result of the competition which would flow from that and, since we have probably the strongest defence industry in the European Union--the French, I know, have a strong one, but ours has been rather more succesful recently--we have a disproportionate amount to gain industrially.

Beyond that, we cannot put off for very long the need to contemplate a very real degree of defence specialisation and therefore to look at the co- ordination of policies which will be required if we go down that route. This is all about what it has been all about all along : it is about creating a framework in which we can preserve democracy, prosperity, freedom and hope for the future of our civilisation in this part of the globe, not only in the next few months or years but well into the next century and beyond. 8.46 pm

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon) : I was not fortunate enough to be in the Chamber on Thursday, and I am glad of the opportunity to express my great sadness at the loss of John Smith and to express to his Labour colleagues and to his family every condolence. May I also take the opportunity to congratulate the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) on his excellent maiden speech, which now seems several hours ago ?

I would like to go straight into the main theme of this debate. I have always been a believer in a united Europe ; not for economic reasons, but for political reasons. Twice this century, this continent has torn itself apart, and people who say that that could never happen again need only look and see what is happening in Yugoslavia after structures disappeared.

I want to see a united Europe, and a Europe of the people which recognises the rich variety of cultures and languages within the continent. I want to see a Europe which has a stronger social dimension. It is a scandal that 25 per cent. of the poor people of Europe live here in the United Kingdom. We want to see a Europe united in its diversity. The last thing we want is a centralised and monolithic European Union, and we need to strengthen mechanisms to protect decentralisation.

That takes me on to the question of subsidiarity, and the papers which we have before us. Subsidiarity came into force on 1 November, and it is something that we welcome. But the Maastricht treaty talked about taking decisions as close as possible to the people they affect. Several hon. Members have referred to the fact that subsidiarity should not be a dipole between Brussels and Strasbourg. It should be a process which goes throughout the whole community so that decisions are taken as close as possible to the people. Decisions should be taken at district or county level, and should not be taken at an all-Wales level or an English regional level. If the decision can be taken in Cardiff, it should not be taken in London and certainly not in Brussels or Strasbourg. We want to see the strengthening of local government side by side with the development of the concept of subsidiarity. We believe that that should involve the creation of a democratic tier of government on a regional level in England and, of course, in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.


Column 631

Constitutional developments are now taking place which have a considerable significance for the future. The European Committee of the Regions had its first meeting in March. I was lucky enough to be there as a guest witness of the first session. I would like to see that body developed into a second chamber of the European Parliament, analogous, perhaps, to the structure in Germany where the upper chamber representing the La"nder can act as a block on the centralising tendencies of the first chamber. That argument is bound to be heard very much over the coming years.

On the question of the Committee of the Regions, I would be grateful if the Minister could clarify what will be the position of the councillors who lost their seats in the local elections. Will they continue be able to sit as representatives, deputies or alternates on the Committee ? Sadly, that incidence arises in Wales. Mr. Bill Hughes, who is an ex-councillor in Swansea, is in that position. Although I disagree with his politics, I have a lot of respect for him as an individual. That matter needs to be cleared up.

We welcome the extension of the European Union. The Scandinavian countries and Austria will undoubtedly strengthen the social dimension. But as Europe grows, so must there be a question as to the appropriate structures for Europe. Will Malta have a Commissioner and a seat on the Council of Ministers ? If Malta can have one, why not Wales and Scotland ? If Luxembourg has a voice on the Council, with a population the size of that of the county of Clwyd, surely Wales is entitled to a seat as well. A moment ago, the right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) referred to discrepancies in the way in which the European Parliament is comprised. Ireland, with about the same population as Wales, has 15 seats in the European Parliament ; Wales has five. Clearly, we need a root and branch review.

I shall refer to regional policy for a moment. Clearly, if we are moving towards a common currency, there must be a much stronger regional policy ; otherwise, one of the tools that is available to fine tune the economy between the areas of depression and the areas which are very successful will disappear. That will have to be made up by a stronger regional policy.

