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Mr. Hurd : This will not do. In the 1960s, the Labour party was against membership of Europe. When Lord Wilson was Prime Minister, the Labour party moved in favour. When he left office, having tried unsuccessfully to negotiate membership, and when my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) successfully negotiated membership, Labour turned against. When it was returned to office, it was in favour, although mildly so--that was the time of the referendum. After that, it passed under the leadership of the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) and was passionately against. [Hon. Members :-- "Answer the question."] I have not followed the right hon. Gentleman's gyrations during that time, but those are the changes about which he challenged me and I am answering the challenge. He cannot speak on behalf of his party on that subject.
Dr. Cunningham : The Foreign Secretary is wriggling. He asked me about my personal position. I told him about that, and then told him about his record. He is now trying to transpose the argument into one about parties. It would be ridiculous to pretend that the Labour party had not changed on Europe, but the right hon. Gentleman asked me about my position and I told him unequivocally what it was
Column 701and is. His problem is that he cannot say the same about his own position. Indeed, he can say nothing consistent about Europe at all. Last July in Oxford the Secretary of State for Employment, speaking about the Conservative party and the European People's Party, said :
"As the union between the peoples of Europe inch by questioning inch grows ever closer, we will need to look for new alliances. I believe that political and ideological alliances between like-minded parties from different countries will soon come to complement or supplant old national rivalries and friendships. Our admittance to the European People's Party in the European Parliament puts that scenario into perspective. There is, even now, a European People's Party office at Smith Square."
During the European elections, the Foreign Secretary sought to deny that there was a connection between the Conservative party and the European People's party. The Secretary of State for the Environment rose to his aid and said :
"We are entirely enthusiastic about the EU. We want Europe to grow in unity".
The problem is that they are "entirely enthusiastic" about it at different speeds, on different layers and on different tracks. That is the governing party's position on Europe.
It may seem amusing to expose in this Chamber the shifts in the plates which the Foreign Secretary mentioned--the tectonic slipping and the fault lines--but they do massive and enduring damage to this country's interests and standing in the European Union and we all pay a heavy price as a result.
Mr. Dykes : The House will accept that the right hon. Gentleman has good credentials from that point of view. But will he comment on the Home Secretary's interesting letter in The Times on Thursday, in which he reminded us that it is shocking to recall that as recently as 1983 the putative new leader of the Labour party, in his own election address, called for withdrawal from the European Community ?
Dr. Cunningham : Parliamentary candidates often go with their party line. After all, it is much easier to roll rocks downhill against one's opponents than uphill against one's party. But if we are talking about political judgments along the way, the Foreign Secretary, not as a young parliamentary candidate but as a mature Cabinet Minister, supported the poll tax--£14 billion down the drain ; he overruled his accounting officer and gave between £200 million and £300 million to the Pergau dam project ; and he gives visas to visiting Iraqi businessmen to meet his friends Lord Weinstock and Lord Prior, in spite of the United Nations' embargo on trade with Iraq. The judgment of someone who has been in high office for many years does not compare with someone standing in a parliamentary election for the first time.
Mr. Dykes : But someone who wants to be Prime Minister.
Dr. Cunningham : The Foreign Secretary once wanted to be Prime Minister, too. I am not surprised that he did not get far. While we are discussing enlargement and consistency, I invite the Foreign Secretary to explain the Government's exact position on the application of Cyprus. Their manifesto--and I have a copy of it here--says that they
Column 702will help Cyprus and Malta to prepare to realise their ambition of European Union membership. In December 1993, the Minister of State said in the House :
"I should also remind him"
referring to my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Enright)
"that the partition of the island is not a prohibition on eventual accession."--[ Official Report , 15 December 1993 ; Vol. 234, c. 1054.]
We share that view. Indeed, we think that membership of the European Union will be part of the solution to the illegal occupation of the island.
On 27 June, in his report on the European Council in Corfu, the Prime Minister said :
"Certainly, if the dispute between the north and the south is unresolved, it will be extremely difficult for Cyprus to be admitted to the Community . . . we hope that that dispute will be resolved before it is possible for Cyprus to become a member of the Union."--[ Official Report , 27 June 1994 ; Vol. 245, c. 567.]
