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Column 750proposals amount to a logical, carefully thought-out solution to the constitutional difficulties that are inevitable in a larger, wider European Union. Nor do I think that we should see the federal model as being the Delors model only. Chancellor Kohl is a man who, as a university student, helped to tear down the border posts between France and Germany. He is a man who, throughout his career, has been openly committed to some sort of united states of Europe. His may be a much more decentralised model than that coming from Mr. Delors, who springs from the French political tradition. The Chancellor would probably wish to see a European Union that amounted to the Federal Republic of Germany writ large on the continental scale--a very decentralised political structure, but a uniform political structure with the same political responsibilities being allocated to each member state and a common core of decision-making powers being held at the centre.
Such a federal Europe might be, in the words of the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson), a more democratic Europe, but it would be democratic only in the sense that there would be a right on the part of the majority of elected representatives across the continent to outvote the minority even if that minority included an almost unanimous expression of national opinion in one or two dissenting countries. Therein lies the trouble with the federal approach. It is my firm belief that, although in some continental countries, especially among the political leaders of those nations, there is still strong support for the federal approach to Europe, the referendums in France and Denmark and the discontent in Germany at the prospect of losing the deutschmark show growing disquiet on the continent, and not solely in this country, about where that approach to the political future of Europe may lead. I do not believe that people here see themselves as Europeans first. They see themselves as British people first and their allegiance is to the affection for, and loyalty to, the nation. Perhaps, after that, their allegiance is to the common cultural and political traditions that we share with other nations on the continent of Europe.
British interests would be best served by a simpler, looser political structure of the European Union in the future. That cannot simply be a free -trade area. Anyone who holds to that belief needs only to pick up a history book to see that no British ruler or British Government over many centuries doubted that British interests involved seeking to influence the outlook and the policy of the major powers of the continent of Europe. Even if, as the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) said, we have the wrong treaty at the moment, it is for that reason that it is the duty of any patriotic British Government who seek to act in the best interests of their citizens to engage with the political and constitutional structures that exist on the continent of Europe and to seek to advance our interests, negotiation by negotiation, treaty by treaty, as my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and his ministerial team are doing.
Sir Russell Johnston : I am interested in the hon. Gentleman's argument, but the weakness of it is that he equates patriotic British interest with Conservative attitudes. He says that they are the same and they are not the same. Not only hon. Members on the Liberal
Column 751Democrats' Bench but, obviously, those on the official Opposition Benches interpret interest in a very different way.
Mr. Lidington : I have far too great a respect for the hon. Gentleman to seek in any way to impugn his wish or that of other Opposition Members to advance the British interests as they see them, but we would differ on how to identify those interests over particular political decisions.
I shall move on to how I see those arguments relating to the agenda which faces the Government as they approach the next IGC in 1996 or, perhaps, in 1997. The looser-knit European political structure--the simpler European Union, which would be in our best interests--will probably be beyond our capacity to achieve precisely because in many of our partner nations the wish to drive towards a much closer political union on the model envisaged by the founding fathers of the Community remains so strong. I honestly doubt whether public opinion in those countries, even in France and Germany, will catch up with that view of the political elite in time to influence the IGC wholly in the direction that we wish to go. The idea of a multi-speed Europe, which was advocated by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister during the recent European election campaign, provides us with a way forward which may accommodate different views about how Europe should develop.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes)--I am sorry that he is not in the Chamber at present--is utterly wrong in believing that the approach of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to Europe has failed to chime with the instincts of the British people. I am not aware of the feeling in Harrow, but in my constituency many people, Conservative supporters and others with no strong political affiliation, have told me that my right hon. Friend's approach is the way in which we should seek to establish the future of the European Union.
Do we describe that approach as multi-speed Europe, variable geometry, made -to-measure Europe or, as one journalist has described it, a Europe of consenting adults ? Those terms offer only a choice of labels. The key is that the constitutional arrangements for Europe should be tailored to take account of the diversity of the Community that we are creating. That way forward will enable us to reconcile the need to develop European unity to ensure material prosperity in future and to ensure that we maintain the peace that has prevailed in the western half of the continent since 1945, thereby checking the destructive nationalism that has brought European civilisation to the brink of ruin twice this century.
At the same time, I believe that the approach of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to Europe will enable us to deal with the reality of diverse national histories and national interests, along with the fact that most people's affection and loyalty lie first with the nation state and not with the supranational administration. It would be foolish indeed if we ceded the patriotic themes to the representatives of atavistic nationalism. I fear that that would happen if the European Union again started to take the federalist, centralist route and tried to place a straitjacket on the diverse ways of a Community that wears a costume originally devised for a Community of six in the 1950s.