If we look at last year's changes in the structural funds, Wales did not do quite so well as some other areas--the hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy) mentioned that earlier. The highlands and islands of Scotland were lucky in getting objective 1 status. Northern Ireland and Merseyside have objective 1 status, but Wales missed out. We did not even succeed in holding on to our objective 2 status in north east Wales shortly before Christmas when the review took place. As a result, resources that could have helped in vital infrastructure development have been lost, and that makes the competition against neighbouring Merseyside even more difficult. We want to ensure that we have regional policy that works effectively for Wales.

I shall turn for a moment to objective 5b and put a point to the Minister. Objective 5b is important for rural Wales. But what is the timescale for the resources from this tranche of objective 5b to come on stream ? Originally, it was meant to be on 1 January 1994 ; clearly, we missed that. I believe that the Welsh Office strategy was not available until April, and it will take about six months for the Commission to respond to it. In other words, it will be


Column 632

October before we get any semblance of objective 5b funds coming through. That will virtually sterilise the fund for 1994. There are many valid and valuable projects waiting to take advantage of the funds. Many of them are training projects. I believe that unemployed people, and the development of the economy in those areas that are justified in having objective 5b money under the criteria laid down by the Community, should certainly be getting the funds quicker. I hope that the Government can do something to speed that up.

There is also the question of the regional challenge. I refer to a reply that I received last week from the Secretary of State for Wales. The regional challenge approach, with a top slicing of objective 5b resources, seemed to be singularly inappropriate for rural Wales. There is a danger of having only a few large schemes, ignoring the needs of many areas that have valid smaller projects that would come under objective 5b. It is a constant complaint that the Development Board for Rural Wales and the Welsh Development Agency have a tendency to go for flagship projects and the small projects--the few thousand pounds here and there--which could help small businesses and help to overcome problems in the local environment are ignored. I hope that top slicing will not lead to that.

I hope for clarification about who will be taking decisions on the regulations. The Secretary of State's stance is directly contrary to the regulation which states that the partners should decide on these matters. The Secretary of State has taken the decision himself. The public bodies should have been involved in that. That matter needs to be cleared up as well. The Government believe that there can be some leverage with the big boys investing, but that is unlikely in areas such as rural Wales. I urge the Government to think again. It may be appropriate for urban areas but it is certainly not appropriate for our type of areas.

I also draw attention to the question of objective 4. What is happening with the new objective 4 ? Will the resources that are available under objective 4 be used by the Government ? Will they be used to adapt to industrial change and changes in production systems ? That could enable many small companies to improve their performance. It could improve relationships between suppliers and the forces of demand. It could improve partnerships between large companies and subcontractors. They are important aspects. I should like to know the Government's latest position vis-a -vis objective 4. Are they persisting in not implementing objective 4 fully in the United Kingdom ? Do they not accept that objective 4 funds could be valuable in reskilling the work force--something that is very important ?

I shall touch on agriculture. Clearly, farmers in Wales depend on the support that comes from the European Community. They are worried about the effects of GATT and future changes to the common agriculture policy. Welsh family farms are especially dependent on getting appropriate support, and rural Wales depends on family farms. If agricultural support is not related to production in the future, I hope that it will be replaced by a relationship to agri-environmental projects. After all, farmers are the custodians of our rural environment and they need to be given the resources to maintain their livelihood.

There are questions arising which relate to the GATT agreement. Can the Government say what will be the effect of GATT on United Kingdom agriculture, especially on


Column 633

upland farmers and on the livestock and dairy sectors ? Can the Minister tell the House whether the House of Commons or the European Parliament will ratify the agreement ? That is an important question. I am interested to know whether there is any indication of the thinking of the European Court of Justice on this matter, which I believe is currently under consideration. If there is to be a new world trade organisation, we must ensure that it does not become a super-quango but has some answerability, and not only answerability to the forces of supranational corporations.