That contradicts what the Minister of State said. As ever, we would like a straight answer. Will Her Majesty's Government go ahead now and actively support the earliest possible accession of Cyprus to the European Union, as we intend to do, using our strength and influence in the European Parliament to pursue that objective ?
Mr. Hurd : The right hon. Gentleman has passed from the puerile to a serious point which must be dealt with seriously. Of course my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is right--the existence of the dispute makes it very difficult. If the right hon. Gentleman thinks of the practical implications of admitting to full membership a country as divided as Cyprus, he must see that it is very difficult. We want to remove those difficulties ; we want to see Cyprus admitted. That is one reason--though not the only reason--why we, perhaps more than any other outside country, are working so hard to find a solution. But we are involved. The Prime Minister was party to the statement issued at the Corfu summit which said that in our view Cyprus and Malta would be involved in the next round of enlargement. One cannot say more than that at present. Our attitude is a positive one--to remove the obstacles to the accession of Cyprus. I think that the right hon. Gentleman would agree that that is a fair statement.
Dr. Cunningham : I am little wiser than I was before because the right hon. Gentleman concluded by saying that
"our attitude is a positive one--to remove the obstacles". The obstacle has been there for 20 years. This year is the 20th anniversary of the invasion of Cyprus. Despite the right hon. Gentleman's claims, there is no sign that the Government's active work to resolve the problem is having any effect at all. Indeed, we received alarming reports from our colleagues who visited Cyprus that that active work included Her Majesty's Government's representatives encouraging people to visit north Cyprus, which we do not recognise as a legal entity. We are not very happy about that either. So the Government have a lot to do to convince us that they are genuinely and wholeheartedly backing the accession of Cyprus to membership of the European Union, as, indeed, we are ourselves.
In 1996, there will be an important intergovernmental conference of the new and, I hope, expanded European Union. Among other things, the Maastricht treaty provides for revision of the pillar structure, widening the scope of the co-decision procedure, revision of common foreign and security decisions, including consideration of defence issues and whether the Union should absorb the Western
Column 703European Union, whether to introduce specific titles in the treaty to cover civil protection in energy and tourism, the hierarchy and classification of Community legislation and, of course, the whole vexed question of institutional reform.
Let me say clearly and unequivocally that we stand for a Europe of nation states. We do not support a federal Europe, as the right hon. Gentleman wrongly asserted many times and the Conservative central office hand-outs lied time and again during the European election campaign. Nor do we have any intention of abandoning Britain's right of veto. I say that so that the right hon. Gentleman hears it again from me at the Dispatch Box, as he has heard before, in the hope that from now on he will not continue to repeat falsehoods about Labour party policy as, regrettably, he has done in the past.
Mr. Marlow : Can the right hon. Gentleman explain his party's attitude to, first, deepening and, secondly, the Luxembourg compromise ? What is the Labour party's attitude to deepening ? What does it mean ? What is the right hon. Gentleman's understanding of the Luxembourg compromise ? Does it still exist ?
Dr. Cunningham : There is some dispute as to whether the Luxembourg compromise still exists as a legal entity. But as Governments assert that it still exists, and we see no reason to dispute that, the answer is yes. As for deepening of the Community, we are in favour of some deepening of the Community, as we have made clear time and again in relation to the social chapter. We regard the European Union as more than a market and a free trade area.
We have made it clear--as, incidentally, did Lord Howe and Baroness Chalker --that in some areas there is scope for an extension of qualified majority voting on social and employment policy and on the environment, to give two examples. That is apparently another area where there seems to be some difference of opinion in the Government. In 1986, in this House, Baroness Chalker said :
"Some have implied that there is majority voting against United Kingdom interests . . . We cannot criticise the Community for its inability to take decisions, while, on the other hand, we refuse to allow practical improvements that could well assist us".--[ Official Report , 23 April 1986 ; Vol. 96, c. 391.]
Of course, she was talking about qualified majority voting, which was massively extended as right hon. and hon. Members on the Government Benches guillotined the Single European Act through the House. I hope that we shall have no more of that nonsense in the future. [Interruption.] I think that we all know who the arch-villain was--the right hon. Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen).
