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Mr. Donald Anderson: Does my hon. Friend agree that the odd thing about the questions is that the real motive of the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman)--to get out of Europe--is not posed as one of them? Does she also agree that the other question about a loose association of states may not be on offer?
Ms Quin: My hon. Friend is absolutely right that there is a hidden agenda to the Bill, which dares not find expression openly in the House. None the less, we know that among those who are described as Euro-sceptics there are some who want us to withdraw Britain from the European Union altogether, whereas others in that peculiar alliance simply want a "substantial repatriation of sovereignty"--whatever that is and how ever far it goes--which the hon. Member for Billericay has proposed in her Bill.
If paragraphs 1(2)(a) and 1(2)(b) of the Bill were not bad enough, we then have the killer subsection, 1(3), which says:
"The questions need not be in the exact words of the preceding subsection, so long as Her Majesty is satisfied that their wording reflects the true intent and spirit of this Act."
Column 647If the hon. Member for Billericay is fortunate enough for her Bill to proceed this morning and to be considered in Committee, I almost wonder whether the Committee may be continuing its consideration when the intergovernmental conferences have come to an end, because there is so much scope for debate on all the issues that are raised by the Bill.
Some hon. Members have referred to the difficulties that took place in referendums in other countries during the passage of the European Communities (Amendment) Bill, and I believe that some hon. Members lament the fact that we did not hold a referendum on the Maastricht treaty.
There was an argument to be made for holding a referendum on the Maastricht treaty, because the changes in it were considerable, but I think that there would have been a practical difficulty in finding the appropriate question to ask the British people in respect of that treaty.
Mr. Carttiss: Why should this country, which has had a Parliament for 700 years and is supposed to have brought democracy, culture and everything throughout the world during our days of empire, have more difficulty in framing a question about the Maastricht treaty than the French found in framing their question in the referendum that President Mitterrand held, which he was not obliged to hold, and the result of which he was very surprised about?
How come that the Danes, whose language is more complicated than ours anyway, can organise a referendum and put a form of words that people can vote on and then, three or four months later, having not obtained a single significant change in what they voted on before, can come up with another form of words that makes sense to the Danish people? The same of course applies, and I have great admiration for them.
If a bunch of Irishmen can get together and produce a form of words--
Mr. Deputy Speaker: That is not the sort of remark or the due deference that is due to the Chair, if I may respectfully say so to the hon. Member. [Interruption.] Well, if the hon. Gentleman wishes to be especially difficult with the Chair, the hon. Gentleman knows what he may do.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: I am not referring to "bunch". The hon. Gentleman knows the tradition of the House that an intervention should be short and succinct. To my counting, the hon. Gentleman asked seven questions, and by then my patience was beginning to get exhausted. The hon. Gentleman is being unfair to other hon. Members.
Ms Quin: In spite of his lengthy intervention, the hon. Gentleman missed a fairly obvious argument that I was about to reach in my speech, which was that the version of the Maastricht treaty that was on offer in Denmark and in France was somewhat different from the version that was on offer in this country because of the opt-outs that had been negotiated by the Prime Minister. The consequence of those opt-outs would have been to complicate the question in a referendum.
Column 648It would not have been impossible to solve the problem, but people in this country would have needed to be presented with the choice of Maastricht with both opt-outs or Maastricht with one opt -out or Maastricht with neither opt-out. Those choices would have had to be given to the British people and I think that the opt-out position that was foolishly negotiated by the Prime Minister none the less complicated the position quite significantly.
In France, when the referendum took place, many issues became involved in the referendum campaign that were not strictly concerned with the Maastricht treaty. A great deal of debate was devoted to agriculture and the position of French farmers, although agricultural policy was not part of the Maastricht treaty. Although I do not object to it--it seems a usual part of politics--the referendum also tended to become very entangled with the domestic French political scene at that time. That happens in referendums. Many factors are at stake when referendums are held. The issue is not quite as straightforward as some Conservative Members have stated this morning.