As we approach the intergovernmental conference, I am not as pessimistic as my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen). I always
Column 752enjoy my hon. Friend's speeches but I felt that this evening he sounded rather like the Tory grandees of the early 1980s, who used to say that we could not dare to tackle trade union powers, old boy, and that the climate of the times was against us. Such sentiments were usually broached shortly before a grandee was elevated suddenly to another place. I would not like my hon. Friend to get measured for his ermine immediately.
When I talk to German politicians--especially those of a younger generation --I find that they want to discuss how to limit the accretion of competence to supranational level. They are well aware that the accession of Poland and other central European countries to the Union will break the common agricultural policy. They understand that that will have to be faced because the accession of central European countries is recognised as a critical matter of German national interest. Even French politicians are talking about variable geometry.
As we British politicians approach 1996 we must outline a robust agenda for constitutional change in Europe. We need to question the extent of the acquis communautaire. We must ask which competences we should consider repatriating to national level. We should raise in debate matters such as the Commission's sole right of initiative, the powers of the presidency and the balance of interest between the larger and smaller nations.
Although we have not yet won the debate, the time for ideas to prevail in the end is now more propitious than at any stage during the past two decades. I believe that the Europe of which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister speaks is one that not merely is in Britain's best interests but offers prosperity and peace for the continent as a whole.
Ms Joyce Quin (Gateshead, East) : Despite differences of view on many aspects of the European Union, today in the House there has been virtually unanimous agreement about, and support for, enlargement. The accession of Austria, Finland, Norway and Sweden has been welcomed by hon. Members on both sides of the House. I hope that people in those four countries will be encouraged, when they read accounts of this debate, by the solid support for their accession to the European Union which has been expressed in the House. This wide-ranging debate contained many interesting contributions about the future development of the European Union after enlargement. My hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) referred to some of the habitue s of these debates about Europe. Despite some new contributions, there was a sense of continuity about the debate, in particular in relation to those who took part in it.
Before coming to the Chamber today, I read through the reports of the proceedings on the Single European Act. Many of the hon. Members who spoke today or who made interventions also took part in the debate on the Single European Act, including my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) and the right hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston).
Conservative Members who participated in the debates on that crypto- federalist measure, the Single European Act, and who spoke today included the hon. Members for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) and for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes). We have heard today
Column 753interventions from the hon. Members for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor), for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) and for Stafford (Mr. Cash), who took part in the earlier debate, and I was intrigued to read that the hon. Member for Stafford said :
"We tend to exaggerate the dangers of majority voting."--[ Official Report , 23 April 1986 ; Vol. 96, c. 378.]
Mr. Cash : And I will repeat those remarks today. However, I also tabled an amendment to the effect that nothing in that legislation should derogate from the sovereignty of the United Kingdom Parliament. I am glad to say that that amendment was signed by one other Member of this place, and that was the former right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, Mr. Enoch Powell.
Even the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory), who is to reply to the debate, surfaced briefly in the Committee stage of the measure. Rather to my surprise, he supported an amendment in the name of his hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East. Perhaps the Minister had fallen prey to a bout of Euroscepticism at the time. Towering over that debate, as he admitted himself today, was the right hon. Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen). He referred today rather graphically to his stained hands in relation to the former debates. I am glad that there has been a wide welcome for enlargement of the European Union. I hope that we all want the Bill to receive a speedy passage through the House. It has been allocated two days for debate about which many people are happy. None the less, at the end of that time, we hope that there will be a ringing endorsement of enlargement. Labour will not support amendments which seek to delay or place obstacles before enlargement.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House have paid tribute to the four applicant countries. I echo those tributes, particularly the tributes to their fine democratic and social democratic traditions. I want to refer to the outstanding role that the four countries have played in foreign policy, particularly through the United Nations, where their activities have probably not been equalled by other countries. I pay tribute to the Norwegian Labour Prime Minister, Gro Harlem Brundtland, for the work she has done to highlight and draw attention to the issues of environment and development on a world scale.
My hon. Friends spoke in particular about the strong links between the Labour party and its counterparts in the four applicant countries and the similar views we hold on social, environmental, economic, regional and industrial issues. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West stressed the links between the Labour party and the traditions and beliefs of those four countries. He felt that that meant that a natural alliance would be established between the Labour party and those countries in the Union in future. The Opposition welcome their commitment to the social chapter, although it is not surprising to us given their record on social issues.