Mr. Jenkin rose
Dr. Cunningham : No, I am not giving way any more.
We support the Bill because, above all else, it embodies our consistent policy on enlargement and our support for our friends in Austria, Finland, Norway and Sweden. I hope that the whole House will support the Bill and that it can be agreed without a Division. If there is a Division, I shall vote for enlargement and for the legislation, and I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to do the same.
Sir Peter Hordern (Horsham) : I was glad to hear that the right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) and his party will support the Bill ; I do not think that that has come as any surprise. However, I noticed that he said
Column 704that the reason why he was anxious to do so was that those countries are his political friends. The House must have noted the difference between the way in which he referred to those countries and the way in which he previously referred to Italy and the Italian Government.
It is a most extraordinary constitutional pronouncement that one can pick and choose the Ministers in the Italian Government with whom one will negotiate. I must say that to the right hon. Gentleman, because it is the most extraordinary attitude to have. Let us suppose that the Labour party were to win the next election and that it then signed up to the social chapter. Are we seriously to believe that the Social Security Minister would decline to attend a meeting of the Council of Ministers because an Italian Minister whom he calls a neo-fascist was attending ? Such a suggestion is totally ludicrous.
Dr. John Cunningham : I do not call those people neo-fascists : they call themselves that--that is the point.
Sir Peter Hordern : Perhaps my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary would like to answer.
Mr. Hurd : The people to whom the right hon. Gentleman may be referring are part of the Alleanza Nazionale and are hence part of the Italian Government. Is he advising Her Majesty's Ministers to boycott all meetings in which Ministers of that party participate ?
Sir Peter Hordern : I am happy to give way to the right hon. Member for Copeland if he wants to make his position clear. Certainly, he was making a most extraordinary constitutional pronouncement, which showed yet again that the Labour party is wholly unfit for government ; its members cannot even understand basic constitutional points. I unreservedly welcome the accession of Austria, Sweden, Finland and Norway, all of which will be net contributors to the budget. That has greater appeal, perhaps, to Conservatives than to Labour Members--we are always likely to give a much warmer welcome to countries that will make it less expensive for us to belong to the EU.
However, the accession of those four countries raises serious problems for the future, and I want to say a little about the problems that will face the intergovernmental conference of 1996. For a start, each country will have one new Commissioner, bringing the total to 21, and the Council of Ministers will also be enlarged. I understand that the inclusion of the four will allow eight countries representing only 12 per cent. of the European Union population to block the wishes of eight countries representing 88 per cent. of it. That is clearly a serious matter that will have to be dealt with in the course of the IGC.
It is most unlikely that we shall all agree on every proposal coming before the Commission. With the enlargement that the new accession produces, there will be a need to enforce subsidiarity and to use the opt-out whenever necessary. I am glad to welcome the ideas of variable geometry, a multi- speed Europe and so on, all of which arrive at the same point : that we reserve the right to preserve our national interests whenever we see them at risk.
I offer one or two examples of the difficulties that may be created. The common agricultural policy is a case in point. I understand that in Austria, Norway and Finland
Column 705national agricultural prices are higher than they are in the CAP, and that those countries have been allowed additional national aids--described as temporary--to enable them to adjust their prices to the common European level. It is in our interest and in that of Germany to reduce the cost of the CAP, but it will be in the interests of the Scandinavian countries, and of France and the Mediterranean countries, to keep the CAP prices high. Of course the whole process is controlled by the budget, but strains on it have increased and will increase and must be most carefully curtailed. That matter, too, will come up in 1996.
Mr. Gill : Is my right hon. Friend aware that, before this association agreement, the Swedish Government had agreed a new scheme of agricultural support that would have had the effect of reducing the cost of such support in Sweden but, as a result of the accession treaty, the costs will rise again ?
Sir Peter Hordern : I am not quite sure that my hon. Friend has it right. I understood that Sweden met the terms of the treaty right away, but was going to be given some monetary compensation for so doing--but I am not sure.