If referendums solve problems--sometimes they do--they only solve them for a while, and are usually followed by other referendums on the same subject. Some 20 years ago we had a referendum on European Union membership. It has not caused the argument on European Union membership to disappear--indeed, it should not. Referendums are just one stage in the political process. But it is unrealistic for people start to think that referendums are a way of solving problems of all time.
The hon. Member for Billericay mentioned the great public support that she and her colleagues had received for their case. It seems that her views and those of some of her colleagues have resonance among Conservative party supporters. It is perhaps as a result that we have the spectacle of Conservative Euro-rebels delighting in their disgrace and flaunting their Whipless condition, rather than being sad and ashamed of what has happened, as we might have thought. The hon. Lady and her colleagues overstate the public--as opposed to the narrow Conservative--support on the issues. When the hon. Lady and many people were calling for a referendum on Maastricht, my postbag was not full of letters asking for such a referendum. It was full of letters from people worried about issues such as the Child Support Agency, or the problems of getting a job or living on benefit. Those issues exercise the minds of the British people much more than some of the arguments on Europe advanced by Conservative Members.
Mr. Piers Merchant (Beckenham): Will the hon. Lady accept my assurance that my constituents sent me many letters, either calling for a referendum on Maastricht or giving similar views--far more than on the Child Support Agency?
Column 649Most people here are more concerned about other issues. There is a feeling among many people--a feeling that I share- -that the Government have let down British interests in Europe, not for the reason given by the hon. Lady, but because the Government have isolated and weakened us in Europe. They seem to be more concerned to give us lower social and environmental standards than anyone else. There is a strong feeling, which the Opposition share and hope to highlight next week, that the Government have weakened us through their own internal divisions on the issues.
In support of the Bill, the hon. Lady also spoke of her feelings of national identity. Many people, like me, are proud of, and attached to, their identity. But people on both sides of the European argument can be equally proud of their identity. Many of us feel that a positive role in the European Union is very much in our national interest. We have different levels of loyalty and identity. I feel strongly regionalist; I am a Geordie and would like to see that identity promoted in future, just as my hon. Friends from other parts of the United Kingdom feel equally strongly about their national or regional identities.
The hon. Lady mentioned, and her Bill refers to, the idea that Europe should be a free trade area--
"an association of states trading freely".
There seems to be a feeling among Conservatives that that is what we opted for in the 1975 referendum. If the hon. Lady thinks back to that time, she will realise that what was being discussed was the contrast between the European free trade area and the deeper form of co-operation involved in the treaty of Rome.
That is why it is absurd for the Conservatives to think that we can somehow have a free trading area which ignores the social dimension, which has been an important part of the European process from the beginning. It is unrealistic for the hon. Member for Billericay and her hon. Friends on the Front Bench to claim in the 1990s that the European social dimension--which some of us are very keen on--is an add-on or an extra. In fact, it has been in all European treaties since 1951.
Mrs. Gorman: Does the hon. Lady agree that it is perfectly possible to have an open trading arrangement, such as the North American free trade agreement, that does not include all of the regulatory parts of the European relationship which are so detrimental to our business development?
Ms Quin: I was sympathetic to the hon. Lady's comments about regulation. We do not want over-regulation or unnecessary regulation. There was an interesting exchange later in the debate between the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland and the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) which highlighted the fact that sometimes regulation is about promoting trade, which presumably the hon. Lady welcomes.
Reference was made to the infamous attempt to introduce a directive on lawn mower noise. When I first heard about that I thought that the European Commission was off its rocker in advancing such a proposal. However, the hon. Member for Harrow, East was quite correct when he said that the European Commission brought forward that proposal to allow British producers to export lawn
Column 650mowers to Germany. They had been prevented from doing that previously because of the way in which the German Government had written rules about noise.
We must examine each case properly. Sometimes regulations may be about promoting free trade--the very thing that the hon. Lady says that she wants to see. Regulation in the name of consumer protection or health and safety standards at work is very important to the interests of the people who live within the single European market. I think that we must take those points on board.