I am sure that those countries will be warmly welcomed in the European Union. As many hon. Members have already pointed out, however, referendums need to be held in the three Scandinavian countries, where public opinion
Column 754has varied from semi-enthusiasm to hostility. I hope that it will be persuaded of the merits of accession when the referendums take place in the autumn. It is encouraging that the terms of the accession treaty have been accepted in those four countries, so there is no outstanding difficulty about those terms. That augurs well for the future.
Many hon. Members who referred to enlargement talked about widening and deepening Europe--my hon. Friends the Members for Hartlepool and for Durham, North (Mr. Radice) stressed that. Some Conservative Members expressed the hope that widening the European Union would dilute it and that we would move towards establishing a free trade area. That is wishful thinking, and I am glad that some Conservative Members explicitly recognised that. The hon. Member for Harrow, East described it as phantasmagoric mythology.
I do not believe that the applicant countries would have applied to join the European Union if they had thought it was simply a free trade area. They are, after all, already members of the European economic area, and if they were completely satisfied with that arrangement it is unlikely that they would have applied for and been granted full membership of the Union.
Many hon. Members spoke about the effects of enlargement on the institutional arrangements in the European Union. We all agreed that we hoped that it would strengthen the democratic element in the Union. Hon. Members disagreed, however, on various aspects--for example, the extent of the Government's achievements, if they can be described as such, at Ioannina were disputed.
The Foreign Secretary said, once again, that we had won a review of the qualified majority voting system, but that was always the case, because it was mentioned in previous presidency conclusions that it would be possible to raise anything related to the institutional workings of the union at the 1996 intergovernmental conference. It was always on the agenda and a wide- ranging statement, a catch-all clause, in previous presidency conclusions made that absolutely clear.
Ms Quin : It was certain before, because a wide-ranging clause allowed countries to raise anything they wanted. Between now and 1996 other issues may crop up that Governments may want to raise and they will be able to do so because of the wide-ranging provision that already exists. We must bear that in mind.
There was a large measure of agreement in the House about making the decisions of the European Union subject to democratic scrutiny. Many of us who took part in the debate on enlargement in European Standing Committee B felt that it should have reached a wider audience and should have been part of a debate on the Floor of the House. Perhaps I could appeal to the media not to ignore the work of the European Standing Committees. Valuable work is done there by Members on both sides but, unfortunately, little attention is paid to their work.
The Commission's role in an enlarged European Union was also mentioned by hon. Members on both sides of the House, although who will preside over that Commission is still uncertain. Having vetoed a European Conservative, the Government seem to be prepared, according to one rumour, to rush into the arms of an Italian socialist as president of the European Commission. I wonder whether
Column 755the Minister of State will enlighten us about the current position, as we should be grateful for any information that he can give us. We wonder whether history will repeat itself and the Government will repeat the actions of the former Prime Minister, the noble Baroness Thatcher, who apparently agreed to the appointment of Jacques Delors as Commission President when all that she knew about him was that he was intelligent and energetic.
Many hon. Members on both sides of the House discussed the preparation of the intergovernmental conference of the enlarged European Union. That is an important matter. Many thoughtful contributions were made about the kind of issues that we could raise at the IGC. While my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool raised the spectre of another Maastricht in terms of how we might deal with the matter in the House, he spoke for all of us when he said that he hoped that we would look seriously at all the options open to us regarding the future of the European Union.
Mr. Jenkin : Will the hon. Lady explain what the right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) meant when he said that he was against a federal Europe but in favour of deepening and of nation states ? I notice that he is now telling the hon. Lady the answer.
Ms Quin : The hon. Gentleman's intervention was not so extraordinary that I could not have coped with it myself. The hon. Gentleman's concept of "federalism" seems to equate to the idea of a centralised super-state. May I say firmly that we have not criticised the Government for over-centralism suddenly to accept centralism at a European level. When my right hon. Friend spoke about "deepening", he was referring to areas on which we are on record as wanting further co-operation in Europe, particularly but not exclusively social and environmental matters. We want this country to play a full part in those negotiations and are worried that the Government's policy simply puts us on the sidelines.