The point is that the CAP is bound to be placed under further strain when and if Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic join in the next century. The arguments against the CAP have been rehearsed often enough, but the idea that it should help agricultural communities, not agricultural products, is surely the right way forward. That is best done by national Governments ; otherwise, how are we to pay for the huge surpluses that will be produced by Polish and Hungarian agriculture at prices necessary to accommodate Norwegian and Finnish farmers ? Those problems loom large for the IGC in 1996.
Then there are problems with convergence. The costs of convergence are difficult enough in the present EU, but how great would they be if it included Poland, Hungary and the Czechs ? It is quite unnecessary to achieve convergence by Government-to-Government transfer. Anyone who examines the substantial investments in Thailand and Malaysia by the Japanese will observe that they are not Government-to-Government transfers ; they simply occur because the costs of labour and skills make Malaysia and Thailand attractive to Japanese investors.
Mr. Budgen : If we roundly declared that we wanted nothing to do with the single currency, we would not need to worry about the enormous cost and distortion brought about by so-called convergence.
Sir Peter Hordern : If my hon. Friend will contain himself, I shall come to the single currency question.
It is possible that limited infrastructure projects, if cost effective, are necessary, but we need to be clear about our own interests. I take them to be that we are part of a European Union that is committed to free trade and to GATT in particular. We are also committed to further enlargement of the EU beyond what is envisaged in the Bill, but there is, and always has been, a political element in the European Union. I cannot accept, after all the sacrifices that our country has made in two world wars, that anything but relief and satisfaction are to be found in the closer union between France and Germany. We cannot wish it away.
Column 706I hope and trust that we shall find that that closer union is here to stay. I do not draw comfort, although some apparently do, from the prospect of a newly unified Germany operating on its own to its own agenda, and I cannot believe that the French, the Russians or the Poles do either. All those countries want a closer union in which the interests of Germany are inextricably linked with those of the rest of the European Union.
We must not be surprised, still less angered, by serious attempts to weld the European Union together by supranational institutions to form a single currency. After all, we have an opt-out of, or rather, an opt-into, the single currency. Some, like my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen), simply wish the whole thing would go away, but it will not go away, and we must face up to that fact.
It seems to me probable that France, Germany and the Netherlands will meet the Maastricht criteria and will in due course form a single currency, probably by the end of the century. Austria, and possibly the Scandinavian countries too, may also meet the criteria and join. This country will then be faced with a clear choice of whether or not to join.
We certainly want to meet the Maastricht criteria on prudential grounds alone--nothing to do with the single currency. Let us then suppose that we meet the criteria but a future Parliament decides not to join. Can we imagine that the greater part of our businesses and industry, which carry out their business in the single market, would not decide to transact that business in the European market using the ecu ? They would be perfectly entitled to do so. They would simply vote with their feet and do their business in the single currency, just as the oil industry has always done its business in dollars--except that in this case it would probably be done in the hard ecu. We must come to terms with Europe as it is and as it is bound to be, not as some would wish it to be.
I see nothing wrong with an evolutionary path to a single currency by way of a de facto common currency. That is how I think it will be. Monetary union leading to political union in the sense of a federal European union is nonsense.
Mr. Cash : My right hon. Friend will recall a letter that he wrote to The Times two or three years ago in which he advocated the virtues of a single currency. Does he still advocate that as a matter of principle, contrary to some 70 per cent. of business men in Germany who, according to a recent opinion poll, do not want a single currency ? Does he believe that a single currency would be advantageous to the political situation in Europe as it evolves, as he put it ?
Sir Peter Hordern : I am immensely flattered that my hon. Friend should remember what I wrote to The Times three years ago. He remembers it better than I do. At that time I was certainly in favour of Britain joining the ERM with a strong currency and I still hold that view. However, as my hon. Friend has heard, we must look at the way in which events are likely to move. There is likely to be a partial single currency and in practical terms many of our business men will wish to conduct their business in that currency. Therefore, it will be formed into a common currency.
Mr. Marlow : Will my right hon. Friend give way ?
Sir Peter Hordern : I shall give way for the last time because many of my hon. Friends wish to contribute.