I have given reasons why the Labour party will not support the hon. Lady's Bill. However, once again the sharpest divisions have been on the Government side, and no doubt those divisions will be highlighted again in the debate on Wednesday. My hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) said that Conservative Members seem to be yearning for opposition. I, too, am yearning for them to be in opposition. Their division on the European issue and on many other matters means that that day cannot come a moment too soon for the people of this country.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Tony Baldry): The Referendum Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) seeks to give the people of Britain a choice in a referendum between a federalist European super-state and Britain's effective disengagement and withdrawal from Europe. That is an absurd choice. It reduces to the ridiculous the debate on our future role in Europe.
The hon. Lady's subtext is clear: by suggesting that there is a prospect of some federalist European super-state into which we will unwillingly but inevitably become absorbed, she seeks to persuade people that the other option is preferable and that they should be given the opportunity to express that choice in a referendum. That is fairly primitive politics.
What do the leaders of Europe say about a federalist Europe or a European super-state? They quite rightly rubbish the idea because they know that it is not in prospect, it is not an option and it will not happen. Chancellor Kohl said:
"We do not want a European `super state' . . . we will remain Germans, Britons, Italians or Frenchmen."
Edouard Balladur said:
"There are nothing but disadvantages in reopening the federalist debate. It's an anachronism: an enlarged Europe comprising more states could not be federal."
Alain Juppe said:
"Europe will never be a super state, federal or otherwise." The idea that there is a conspiracy of conniving continentals seeking to rob us of our birthright is a bogey. Equally bogus is the suggestion that Britain could turn her back on Europe and abandon it, disengage from her history and become divorced from her geography. I want my children to be able to continue to write history, not just read it. I know that they can do that only if Britain remains at the heart of Europe.
If we are involved in and influencing Europe, with the courage to say yes when we believe that is in our best interests and those of Europe, and the self-confidence to say no and to stick to it when we do not, we can have every confidence in our own abilities and strengths.
Column 651Britain brings considerable assets to Europe. Ours is the world's sixth largest economy. London is the financial capital of the world. Our trading links and connections around the globe are considerable. Britain is one of the few countries in Europe still to have a global reach with her foreign policies. The United Kingdom alone in Europe is a member simultaneously of the UN Security Council, the economic summit and the Commonwealth--which comprises one third of the world's nations.
Our contribution to Europe's defence is second to none among European Union member states. We have made a more significant contribution to NATO, and hence to the security of all Europe, than any other European nation. No one can question our right to make clear our views on the future of Europe or doubt our ability to influence it. Many key developments of the past few years were advanced in Europe by us--the single market, enlargement, budgetary discipline, common agricultural policy reform, a greater drive on deregulation and trade liberalisation, the whole thrust for subsidiarity.
Our opposition to the social chapter is driven by a positive determination to see Europe improve its competitiveness. With more than 18 million unemployed, that is essential. That is why it is imperative to keep down social costs. If we do not, we shall lose competitiveness, prosperity and jobs. We can, and do, influence and help mould Europe's present. We can, and will, help to determine its future.
Mr. Marlow: It would be helpful if my hon. Friend could give several examples of subsidiarity in effect and of measures that have been repatriated to sovereign national Governments, so that they, rather than the European Community, have competence.
Mr. Baldry: There are frequent and many examples of decisions taken in this country at ministerial and local level that hitherto may have been taken in Brussels. We and all good democrats want to ensure that decisions are taken at the level at which they are best applicable.
The hon. Member for Billericay offers a referendum--always a seductive proposition. We are democrats, and democracy is about choice--and people should be given choices. Referendums are about making choices, so it is argued that those who refuse referendums are denying the public the opportunity to make a choice and that, therefore, they cannot properly be democrats. That is all heady stuff. However, we and the people of this country know that offering a choice between two equally far-fetched propositions does not enhance democracy.