Many hon. Members, again on both sides of the House, made some thoughtful contributions on future enlargement of the European Union. My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) discussed the Baltic states and common foreign and security policy. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland on the application of Cyprus and Malta, and I add my voice to the general welcome given to eventual enlargement including countries of central and eastern Europe. Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia are all candidates in the short or medium term. Obviously, there will be problems with further enlargement, but many of them can be dealt with through transitional periods and special recognition of particular problems. Opportunities, too, will arise in any enlargement to include the countries of central and eastern Europe. For example, it is hard to imagine that the common agricultural policy could keep its present structure if many more countries join, especially if those countries already have a strong agriculture. We should therefore take the positive and constructive opportunities open to us.
Mr. Marlow : Further to the philosophical arguments about deepening and so on, is the hon. Lady in favour of a multi-track Europe, or does she believe that all member states must eventually move at the same speed ?
Column 756be at the same stage. However, we are worried that there will be a two-speed Europe, with Britain in the slow lane. That would not be in Britain's interest and we are very much against it.
Social policy has been mentioned by many of my hon. Friends. That is not surprising. I was delighted that in the conclusions to the Corfu summit the European Council welcomed the additional impetus coming from the new countries and described them as being "in the vanguard of the efforts to promote environmental and social protection, transparency and open government, areas considered essential by a large part of the Union's citizens".
I certainly endorse that.
We feel as strongly as ever that this country should be part of the European social chapter. In a debate last Friday, my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) and I spoke about some of the appallingly low wage rates that are all too common in Britain today and the poor employment protection which gives people at work little say about their work and little protection against such things as unfair dismissal.
We believe strongly that the recent improvements in employment law in Britain have resulted from the impetus from Europe. For example, the right to a written statement, maternity rights and better rights for part-time workers spring from the European dimension, and that is something which we welcome strongly. Certainly, the examples cited by my hon. Friends, including that of Austria, show once again that there is simply no link between poor employment conditions and a high level of employment.
Earlier today, the Prime Minister spoke about Britain having a larger proportion of its population in work than most other European countries. Of course, the country which has a greater proportion of its population in work than we have is Denmark, which has high levels of social protection and good wages. Once again, that proves that there is no facile link between the two--poor wages and high employment--as the Conservatives constantly tell us.
On environmental policy, we feel close to the new countries, as, indeed, we do on economic policy. The former Swedish Finance Minister, Allan Larssen, helped to draw up an economic policy document for the Socialist group in the European Parliament and for the Confederation of European socialist parties--a publication which I would recommend to Tory Members in terms of its commitment to economic growth. We have heard very different views about Europe from the Government side. From the beginning of the debate, the Foreign Secretary came under considerable pressure from his own Back Benchers. The Government seem to get buffeted this way and that. As they get so buffeted, it becomes less clear what the Foreign Secretary and his colleagues in Government think and what is their strategy for Europe in the future.
It is also not clear who will win the battle. The right hon. Member for Shropshire, North predicted that the Euro-sceptics would sweep all before them, although he referred at the beginning of his speech to the "virus" of Euro-scepticism. The thought of such a virus spreading across Europe caused me some alarm.
The right hon. Gentleman also paid a tribute to the former leader of the Conservative MEPs, Sir Christopher Prout. Many of the things that we have heard in this debate are completely at odds with the commitments made by Sir Christopher Prout and his former colleagues in the European Parliament- -when the number of Conservative
Column 757MEPs was more than it is now--when they considered the matter of enlargement. They committed themselves to abolishing the unanimity provisions in the treaty and giving the President of the Commission a stronger role, and they implied that future revisions of the treaties could be carried out without the current requirement for unanimity and ratification by all national Parliaments. Those are different views from the ones expressed by Conservatives today. Within the space of a week, we have also had the astonishing spectacle of the Chancellor of the Exchequer saying one thing about a single European currency and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury saying something completely different. I was asked about a multi-speed Europe. It seems that the Conservatives are not only in favour of a multi-speed Europe ; they are also a multi-speed party in their consideration of these issues.
I conclude by strongly welcoming this enlargement of the European Union. I am pleased that the Labour party will be in the European mainstream during the enlargement process. We believe that we should all share the commitment by these new countries to a social Europe, an environmental Europe and a Europe of economic growth. With these four new countries in place and, I hope, with the support of a Labour Government in place in Britain even before the IGC, I trust that we shall be able to deliver policies that will mean a more prosperous Europe. That will be good news for Britain and for the British people.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory) : This has been a wide-ranging debate, as expected.It has ranged from the origins of the enlargement negotiations to a forward look at the prospects of bringing in more states in Europe in subsequent enlargement rounds--a process to which we look forward. Many right hon. and hon. Members have touched on our aims in the European Union. The Government believe strongly that the Union must maintain its free-trading vocation, which is why we put so much store by the successful conclusion to the Uruguay round last year. We also believe that the EU must attend to the health or otherwise of the European economy. We must pay more attention to the problems of unemployment and of how we can turn economic growth into more jobs. That is why the Conservatives promote policies of deregulation, of lightening the burden of employment costs and of making labour markets work better.
