Previous Section Home Page

Mr. Robin Cook (Livingston): At the start of the debate, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) lamented the fact that the Government never said anything positive about membership of the European Union. Had he stayed to hear the rest of the debate, he would have heard excellent speeches explaining positive reasons why Britain must remain in the European Union from my hon. Friends the Members for Ashfield (Mr. Hoon), for Hemsworth (Mr. Enright), for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) and for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane). I confess that none of those speeches quite managed the vigour and clarity of language of the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mr. Graham). The whole House is grateful that he accepted his mother's advice and stopped running across the road.


Column 1133

My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Gapes) made a telling point about the nature of the open debate that we have heard in the House this evening when he pointed out that it had shown up Conservative Members' shift in favour of Euro-scepticism. The right hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell), whose position on the Foreign Affairs Select Committee makes his view especially significant, made it plain that he was against a single currency in principle. The right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Sir A. Hamilton), whose constituency I know quite well, came out clearly and said that he was in favour of wholesale repatriation of policies generally; then, with a flying change of leg in his logic, he appealed to all Euro-sceptics to vote in support of the Government's European policies. The hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill) also made it plain where he stood in relation to Europe and why he believed that the rest of the party should join him rather than him rejoining the rest of the party. He referred to letters that he received signed by disillusioned Conservatives. Labour Members also receive that kind of letter and the hon. Gentleman deludes himself if he thinks that, by playing a nationalist card at the next election, all those disillusioned Conservatives will forgive the Government for having wrecked their families' domestic budgets over the past three years. However, the debate has revealed a delusion that appears to be more widely held on the Conservative Benches, which is that the Labour party supports a political super-state in Europe and a federal Europe--an argument sometimes put forward by the same people who say that we have no policies on Europe. That version of Labour's policies bears as much relation to reality as their giant, inflatable versions of our spending plans. Let me remove that apparent confusion so that Conservative Members do not, through genuine misunderstanding, mislead their constituents again.

Labour does not support a federal Europe. On the contrary, we recognise that the nations of Britain have a powerful and healthy sense of their identity. Indeed, that sense of a shared identity is one of the important sources of social cohesion and commitment to social justice within the nation. That is why we shall take no lectures on the importance of national identity from a Conservative party that has taken every possible step over the past 15 years to undermine the social cohesion of our nations and has left a Britain more divided by inequality than at any time this century. Nor will we take lectures from the Government on the importance of subsidiarity in Brussels when they refuse to practise subsidiarity in Britain. In the past six months, I have frequently travelled on the continent and I have met a number of politicians there who are perplexed at finding that they are lectured on the dangers of a centralised Europe by a Government who have built the most centralised state in Europe, abolished whole local authorities and packed quangos from Land's End to John O'Groats with appointments from Whitehall.

Only last Friday, the Prime Minister came to Scotland--indeed, he came to my constituency--to tell us that subsidiarity was not for the Scots. The Prime Minister cannot preach the importance of national identity in Leiden and deny it in Livingston.


Column 1134

I assure Conservative Members that we do not intend to support a Europe that is as centralised as the Britain that they have created. Our vision is of a Community of free member states, associating on the basis not of surrendering national identity but of sharing national interests. Having listened to Conservative Members, it is not clear that they all recognise that we have a common interest to share with the rest of Europe. Over the past months, news bulletins have been studded with gems from Conservative Members suggesting that they are not prepared to share a taxi ride with our partners in Europe, never mind our economic future.

The right hon. Member for Kingston upon Thames (Mr. Lamont), who graced us with his presence earlier this evening, called on Britain to get off the escalator and, if the rest of Europe insists on continuing to go up on it, to wave it good luck and goodbye. I am bound to say that it provides an insight into why the economic management of the past 15 years has been marked by such extraordinary incompetence that the last Chancellor thinks that Britain has an economic future by going it alone outside Europe.

That brings me to the other context for this debate. Alongside the strong sense of national identity in Britain, we must also recognise the powerful move to a global economy in which industrial production is now not the property of any one nation state but is

internationalised, in which world-wide sourcing by companies has meant that trade has expanded twice as fast as output. Throughout the world--in Latin America, in the Asian Pacific area and in north America--the fastest- growing industrialised countries are coming together to form immense trading blocs.

Against the background of that dramatic growth in the global economy, I marvel that Conservative Members appear to think that the best way to prepare Britain for the challenge of that world is by being as difficult as possible to our nearest neighbours. Britain needs Europe because it provides our largest market, because it provides the largest reason for inward investment to this country and because it gives us the clout of a large trading bloc in negotiating with the rest of the world. The reason why we support Britain's membership of the European Union is that it is vital to exports from the country, to investment in the country and to the jobs of the working people of the country.