Mr. Marlow : I think that my right hon. Friend is talking about the possibility of a de facto common currency, but not a single currency. Does he agree that a single currency is not so much a matter of commercial convenience but that it effectively means a single European state, a single European economy and a single European Government ?
Sir Peter Hordern : I am coming to those very points. My hon. Friend is right : what is more likely to happen is that our country will be involved in a common currency. However, that is a matter of opinion. As I have said, monetary union necessarily leading to political union in the sense of a federal European Union, to which my hon. Friend referred, is nonsense. For example, we have only to look at the United States where virtually every state has a different sales tax. There are widely differing forms of tax and even wider differences in social benefits. We do not have to have a common system of social benefits or a social chapter to form a closer European Union.
As I mentioned earlier, investment gravitates to those states with lower taxes, and the same would apply here. We have done well. By having a low tax system we have been able to attract much investment, and I see no reason to give up that advantage. We should not accept for a moment the myth that monetary union necessarily leads to political union. Equally, we should certainly not accept the myth that sterling has always stood on its own, disregarding entirely our link to the gold standard which we had for centuries and to the dollar which we had under Bretton Woods.
I foresee the time when, whatever we may wish, there will be a strong single currency at the heart of Europe which will act as a common currency for the rest of Europe, including ourselves. I do not believe in a federal Europe, by which I mean the sole or main power to raise taxes resting in a single European Parliament. Nothing can persuade us that the essence of democracy is not to identify as closely as possible democratic institutions with the people in a way that enables them to understand, accept and approve of what is done. That means national Governments with the principal power to tax. The low turnout in the European parliamentary elections, not just in our country but throughout the European Union, should be a lesson to us all.
The Bill broadens the European Union to take in those countries which have long been democracies and of which we wholly approve. It also provides us with an opportunity to think of what will happen in the European Union, of which we are an important part. To be a positive European does not mean to favour a federal Europe. I like the prospect of closer union between France and Germany and between all other European countries because that means peace and not war. I am also a positive European because I like the prospects for Britain in Europe. I certainly see better opportunities for trade and business, but I also see us using our influence to reform the European Union in the direction of an outward-looking community of nations that is better able to deal with the United States and Japan than we possibly could on our own. Above all, we have no need to be frightened of Europe or to be constantly negative. Perhaps we will go at our own speed and no doubt our
Column 708geometry will vary from that of others, but we are part of Europe and always have been, and we might as well be positive about its future.
Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney) : The speech by the right hon. Member for Horsham (Sir P. Hordern) was addressed to his party rather to the House as a whole. His remarks about a common currency as distinct from a single currency were sensible and reassuring. I do not think that any hon. Member would object to the emergence of a further, as it were, reserve currency or common currency of the kind or of the practical use that resulted from using the dollar in post-war periods, gold before the second world war and, indeed, sterling up to about the late 1960s.
A common currency gives us the freedom to operate with our own currency, except where it is clearly advantageous to operate with a different one. As the right hon. Member for Horsham correctly reminded us, oil trade has been carried on in dollars for a long time, certainly for as long as I can remember. That is perfectly sensible and has caused us no damage.
If we accept even the principle of the currency following trade, we all know that, although our trade with Europe has grown enormously through trade diversion and the coming together of the economies, it is still less than half our total trade. The logic of what the right hon. Gentleman said is that the other half ought to be conducted either in our own currency or in somebody else's which is a suitable common currency. That was all rather refreshing, and tomorrow I shall study the right hon. Gentleman's speech with great care.
I am sorry that the Foreign Secretary has disappeared, because I have a few remarks to address to him. His optimism never ceases to amaze me. He really believes that Europe is developing along the ways and paths that he would like to see it pursue. To cite the treaty of accession which is the subject of our debate as evidence of the European Community's abandonment of centralisation, of deepening and consolidating and centralising in favour of widening, was a remarkable example of the Foreign Secretary's almost infinite capacity for self-deception.