Fishing is important in many areas around our coastlines. It is not as large an industry as it used to be in Wales but it is still important in some parts. We are concerned about the lack of transparency at Fisheries Council meetings which has led, frankly, to a loss of confidence in the procedures of the Council. No one seems to know what is being argued on behalf of our fishermen, and communities where the economic welfare depends on fishermen, such as parts of north-east Scotland and areas like Milford Haven, want to know what is happening.

If I understand it correctly, the next Fisheries Council meeting is in June. Can we have a clear statement on the accession of Spanish and Portuguese fishermen to British fishing waters ? Our fishermen deserve that and need it. Perhaps the Government could clarify whether there is a need for an adjustment or amendment to the treaty to safeguard the position of fishermen. Have they clarified the position in relation to that ?

The trans-European networks are important. They designate the route Dublin- Holyhead-Birmingham-Felixstowe-Harwich-Benelux. That is one of the main routes that needs priority. I press for the resources available through trans-European networks to be available to upgrade the A5 across the island of Anglesey. That is part of the Welsh Office rolling programme, but it needs to be treated with greater urgency.

In the trans-European network exemplifications given in the document before us, I note that a large proportion of the projects are railway projects. I certainly support, as does my party, projects which aim to move freight from road to the railways. I believe that the trans-European road network needs to be sensitive to environmental factors. I note that chapter 3 of the White Paper says :

"Only projects that have passed the environmental impact scrutiny are eligible."

I hope that that will be borne out in practise.

On electricity networks, I see that reference is made to the possibility of connections between the UK and Ireland. I ask whether an interconnector could be built on the Gwynedd or Dyfed coast. I imagine that Gwynedd is the closest to Dublin and would be a singularly appropriate place for that to happen.

The UK was found guilty by the European Court of Justice of failing to comply with the bathing water directive in regard to Blackpool and Southport. I understand that the 10-year period of compliance runs from the date of notification. That might cause bigger problems. Clearly, there is a major cost implication of upgrading and maintaining environmental standards, but I feel that it is wrong that that burden should fall on the water rate payers in those maritime areas. It should come in its entirety out of central Government funds, or it will be greatly unfair.

I am delighted that progress has been made in ensuring that the links between Wales and Ireland will be eligible


Column 634

for Interreg funds, not only between Holyhead and Dublin, but between Pembrokeshire and south-east Ireland. I hope that the Government will give some idea of the time scale for the funds becoming available. Will they issue guidelines on the type of projects that will be appropriate ? Who will be able to make applications ? What will be the mechanism for doing that ? We are looking forward to a Europe that is progressively more united. We are determined that it should be a Europe that is as close as possible to the people and fully democratic. Wales is comfortable in a European setting. When we have our own Parliament to enable us to play an even fuller part in the debates in Europe, that link will be even stronger. In the meantime, we must make the most of the opportunities available to us. I hope that everyone in Wales intends to do so on 9 June.

9.1 pm

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford) : I am grateful for catching your eye at this stage, Madam Deputy Speaker. I was not expecting to do so right now.

I join hon. Members from both sides of the House who, since Thursday's sad events, have said that the loss of John Smith from this House is a sad loss. As a believer in the style of politics in the House, I believe that it is important to be able to listen and disagree with people's opinions and ideas while still appreciating the style, intelligence and wit with which they are delivered. In John Smith that was very much the case. It was always rather galling to watch him at the Dispatch Box, while making a point with which one disagreed, twisting the knife while making one laugh at the same time. That was a great skill.

I welcome the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) and congratulate him on his well-delivered maiden speech. I also give him a small warning. Some two years ago, I made my maiden speech in a similar debate, and the path that I chose has allowed me to part company with the Government on one particular subject. My warning to the hon. Gentleman is that I read the treaty of Maastricht, which caused me all these problems. I suggest that, if he does not read anything, he will be an extremely compliant Back- Bencher and do very well in the future.

Tonight's debate is important. I am fully aware of the time and therefore will hurry my speech a little. As I listened to all the speeches tonight, it occurred to me, and it became quite aggravating in a sense, that so much is constantly about regurgitating vision after vision--competing visions, historical visions. That is the problem. The whole thing seems to be a mess as people try to vie with each other for a bigger or wider view of what the world should have been, or what it will be, while never wanting to differ from what was said 20 or 30 years ago.