The United Kingdom opt-out from the social chapter has become ever more important over the months, a point frequently made this evening by Conservative Members. There has also been greater cohesion in European foreign policy, and measures are being taken to tackle crime and justice matters by means of the intergovernmental pillars set out in the Maastricht treaty.
We realise that all this is not enough for the European Union to regain its dynamism ; it must continue to expand. Thus it was that the idea of four new member states joining the Union had long been advocated by the Government. It was during the British presidency of two years ago that the negotiations were finally given the necessary impetus. In
Column 758the event, they took rather more than a year, but that was still easily a record compared with previous enlargement rounds. All four Eftan states are instinctively free trading, all are fully democratic and all have a well developed sense of nationhood--a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) among others. All are already in the European economic area, so they already enjoy a good measure of free trade with the EU. But their Governments believe that that is not enough. They want to be on the inside, shaping the rules and participating in the development of a common European foreign policy instead of being relegated to the status of spectators as the EU develops.
The European Union is now exerting a strong magnetic field on surrounding European states. Many speakers in this debate have therefore looked beyond this enlargement round to the next, and even to the one after that. Already six additional states have applied to join the EU : Turkey, Switzerland, Poland, Hungary, Malta and Cyprus. Some of them are not proceeding at present, for various reasons, but it was absurd and wrong of the right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) to suggest that the Prime Minister was ruling out Cypriot accession before a resolution of the dispute in the island. My right hon. Friend was rightly facing up to the difficulties of bringing a divided island into the European Union because, at least on the face of it, that would conflict with the requirements for free movement of people and goods in the Community.
Mr. Heathcoat-Amory : The right hon. Gentleman is a master of misleading analogies. If he had studied better the problems of Cyprus, he would know that bringing in a community with ethnic divisions which date back to the invasion of northern Cyprus by Turkey during the period of office of a Labour Government would create substantial difficulties. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was right to draw attention to those problems. That is not being negative : it is being realistic and constructive and facing the issues. That is what government is about.
Future enlargement of the Union will raise important institutional questions touching on such matters as the size of the Commission and the qualified majority voting arrangements, and will also raise problems of cost. My right hon. Friends the Members for Horsham (Sir P. Hordern) and for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen) rightly and eloquently spoke about the difficulties of contemplating enlargement to include central and eastern European countries in the light of the common agricultural policy. It is doubtful that the CAP as structured at present and the current structural funds could survive if countries from behind the former iron curtain joined the Union. The present round of enlargement has not put the CAP under such pressure. Agricultural prices in three of the four countries are substantially higher than those that obtain in the rest of the Community. Bringing them down to the same level will mean substantial expenditure. However, because the four states, with the possible exception of Finland, will be net contributors to the budget, the problem of unacceptable and unsustainable costs does not arise at this stage.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) suggested that we should engage with the
Column 759countries of central and eastern Europe in foreign and security policy before they join the Community in their entirety. I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend. We can make progress on some of those issues now but others will remain for the intergovernmental conference in 1996.
Mr. Cash : Would my hon. Friend care to repeat what I understood him to say during the European elections--that he regarded a single currency as liable to dilute our sovereignty and that, from his point of view at any rate, although not speaking on behalf of the Government, it was not a satisfactory move in the right direction ?
The right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) raised the question of the study or reflection group.
I can assure the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney that the group will consider a wide range of contributions not only from member states but from non-governmental sources. I hope that, through channels such as Select Committees, the House will find ways of contributing in the run-up to the intergovernmental conference. The right hon. Gentleman courteously informed me that he would not be here for the conclusion of the debate, so perhaps I can send him a message through the Official Report , which he may read tomorrow. The Luxembourg compromise, about which he was concerned, still exists. He was anxious about its health. I can confirm that, whereas it may be asleep, it is none the less alive--indeed, the French Government reaffirmed their support for it during their Maastricht debate.