Of course there are times when it is right to hold a referendum, when real and substantive issues should properly be put to the people. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made it clear that he has not ruled out a referendum, and that there may be circumstances in future when one might be appropriate. If there are, we will hold one. As to the 1996 intergovernmental conference, my right hon. Friend made it clear also that he does
"not believe that anything is going to happen in that conference that would remotely justify a referendum".
The question of holding one would arise only if decisions taken at the IGC had serious implications for Britain's constitutional position.
Column 652to participate in a single currency? Did he, like me, hear the hon. Member for Gateshead, East (Ms Quin) say that the opt-out had been foolishly negotiated by the Prime Minister? If she thinks that we should not have secured that opt-out, does that not mean that the inevitability of a single currency would be Labour policy? In other words, has she not said that Labour favours a single currency?
Mr. Baldry: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The whole House will have heard the hon. Lady make that point. I suspect that many hon. Members will also have heard the shadow Foreign Secretary on the radio this morning. It is clear from the Labour Front-Bench team's comments that Labour would simply sign up to everything and anything offered by Europe.
Mr. William Cash (Stafford): My hon. Friend knows that I have the pleasure--indeed, the privilege--of addressing his Conservative association this evening on this very issue. So that I can relay his response to his local association, will he, at my invitation or, at any rate, by acquiescence, say why there was no free vote before the Maastricht treaty was accepted, why there was no White Paper, why we are not being promised a White Paper now and why we did not veto monetary union and renegotiate the fisheries policy and the borders policy, all of which could have been done in advance of the Maastricht treaty?
Mr. Baldry: My hon. Friend will be very welcome in my constituency this evening. He has asked about seven questions but, as he was not here for the whole debate but only for the winding-up, it is somewhat unreasonable of him to expect to make a speech by way of an intervention. My Conservative association will tell him that the people did have a free vote on the Maastricht treaty--there was a general election, and the electors of north Oxfordshire understood perfectly the policies that the Conservative party outlined to them. My hon. Friend belittles my electors and those in the rest of the country if he does not accept that.
I was delighted to hear what my hon. Friend said on the radio, as there is now considerable agreement on the issue of a single currency. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister stated clearly: "We cannot accept that Sterling should be part of a Single Currency in 1996 or 97. We don't believe anyone could sensibly want to go ahead then but, if they do, we wouldn't be with them . . . To say `yes' now or `no' now is to operate on hunch not facts. No one knows what future economic circumstances will be."
I am sure that the House will have noted that, the other day, the Governor of the Bank of England said of the decision on a single currency:
"It is not a decision that can or should be taken now." Ms Quin rose --
On the radio the other evening, my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash) sensibly said that the Governor of the Bank of England had demonstrated
"a very serious and very realistic bottom line on the question of monetary union . . . it's not a matter of ideology or theology; it's a matter of straightforward common sense".
Column 653Everyone would agree with my hon. Friend and the Governor of the Bank of England that it is not a decision that can or should be taken now, and we are not going to do so.
Ms Quin: If the Minister is going to refer to our views, I am anxious that he should at least represent them fairly. Our position on a single currency has been made clear not only by the shadow Foreign Secretary but in the Labour party's policy statement on this issue. Although we support the principle of a single currency, we shall make a decision in the light of the economic circumstances at the time. We have said that, before we agreed to a single currency, we would want the move to be accompanied by measures to tackle unemployment and promote economic growth in Europe.
Our position is perfectly clear, and our criticising the Government for its opt-out does not render it any less clear. If Labour were in power, we would be in a position to make a decision about whether to join a single currency. As I also said today, we would also have the consent of the British people in that undertaking.
Mr. Baldry: That all sounds rather like embarrassed special pleading. I do not need to explain the Labour party's position on the single currency. The hon. Lady and the shadow Foreign Secretary have been taking great pains to ensure that the whole country knows and understands that the Labour party would sign up to absolutely anything. It would have abandoned all the opt-outs that the Prime Minister successfully secured at Maastricht--so much has been clear again from today's debate.