That is why we believe that Britain's role is that of an independent member nation state of Europe, co-operating to make a success of Europe. It is what Lord Howe described last month as "Labour's balanced approach" on Europe--I assume that he meant that as a compliment. Lord Howe has been much less complimentary about the European policy of the Conservative party to which he belongs, which he described as

"dragged into a ghetto of sentimentality and self-delusion". When the Prime Minister came to office, he made a very different speech from the one that he made today. In that speech in 1991, he said that he wanted to put Britain at the heart of Europe. Today, he told us that he was prepared to be isolated in Europe. It is just as well that he is prepared to be isolated in Europe, because he heads a Government stuffed with Ministers who delight in being isolated in Europe.

When the Employment Secretary was asked at Davos about the Government's agenda for the intergovernmental conference, he replied that their agenda was to veto everyone else's agenda--no to any change in the


Column 1135

European constitution, no to any change in the European Parliament, no to ending Britain's right to say no. That was not only a negative approach but a triple negative approach.

I have to suggest to the Foreign Secretary--as a negotiator, he probably understands--that the problem with always saying no is that one ends up being left out of the game. There can be no more dramatic illustration of the price that one pays for a strategy of isolation than the fact that, in the recent argument about the access of Spain to our fishing waters, Britain could not persuade a single ally to vote with us to block such a damaging change to our national interest. Isolation could not prevent Spain gaining access to our fishing waters. Isolation ensured that Britain could not prevent Spain doing so.

Being isolated will not secure the fundamental changes that are needed in the common agricultural policy, the costs of which have doubled under the present Government, and which is the source of most of the fraud in Europe. Every year, that fraud costs European taxpayers losses of the same amount that led to the collapse of Barings bank.

We shall obtain those fundamental reforms only if we build alliances, if we form partnerships. We cannot do it from a position of isolation. To be sure, when the Prime Minister vetoed the appointment of Mr. Dehaene, he reduced Britain to a position of splendid isolation.

Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey and Waterside): The hon. Gentleman speaks about isolation, yet in his earlier remarks he spoke about the importance of inward investment to the European Union and the fact that there was a great deal coming to this country. Does he believe that we are isolated from Europe in terms of the social chapter? Surely it is for the reason that we have not signed up to the social chapter that so much investment comes to this country, rather than going to the continent of Europe.

Mr. Cook: I can absolutely confirm to the hon. Gentleman that we are isolated over the social chapter. Indeed, the only party in Europe that agrees with the Conservative party's opposition to the social chapter is the National Front of France. That is the degree to which the Conservative Government have formed alliances over the social chapter. I shall discuss later what we believe should be done in relation to the social chapter.

I was about to ask the Foreign Secretary what possible national interest was served by isolating us over the appointment of Mr. Dehaene. He merely swapped Mr. Dehaene for Mr. Santer, who immediately said that he came from the same party and shared the same idea of Europe. The truth is that the veto was used on that occasion not to promote any national interest but solely so that the Prime Minister could prove that he was tough on Europe-- because the only way he can unite the Conservative party is by being divisive inside Europe.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere): In the interests of the clarity about which the hon. Gentleman's party leader spoke earlier, will the hon. Gentleman now come clean and admit what the right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) would not admit--that the European socialists' manifesto commitment to make qualified majority voting the rule means weakening our national veto?

Mr. Cook: I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman did not stay through the debate. Had he done so, he would have


Column 1136

heard my hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr. Hain) quoting our manifesto on the veto; but, for the avoidance of doubt, I am happy to correct the hon. Gentleman again so that he does not again mislead his constituents. We said:

"we have always insisted . . . on maintaining the principle of unanimity for decision-making in areas such as fiscal and budgetary policy, foreign and security issues, changes to the Treaty of Rome and other areas of key national interest."

I hope that we can bury once and for all the canard that Labour is in favour of dropping the veto.

I am happy to say that the whole Labour party is united on that. The Prime Minister's problem is that he cannot put Britain at the heart of Europe because he heads a party that is split from top to bottom about whether it wants to be at any part of the anatomy of Europe.

Of all the quotations from Cabinet Ministers in the trenches of the dispute over Europe in the past three months, the one that I most relish came from the Chancellor, who said:

"We've run out of ways of making it clear there aren't any divisions."

Cabinet Ministers have had plenty of opportunities to make it clear. Never have so many studios been open to so many Cabinet Ministers on the same topic. Tory Ministers used to air their differences in code--after they appeared, television commentators had to be wheeled in to interpret what they had been saying. Now, the divisions come neatly packaged as soundbites and headlines. Whole photocopiers have expired in the basement of Labour party headquarters trying to keep up with the recycling of conflicting quotations from the Cabinet.