I agreed very much with some of the points that the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) made about power blocks and a smaller and smaller global trading market. I believe that the world is shrinking at an extremely rapid rate. In the past six or seven years, we have seen so many developments out there that for us constantly to harp on about the way that Europe develops is immutable is to fly in the face of events : the cold war has ended ; we have seen massive change across eastern Europe, with the Berlin wall coming down , changes in the relationship across the Atlantic, changing trading patterns, and a massively growing power base in trade in the far east. To reject all


Column 635

those and continue saying that what was laid down as structures in the European Community would therefore deny the possibilities that come out of all of that change.

In some ways Britain is pivotal in Europe. We have a foot in both camps because we are a part of Europe and have a part to play in the rest of the trading and economic world. Historically we have been global and European traders for the past 300 or 400 years. It is in our interests to ensure that developments in Europe and in the rest of the world do not affect our stance on either position to such a degree that it is difficult for our business men and traders who operate successfully in all markets to proceed in that at which they excel--trading and exporting.

More than half our trade is with the rest of the world, and 45 per cent. of it is with Europe. More and more business men are choosing to take advantage of developing markets in the far east and the United States. Those markets have consistently been growing faster than markets in Europe and have shown less concern for massive over-heavy social protection. The absence of such protection gives a competitive edge. We must pay heed to that and try to ensure that that of which we are a part is shaped accordingly.

Too often in the debate it has been said that there is only one alternative to being absolutely compliant--to be absolutely out of the European Community or Union. I reject that view of how things will be in 10 or 15 years. I do not know exactly what position we will be in 15 or more years from now, but we are a part of Europe and want to continue to be part of Europe as long as it benefits us to be so. If it did not so benefit us, the arguments would be wholly against Britain being a member. The arguments for being as much a part of the rest of the world in a global trading sense are powerful. Our businesses may end up strapped by higher and higher social costs and heavier protection inside Europe and may be unable to take advantage of developing markets. We must fight against that. The main question in the debate is what we do in 1996 because all else pales into insignificance in the intervening period. That is the crucial point at which the Community has to decide where it wants to be, whether it wants to continue to take a shrinking share of world trade or to make sure that its markets are deregulated and open to competition, giving businesses across Europe the opportunity to trade.

The European Community needs some major reforms, and I shall skip through them quickly. First, we must look carefully at Community social policy. The whole concept of a level playing field in social policy is absolutely mad. We should be united in understanding that the constant drive for a uniform level of social protection will not protect those who are holding down jobs but will make it more difficult for them to remain in employment.

Governments who are elected on whatever platform, whether socialist or Conservative, must decide on the level of social protection and must balance it against the costs and burdens to industry and the effect on their competitiveness in Europe and worldwide. We must try to repatriate that social area back to national Governments for decision. A legitimate way to compete is to balance all those costs against the trading environment, and we should do that as co-operating nation states within Europe.

There is no question but that the common agricultural policy is in huge need of revitalisation and reform. We cannot go beyond 1996 without any plan to change it. Much has been said about the CAP, but few proposals have


Column 636

been made. We must strive to abolish subsidies on agricultural production and put subsidies--if any--on income, and eventually phase those out. That can legitimately be done within the national framework.

There must be transparency for all who elect Governments throughout Europe. They must be able to identify how much of taxation is spent on all sorts of mechanisms. One should bear in mind the fact that only 40 per cent. of the money ends up with farmers. It must also be madness to have a bureaucracy working almost for its own sake. If we can return to national control under a watchdog within the Community, that should be perfectly acceptable and would make a lot of sense. As was said by the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies), we must be careful not to obliterate the market in the outside world of 4 billion people by an obsession that only one power bloc of 300 million people exists. We must invite others to compete with us on agriculture and lower the burden of cost on families, who it is estimated pay £1,000 more a year for the agricultural produce that they buy in the shops as a direct result of the CAP. That must be reformed and changed.