This is a three-clause Bill. European Community Bills are always short, but they carry with them an enormous load of text. In this case the three clauses conceal about 365 pages of the treaties. We are dealing with Austria, Sweden, Finland and Norway. In a way, it may be a little premature to approve or disapprove of the Bill because, as we all know, apart from Austria, the other three countries mentioned in the accession treaty have yet to hold referendums. I have no serious doubts that Finland will vote positively in a referendum, but it is sensible to put a considerable question mark over Sweden and Norway.
Those of us whose memories go back to at least 1972 will recall that Norway reached this same point on the road to joining the European Community, but the people of Norway asserted that their view was different from that of those who negotiated on their behalf. In the referendum then held in Norway, the people decisively rejected the proposal for entry. If that happens again, there will have to be changes in some crucial paragraphs of the treaty, because it is obviously based upon the assumption that four countries will join.
Column 709I have always thought that the great discussion about the blocking minimum and so on was, to say the least, rather premature. It is not clear what benefits the applicant countries hope to gain through membership, beyond those that they already have as members of the European economic zone. Indeed, I can envisage considerable disadvantages, especially now that the earlier obligations of joining the European Community have been added to by the many and much more difficult commitments contained in the Maastricht treaty.
Mr. Marlow : The right hon. Gentleman referred to the 385 pages--I hate to correct him, but he said 365 pages--of the treaty. On page 9, it talks about qualified majority voting, to which he has just referred. It says that qualified majority voting will require "64 votes in favour, cast by at least 11 members."
If, under the procedures, Norway or Norway and Sweden do not join, the Council will look at the matter again and come forward with decisions. Those decisions have to be taken by unanimity. Suppose those two countries vote no and decide not to join the Union. As long as there is no unanimity, one presumes that a qualified majority will be 64 votes and 11 member states. Is that correct ?
Mr. Shore : I am not sure about that, but it is a question that could quite properly be addressed to the Government. I should be interested to hear the reply. What I am saying is that there are possible complexities ahead that were not entirely dealt with in the Foreign Secretary's speech.
Of course, it is the peoples of the applicant countries who decide. From a purely selfish British point of view, I would welcome their adherence--in particular, that of Finland, Sweden and Norway. They have a powerful social democratic tradition, which I share, and their histories of robust independence give me the strong sense that they will be potential allies in the forthcoming struggles between those who wish to achieve a minimum Europe of national states and those who seek to secure a maximum Europe of a neo-federalist character. My feeling is that--although we cannot be certain about it--the instincts of such sturdy, independent people will place them on our side in many of the arguments that lie ahead.
Mr. Cash : Is there not another agenda here, which is the possibility of a German Europe ? Does the right hon. Gentleman acknowledge, as many countries do privately, that that is the direction in which we are moving ? The recent Karlsruhe court judgment said that there should be not a Bundestat but a Staatenverbund. That is quite different, one being a federal Europe and the other a confederation. Since that judgment, the Christian Democrat party has now reverted to the idea of a federal Europe and Bundestat, and so has its partner, the FDP. In other words, we need to beware.
Mr. Shore : I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that point. I shall say something later about recent trends in opinions and proposals coming out of Germany that are of concern for the 1996 intergovernmental conference.
The immediate issue that the accession treaty has posed to us and other Community members is the voting formula to be used for qualified majority voting. At present, the
Column 710blocking minority is 23 out of a total of 76 votes. In future, despite the Prime Minister's almost embarrassingly unsuccessful efforts at the last minute to avert it, the blocking minority will be 27 out of a total of 90 votes. I know that it is also agreed that best endeavours must be made where the blocking minority falls between 23 and 27, but best endeavours are not a strong line of defence against the minimum blocking vote of 27 in the treaty. What worries me is not just the increased size of the blocking minority, but the fact that so much emphasis has been placed on a blocking minority. I take it to mean that in practice, although not verbally, the Luxembourg compromise of the famous national veto is falling into disuse. There is a lack of self-confidence in member Governments to assert that they have a veto and will use it. I say that with the utmost regret because I well remember the document in the referendum of 1975 issued by the then Government. It recommended a yes vote on the basis that, under the heading "Will Parliament lose its Power ?",
there was the assurance :
"It is the Council of Ministers and not the market's officials who take the important decisions. These decisions can be taken only if all the members of the Council agree. The Minister representing Britain can veto any proposal for a new law or a new tax if he considers it to be against British interests."