Mr. Budgen: I apologise for not having been here to hear the beginning of my hon. Friend's speech. Can he explain the consequences for employment of a single currency? We hear a great deal of talk about measures that would prevent unemployment, but most people realise that, with a single currency, either there must be a free movement of peoples-- which means goodbye to immigration controls in the European Union--or there must be large subsidies to keep people in uneconomic areas.
Will my hon. Friend explain the Government's attitude? We may then even find out the Opposition's attitude.
"would raise significant economic, political and constitutional issues"
of the kind that my hon. Friend has just described. No one dissents from that. Such issues would have to be decided in the circumstances of the time, which is why we shall decide them in the circumstances of the time, and why we are not prepared to prejudge them now. That would be totally unnecessary and hypothetical.
Mr. Budgen: Surely, if the Government agree about the consequences of a single currency, they can decide now. In the United States, with the dollar, the only way to overcome the economic disadvantages of the regions in which people live is to allow them free movement or to keep them in place by subsidy. Surely, therefore, the
Column 654Government can say in principle whether they favour the free movement of all peoples in Europe or, if they do not, whether they favour massive subsidies to ensure that people remain where they are. The Government do not have to wait until the time arises to say whether they are in favour of one or the other.
Mr. Baldry: With respect, my hon. Friend, just like the hon. Member for Gateshead, East (Ms Quin), is seeking to decide on a question now which we do not have to answer now. We can answer it in our own time when the question needs to be asked.
Several hon. Members rose --
We have made it clear that we do not think that anything will happen at the 1996 IGC that will remotely justify a referendum. The question of a referendum would arise only if decisions were taken at the conference which had serious implications for Britain's constitutional position--and we will not allow such decisions. The Bill offers a choice on Europe of two extremes. People here want neither extreme. The fact is that the people of Britain want to be at the heart of Europe. We want to be able to influence Europe and, quite rightly, we want to ensure a European Union that meets the needs of its citizens. We want a Europe of nation states that meets the needs of the nation state.
Of course the present arrangements in Europe are not perfect--when, in the history of civilisation, have they ever been perfect in any organisation of men and women? But we are working hard to put right the problems of Europe.
Mr. Dykes: I am sure that the House will agree that my hon. Friend is putting the Government's case fairly and that there is a clear and stated policy. He rather surprised me when he announced tonight's engagement in his constituency, which will include an address by the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash). Is my hon. Friend planning to be at that engagement so that he can counter some of the anti-European views of my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford?
Mr. Baldry: I have every confidence that my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford will put fairly and reasonably the views of a collective party. I have every confidence also that the members of my local association will question my hon. Friend clearly and carefully on some of the views that he has advanced. I know that the views that the Government represent are wholeheartedly supported in north Oxfordshire.
Mr. Budgen rose --
Mr. Marlow rose --
We are working hard to put right the problems in Europe.
Column 655As I have said, we are working hard to put right problems in Europe. We want to have greater budgetary discipline. We want also to have war on fraud, reform of the common agricultural policy, a greater and continuing emphasis on subsidiarity, more deregulation and a reduction in the burdens on business. We should never overlook, however, the substantial benefits of our membership of the EU--peace, jobs and prosperity, real influence--
Mr. Baldry: I know that my hon. Friend thinks that there is no advantage in our membership of the EU. That being so, perhaps he will listen while I outline what I consider to be the benefits of our membership.
We enjoy real influence in international trade negotiations, more influence in foreign policy and a common front against international crime and drug trafficking.
We commemorate this year the ending of the second world war. It is worth remembering that the EU, with NATO, has brought 50 years of peace and prosperity to our continent. War is now unthinkable in western Europe.
The EU is the world's largest trading bloc, with a massive 40 per cent. of world trade. Membership of the EU is crucial for British jobs, investment and prosperity. We in Britain successfully championed and helped secure the single market, which is the world's largest free trade area.
Britain is a great trading nation. Our exports to the EU have grown dramatically since we joined. The EU now takes over half of all our exports compared with just over a third before we joined. Our exports to--