Clearly, an important time is ahead--1996 must be about institutional reform and change to the Commission, and trading and social reforms that will make Europe a deregulated, free-trading area governed by co-operating national Governments, but which identify those areas that they can best deal with individually.

I will conclude with the words of Francis Bacon :

"He that builds a fair house upon an ill seat committeth himself to prison."

Rigid structures, lower competitiveness and blanket social provisions across Europe in an attempt to produce a level playing field will destroy the one thing that we seek to achieve--an outward-looking, free-trading Europe of nation states in which all my right hon. and hon. Friends can believe.

9.12 pm

Mr. John Hutton (Barrow and Furness) : I add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) on his impressive maiden speech. I look forward to him addressing the House again in future.

I would describe myself as a strong supporter of the European Union. It was a pleasure to hear such strong support for it in tonight's debate. I want the Union to continue to evolve into an effective economic, political and foreign policy entity. I hope that that is also the Government's view as they take us into the 1996 intergovernmental conference.

It is perfectly appropriate for the House to debate the style and kind of European Union that we want, but I suggest that the guiding principles governing the Union's development should be openness, transparency and full commitment to decisions being taken at the appropriate level--be it regional, national or Commission. That is fundamental if the momentum that is building up from the Union's evolution is to be maintained and to continue to enjoy popular support among this country's electorate. That is critical. In the short time available to me, I make a special plea for two industries that have not been mentioned tonight--shipbuilding and defence, which is critically important. I am glad that the Government have committed themselves in the White Paper to a renewed 7th directive on state aid


Column 637

to the shipbuilding industry. I urge the Minister and the Government to maintain that support for a renewed eighth directive if, meantime, there is no international agreement on withdrawing all state subsidies for shipbuilding.

It would be suicidal for the Government to withdraw their support for that directive : it would have a devastating impact on the British shipbuilding industry. The directive is an essential life support system for the industry, and I hope that it will be extended beyond the end of the year, because it is important not just to my constituency but to other shipbuilding communities. I particularly urge the Government to maintain their argument with the Commission for the extension of that principle of state aid to the warship yards : that, too, is very important to my constituents.

Secondly, I urge the Government to do all that they can to ensure that the Konver initiative is renewed at the end of the next financial year. We had PERIPHERA last year and Konver this year ; together, the schemes have produced £2 million worth of important support for job-creation activity in my constituency and throughout the north-west. It is important that that aid should be maintained, and continued in the future.

I know that the Government have an ideological objection to the whole principle of defence industry diversification, but I think that those two schemes in particular have demonstrated the relevance and appropriateness of Community initiatives at that level. The defence industry simply cannot cope on its own with a sudden reduction in the volume of work that the Government are placing with it. As the Government are the industry's only substantial client, the normal rules of the market place do not apply to it.

I hope that it is common ground between the parties tonight that we are not prepared to sit in the House and allow such a critical and strategic national industry, which supports thousands of communities and hundreds of thousands of skilled engineering workers, to evaporate on the altar of some ideological free market experiment. The defence industry is too important for us to play politics with it. For that reason, I hope that the Minister and the Government will take forward and support the Konver initiative and the PERIPHERA scheme next year.

9.16 pm

Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher) : In the time remaining, I cannot make a speech, but I will make a gesture. Let me begin by paying my own tribute to the late John Smith. He and I were both positive about Europe : it meant a lot to him, and it means a lot to me. We were positive in the sense that we did not believe that the interests of the people of this country could be sustained and enlarged by a crabbed and inward-looking attitude, and the pretence that the nation state alone is sufficient.

Of course we differed in our solutions to the problem of achieving the type of Europe that we wanted to develop ; that was natural. One of the facts that have emerged over the years is that there is not always a British position in regard to the future of Europe, but there is often a Conservative or socialist position. In forming such attitudes, we may well want to find allies in like-minded parties throughout the Community.