That was the basis of that referendum, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) promises never to hold again, because that referendum settled matters once and for all. That is not easy to square with the fact that the referendum on Scottish devolution was rejected, yet we are committed to having another one, which, if it is accepted by the Scottish people, presumably we will accept.
The veto power was guaranteed to the British people as a condition of their assent through the referendum in 1975 to Britain remaining part of the European Community. It matters very much, because it is part of the faith that should exist between Government and people. The Government should mean what they say and abide by their commitments.
Dr. John Cunningham : My right hon. Friend and I take different positions on this matter. The Labour party's policy position does not rule out referendums, depending on what may emerge either on the question of 1996 and the intergovernmental conference or on other matters. I was referring to the referendum that gave the British people the choice to say whether or not Britain should stay in the European Union. My right hon. Friend may think that that question should be put to the people every two, three, four or five years. I do not agree with him. The people were given the opportunity to make a decision, and they did so overwhelmingly.
Mr. Shore : I accept what my right hon. Friend says up to a point, which is that the referendum was about membership of the European Economic Community, not membership of the European Union with its far more extravagant ambitions. I take it that my right hon. Friend has at least given me a partial reassurance that he would not necessarily oppose a new referendum on proposals for ever closer union within the European Union.
Dr. Cunningham : I am delighted to tell my right hon. Friend again that that is the position. Throughout the
Column 711European election campaign, we made it absolutely clear--I said it myself on many occasions, and I am happy to say it again on the record--that it is not ruled in or out.
Mr. Shore : I am especially pleased that my right hon. Friend has said on the record that the Labour party is opposed to a federal Europe, and that it will abide by and hold on to such use of the veto power as is contained in the unanimity provisions of the treaty of Rome. Good, we are making progress.
Sir Russell Johnston (Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber) : The right hon. Gentleman said that the fact that the veto was slipping into desuetude was due to a lack of self-confidence among member countries. We could also argue that it was due to a reduction in obduracy and an increase in consensual decision making.
Mr. Shore : To be fair, there is another and much more important cause. Given Lady Thatcher's general attitude towards the European Union and British sovereignty, it is curious that, when Prime Minister, through signing the Single European Act she opened the way for qualified majority voting on a much larger scale than had ever previously been envisaged. I know that that is a difficult fact for many Conservative Members to accept and acknowledge. Nevertheless, that is why so much was abandoned in the use of the national veto under the Luxembourg compromise formula.
The issue of qualified majority voting, the blocking minimum and the veto is of growing importance, not less. I say that for two reasons, First, we all hope that this treaty of accession will be followed by further accession treaties in which, in the first place, the Visegrad countries-- Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia--will join, and there may well be others after that. If every new accession brings further adjustment to the voting formula and weakens our capacity to safeguard our interests-- particularly against the thrust of Euro-federalism--we will not easily accept or stomach that. That is cause for considerable concern.
We are already on the road to the next IGC in 1996--a commitment that is part of the Maastricht treaty. We cannot be sure how far-reaching and wide- ranging that conference will be, but we know that article B of the Maastricht treaty identifies in particular the common foreign and security pillar and the justice and home affairs pillar. It states :
"the policies and forms of co-operation introduced by this treaty may need to be revised with the aim of ensuring the effectiveness of the mechanisms and the institutions of the Community."
Article N of the Maastricht treaty states :
"a conference of representatives of the governments of Member States . . . shall be convened"
in 1996. We know what lies ahead, and we may be certain that we shall have a traumatic time beating off the Euro-federalists in that conference.
There is only a short breathing space. At the meetings in Ioannina and Corfu, it was decided to establish a so-called reflection committee. A communique issued after the recent Corfu summit referred to
"a Reflection Group consisting of representatives of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Member States and the President of the Commission. It will be chaired by a person appointed by the Spanish government and begin its work in June 1995. Two European Parliament representatives will participate in the work of the Reflection Group. The Group will also have exchanges of views with the other institutions and organs of the European Union."