There was some speculation about the attitudes of applicant states and how they would use their influence in the European Union after they had joined. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) believes that they will be enthusiastic volunteers for a deeper, more integrated community. They are all vigorous democracies and all views have been expressed within them.
It is worth referring to recent remarks by Cabinet Ministers in those states. In particular, I want to quote Carl Bildt, the Prime Minister of Sweden. He thanked this country for our influence in smoothing the way to accession and said that Britain was
"instrumental in the shaping of a new Europe that is larger, more open and less intrusive."
On the question of social issues, which was raised more than once in the debate, the same Prime Minister said :
"While the European Community should have a social dimension, most of the social policy issues are better dealt with at local, regional and national level."
I hesitate to paraphrase my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South -West (Mr. Budgen), but I think that he was saying that the advent of the four countries would make monetary union more likely. I can give him
Column 760some reassurance because Sweden's Finance Minister, when asked about Sweden's participation in the third phase of European monetary union, said :
"That depends on when we satisfy the entry requirements and also on when we want to be included . . . Sweden will not automatically become a member of the final monetary union just because we ratify our membership of the EU."
I hope that that note of caution will be of some reassurance to my hon. Friend.
We all recognise that the four member states will not line up with us on all issues. It would be odd if they did and that would not be the sort of European Union in which they believe. They have different attitudes, traditions and interests. Defending those interests is fully compatible with membership of the European Union. That was evident during the negotiations, which were long and hard fought. We protected our interests and they protected theirs.
On the question of fisheries, I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Knapman) that in all important respects we fully protected the British fishing industry. Indeed, the chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations wrote to the Government after the negotiations saying :
"The satisfactory outcome to the accession negotiations . . . is very welcome indeed."
My hon. Friend raised a number of specific issues about fisheries which I do not have time to respond to now, but I will write to him. The debate raised a new and startling development in Labour policy. Labour's Front- Bench spokesmen still retain the capacity to surprise us. We heard news of a new opt-out by the Labour party. The right hon. Member for Copeland announced a ban on any dealings with Ministers in the new Italian Government from the National Alliance party. [Interruption.] I am getting it exactly right. The right hon. Gentleman called them neo- fascists, although, contrary to what the right hon. Gentleman said, that is not how they describe themselves. The right hon. Gentleman is digging himself into a deeper and deeper hole. He is saying that any future Labour Government would boycott any meeting with those individuals, including any Council meeting. Five Ministers from that party are in the new Italian coalition Government. In the unlikely event of there being a Labour Government, we would have an empty British chair at Transport, Agriculture and Environment Council meetings. Whether or not the right hon. Gentleman intended this, he is advocating an opt-out by the United Kingdom not only from policies discussed at those Council meetings but from any chance of defending Britain's national interests at those meetings.
I cannot imagine a more fatuous policy based on such a petulant reaction to the result of an Italian general election. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Shropshire, North rightly said, that attitude is bizarre and sanctimonious--and it is almost
incomprehensible from a Labour Front-Bench spokesman with any pretension or aspiration to office.
The Bill and the treaty are an invitation to the House to approve and to ratify the accession of four new member states. Those countries do not countenance membership to
Column 761submerge themselves in a formless and shapeless Union or to lose their identity like lumps of sugar in a cup of tea. As Finland's Prime Minister said recently :
"The European Union is made up of independent and sovereign states that have voluntarily decided to exercise their jurisdiction together on certain issues."
All of us on the Conservative Benches agree with that sentiment. We hope that the three referendums yet to be held in applicant states will endorse membership. The last referendum will be held at the end of November, which is why the Bill is presented to the House now. If one or more of the referendums were to fail, no renegotiation of the treaty would be necessary. A Council decision would be taken to make the consequential changes that may be necessary to such matters as qualified majority voting.
Earlier, my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) asked what would happen to the treaty's qualified majority voting figures if one or more of the applicants failed to ratify. The answer is that the allocation of votes to the non-acceding country would be deleted from the treaty and any new voting threshold set. Article 2 of the treaty provides for that. The threshold would be reset at a lower level, but that would not alter in any way the decision made at Ioannina, which protects our position when 23 votes are in opposition to a prospective decision or piece of European legislation.
The debate made clear the support that exists in all parts of the House for entry of the four EFTA states. We see that not only as a welcome step in its own right, but as a milestone on the way to a Europe that is whole--a Europe that achieves freedom while respecting diversity. I urge the House to give the Bill a Second Reading. Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time .
Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.--[ Mr. Patnick .] Committee tomorrow .