Column 638

In my few minutes, I want to place something on record. If we are positive about what we can achieve for the British people by active membership of the Community, we shall succeed in ensuring that the British people themselves are enthusiastic about the Community. It is in our interests to have a common foreign policy, with all the uncertainty that surrounds us ; it is in our interests for that policy to include a common defence policy involving our building up the Western European Union.

The WEU must, of course, be closely allied to NATO, without which it could not function because of the importance of America. Since the Brussels agreement in January, however, America has accepted that the WEU can use its targeting intelligence and lift capacity without necessarily involving American troops in any particular operation. We are beginning to make enormous progress in that regard.

It is in this country's interests for us to tackle environmental questions across the Community rather than just internally. It is in our interests--I know that people understand this when it is explained to them--for us to tackle crime and drugs on a Community basis. Such issues matter to our constituents ; they also have a pan-European implication. Most important, we cannot resolve our economic problems without action across the Community. Member states have the common objective of a low-inflation, high -growth economy. As we have seen during this terrible recession, from which we are now emerging, an economy will not succeed without assistance and reinforcement from success elsewhere.

There must be a common approach on how to achieve low inflation. That is why close co-operation between Finance Ministers is necessary and why, in building a single market without exchange controls, we must develop common policies and share similar goals, without which unemployment will continue to be much higher than it need otherwise be.

Unemployment is the most critical issue in the Community. It is unacceptable that 19 million people are unemployed in the Community. The most positive contribution that the British Government can make is to understand--this understanding is becoming more widespread among European employers federations in many countries, whatever their Government--that they have to get people back to work and increase the competitiveness of European companies to create jobs and economic growth. Britain has contributed to that thinking. We must show the British people that, when we are self-confident and we put our arguments clearly, we can influence others, not by handbagging them but through intellectual argument and by carefully presenting statistics and evidence that an idea is relevant to others. That is why we can go confidently into the European elections, present our agenda and get the British people on our side and why we can have a European Union that can build on the confidence that we can engender within it. I am glad that I have had four minutes in which to speak in the debate.

9.20 pm

Ms Quin : With the leave of the House, I shall reply. This has been a wide-ranging and, despite some widely differing views, harmonious, good- tempered debate.

It has also been wide-ranging in time. My hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Enright) took us back to


Column 639

1940, for which he was subjected to a little criticism from the hon. Members for Stafford (Mr. Cash) and for Chingford (Mr. Duncan Smith), but the hon. Member for Stafford then took us back to Lord Palmerston and gunboat diplomacy.

We heard a tremendous maiden speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane), who spoke with great confidence and flair. He transported us back to Tom Paine, Wentworth and even Charles I. I join in the tributes that were paid to my hon. Friend. We appreciated his tribute to Jimmy Boyce, who, sadly, served this House for only a short time.

Given my hon. Friend's background and experience, it was highly appropriate that he should make his debut in this debate. I assure him that in no way was I trying to dismiss the old industries as irrelevant. I am all too aware that the contribution that they are capable of making to industrial development has been undervalued, and that new technologies are applied to older industries to make an artificial distinction between old and new industries, which is not viable. I wish my hon. Friend a long and successful career in the House.

Throughout the debate, many fine tributes have been paid to John Smith by many of my hon. Friends who knew him at the beginning of his parliamentary career or even before--my hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice) produced a photograph from 1962. There was considerable praise for John Smith's views on Europe and for his consistency. Before attending this debate, I re-read the speech that he made in the momentous debate of July 1971 and found that many of his comments then are highly relevant to today's debate, including, for example, his affirmation that Europe is not only a free trade area and his belief in the regional dimension of Europe.

I welcome the Foreign Secretary who has just joined us. I do not know whether he will be able to give us a graphic blow-by-blow account of his latest skirmish in Brussels or whether he has good news for Euro-sceptics and Euro-enthusiasts alike--perhaps he has already been able to tell the Minister of State.

Clearly, a variety of views have been expressed by Conservative and Labour Members. The hon. Member for Stafford urged us to call Euro-sceptics "Euro- realists", although I am not sure that we would all agree that that was the most suitable term. We also discovered that there are different types of Euro-sceptics, and there has certainly been speculation in the press-- although I am not sure how authoritative it is--that some were contemplating urging withdrawal from the European Union. However, Conservative Euro-sceptics assured us that that was not the case.

As usual, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) made a stimulating contribution, which was appreciated to varying degrees by his right hon. and hon. Friends. Whenever I see the right hon. Gentleman speak with conviction but without notes, I am tempted to throw away my Euro -paper mountain ; but I do not feel that I have the confidence or perhaps the experience that he has. There has been comparatively little mention of the Maastricht treaty, for which I think that I am rather grateful. The right hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) referred to the "high priests of Maastricht". I was a little worried ; I am not sure who they are and wondered whether there might be some contenders for the title in the


Column 640

Chamber today. Is it a type of annual award that could be introduced ? Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will explain at a future date.

Many themes have been raised in the debate and I shall mention just a few. The concern that Britain is being isolated in the European Union cropped up several times, and not only in speeches from Opposition Members. It was mentioned by the right hon. Members for Old Bexley and Sidcup and for Horsham (Sir P. Hordern) and by the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney).

The Government face a dilemma : they say that they want to be at the heart of Europe, but some of their actions put us on the periphery, and we cannot be at the heart of Europe and on the periphery at the same time. The fiasco of qualified majority voting of a few weeks ago was mentioned in that connection by the hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy).

Mention was also made of the European monetary institute. It appears that one of the reasons why it is sited in Frankfurt is that it would be difficult to have it in a country that has opted out of financial integration as set out under the Maastricht treaty. That impression was reinforced in the German newspapers when the institute was set up : they thanked John Major for allowing Germany a free run.

Our isolation in terms of the social chapter was mentioned by many hon. Members, especially by my hon. Friends. Despite the strong and successful efforts not to have a partisan slanging match, there was much concern about that opt-out and a feeling that a policy of opt-out and veto was a rather negative approach.

That brings me on to the veto itself. Again, there were some claims-- thankfully, not as many as we have experienced lately--by Conservative Members that Labour wanted to abandon the veto. That simply is not the case. Any reading of our party documents will show that in foreign policy, in taxation and in some of the areas where there is already a veto, we have no intention of giving up the veto. It seems to us entirely appropriate in those policy areas. There was a rather humorous piece not long ago in the Evening Standard which quoted one Conservative Member, anonymously, as saying that if the Conservatives had to keep claiming that Labour was set on abandoning the national veto, they would have to go to confession twice a day to save their souls. We believe, however, that majority voting is used as a rule in the European Union.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Douglas Hurd) indicated dissent .

Ms Quin : The Foreign Secretary may shake his head. If one considers all the decisions made in 1992, for example, one sees that many thousands did not need to go to a vote and that others were decided by qualified majority voting and not by unanimity. However, we believe that it is important to have the veto in certain areas. During the debate, the dreaded F-word made its appearance from time to time. As ever, it seemed to be a rather disputed term. Some say that it means a centralised super-state and some talk about the European version of federalism in which there is an emphasis on decentralisation and subsidiarity. We are not in favour of a centralised super-state. Having fought against bureaucratic centralism at home, with the establishment of so many quangos and


Column 641

the weakening of local government, it is unlikely that we would go on a crusade for bureaucratic centralism in the European Union. Perhaps it is a question not just of the F-word, but of the E-word. I heard that Conservative canvassers in the local elections were told not to use the dreaded E-word--Europe. It will be extremely difficult to follow that advice in the European elections which will be upon us shortly.

The theme of openness and democracy in Europe was mentioned by hon. Members on both sides and it was one of the factors that provided for some unity in the debate. The hon. Member for Stamford and Spalding (Mr. Davies), for example, complained about secrecy in the Council of Ministers. That sentiment was heard from many Opposition speakers. I should like to ask the Minister a question that I asked him last week, but to which I have not had an answer. We were disappointed, to put it mildly, that the Government did not back the Dutch Government in supporting the case put forward by The Guardian , which complained about the lack of openness in the European Union's deliberations. It might be good to get the Government's view on that when the Minister responds.

Many hon. Members on both sides talked about improved parliamentary scrutiny. That is an important issue. Having been a member of European Standing Committee B, which scrutinises European legislation, I am well aware of the worth of the work of that Committee. None the less, many of us still feel that there are many ways in which scrutiny can and should be improved, not necessarily by duplicating the scrutiny that takes place in the European Parliament, but perhaps by complementing it. In that respect, good relations between Members of Parliament and Members of the European Parliament are important. I believe that there is not a conflict here between national Parliaments and the European Parliament, with its growing authority and influence. We need a strengthening of the democratic elements in the European Union generally. In that respect, the interests of national parliaments and the European Parliament may, as often as not, go hand in hand.

The issue of subsidiarity was, again not surprisingly, raised at several points during the debate and the importance of allowing the regions and, indeed, local authorities their voice in the European decision-making process was stressed by many hon. Members. The hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) talked about the Committee of the Regions. One of the things that gave the Opposition much satisfaction was that, as a result of one of the rare victories in the House, we were able to ensure that the representation on the Committee of the Regions would comprise elected local members. That is something that we feel very strongly about.

The idea of a referendum was mentioned in passing, but did not feature greatly in the debate. I seem to remember that when the referendum took place in 1975, the pattern of the result was that the further one got away from London and the south-east, the rather more lukewarm the yes vote was. I have a theory, which I have no way of proving, that if we had a referendum today, the result might turn out to be the other way round. In many ways, Scotland, Wales, the north of England and the other regions of England have


Column 642

seen a European Union which seems to be genuinely interested in regional matters and in decentralisation. That is a very important premise, on which we ought to build for the future.

The intergovernmental conferences, to be held in 1996, were mentioned by many hon. Members, including my right hon. Friends the Members for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore), and for Llanelli (Mr. Davies). Both of them mentioned the debate that we shall no doubt have over the possible progress towards European monetary union. The Labour position is that it wants to see those criteria interpreted flexibly. I very much endorsed what my hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North said of the need for greater convergence, to which I would add the commitment to growth and the commitment to tackling the issue of employment.

Mr. Forman : Will the hon. Lady give way ?

Ms Quin : I shall give way once.

Mr. Forman : When the hon. Lady says that her party would like those criteria interpreted flexibly, does that mean that, if a smaller group of countries in the European Union were to press ahead towards full monetary European at an earlier date, she would wish Britain to be part of that smaller group--or would she not ?

Ms Quin : We would not like the idea of a two-tier Europe, especially if Britain were to be in the slower lane. When we are talking of flexible interpretation, we are talking of being part of the discussions and trying to consider the criteria flexibly. I know that some hon. Members felt that, once those criteria were included in the Maastricht treaty, there was nothing to be done about it. However, I must say that, having been in the European Parliament, I am not defeatist about treaties and directives. Directives are frequently amended. In fact, much of our time in the European Parliament was spent looking at amendments to directives. Indeed, the treaty of Rome turned out to be an extremely flexible document. People who would share my persuasion on the left interpreted it and laid the stress on certain paragraphs, and people of a rather different political persuasion argued in relation to other paragraphs. That has always seemed to be part and parcel of the European way of doing things.

The issue of enlargement was mentioned and, again, one other aspect-- [Interruption.] I shall stick strongly to what I have said, but perhaps we may argue about it on a future occasion.

One of the other subjects on which there was unity in the debate was the fact that we all welcomed the enlargement which, we hope, will take place next year. Other potential applicants were mentioned, such as Malta, Cyprus, and, of course, eastern European countries. Again, there was a strong feeling on both sides of the House that the European Union must not develop at the expense of opening out to the countries of eastern Europe. Having encouraged the transition in those countries, it would be reprehensible for us to be seen to turn our backs on them or, indeed, to be retreating into some kind of narrow-minded protectionism. It is extremely important for the future that we keep their interests very much at heart.

There are clear differences between the two Front Benches on issues that I referred to in my earlier speech. I


Next Section

  Home Page