The Prime Minister addressed the House for a whole hour, half of it on the single currency. At the end of it all, we still do not know whether he agrees with the Chancellor that those who reject monetary union because it leads to political union are being too simplistic or whether he agrees with the Chancellor's No. 2, the Chief Secretary, who is apparently one of those simplistic people. As I understood the Prime Minister's speech, we are meant to conclude that he agrees with both of them--or, at any rate, he wants to keep his options open to agree with both of them, depending on the nature and style of their speeches.

The Prime Minister made a passionate speech for the don't knows. When my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Stevenson) intervened to ask whether, if the economic conditions were right, the constitutional arguments would keep the Prime Minister out of the single currency, the Prime Minister replied that he did not know where my hon. Friend had been for the previous 10 minutes. The truth is that he had been listening to the Prime Minister. The really interesting feature of the Prime Minister's speech was that three or four times he was given the opportunity to back the statement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that a single currency would not be a threat to the nation state. Not once did he take that opportunity. It seems a simple enough question: does the right hon. Gentleman agree with his Chancellor, given that he has assured us that the Cabinet is united? If it is so united, why cannot the Prime Minister, in the spirit of unity, say that he agrees with his Chancellor? I understand why not: he cannot say that he backs the Chancellor, because to do so would be to offend his own Euro-rebels. After expelling all nine of them only four months ago because


Column 1137

they did not agree with his policy, he is now reduced to avoid announcing a policy in order to reduce the area that they have for disagreement with him.

I am bound to say that, compared with the Prime Minister's speech, the Euro -rebels' manifesto is a model of decisiveness, conviction and clarity. At least we know where they stand. They stand for a substantial repatriation of decision making. They stand for abolishing the elected European Parliament. [Hon. Members:-- "Hear, hear."] It is not just policy of the Euro-rebels. Apparently, a large chunk of the Conservative party agrees with this. Those people stand for reducing the powers of the European Court. [Hon. Members:-- "Hear, hear."] Well, there we are. They want to see the foreign and security policy removed from the competence of the Union. [Hon. Members:-- "Hear, hear."] I have to tell the Foreign Secretary that at Labour party conferences this is the moment when we call for a card vote.

If all those hon Members who are agreeing with the Euro-rebel manifesto intend tonight to vote with the Government, would they help us by pointing out which of the commitments are now shared by the Government with which they are voting tonight? If the Foreign Secretary wants them to vote tonight, perhaps he could tell the House which of those commitments will be in his negotiating brief for next year's intergovernmental conference. The rest of us are entitled to know. When he goes to the IGC, he goes to act for Britain, not just for the Tory party. That is why the agenda should be determined in the interests of the 60 million people of Britain, not the prejudices of a handful of Tory Members of Parliament.

I move to one clear example where the people of Britain are at present discriminated against because of those prejudices. We are, as has been helpfully pointed out, the only country in Europe where working people are denied the advantage of the social chapter--another area where the Prime Minister is prepared to be isolated in Europe, isolated by offering worse working conditions to the people whom he represents than can be obtained on the continent.

I heard the Prime Minister say in his speech that Europe was increasingly accepting our agenda of deregulation. That is a curious delusion since we are the only country that has opted out of the social regulations. It appears to be based on a view that he is in step and everyone else in the European continent is out of step. I should warn the Prime Minister and his Cabinet that not only are they out of step in Europe; increasingly they are out of step with their own backers in big business.

In the Queen's Speech debate, I pointed out to the House that United Biscuits, one of the all-time great donors to the Tory party, thought so little of the opt-out on the social chapter that it had been the first to form a works council in Britain. On cue for today's debate, yesterday Coats Viyella announced that it had also achieved an agreement to set up a works council--a company which has given £27, 000 over four years to the Tory party, a company which was apparently prepared to be a donor to the Tory party but is not prepared at any price to buy its policy on the social chapter. Its chief executive said that that was a

"sensible agreement which will be of competitive advantage to Coats Viyella."


Column 1138

The truth is that business knows that it will never compete on the basis of lower wages and worse working conditions. It will compete only on the basis of higher skills and higher technology. The bosses at the top of the industries that the Government have privatised have no intention of seeking competitiveness through lowering their wages, and they will not raise the commitment, the motivation, the skills of their work forces by telling them that they must achieve competitiveness through lower wages.

Labour will sign up for the social chapter. We will sign up for the social chapter because we believe that it is offensive that people employed by British companies in Britain should settle for fewer rights at work than people employed by those same British companies on the continent.

Mr. Hartley Booth (Finchley): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Cook: I shall give way on this occasion, but it must be the last.

Mr. Booth: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. [Interruption.] Regardless of the friend bit, which comes from being a barrister--we call everyone friend as a member of the Bar--why did the hon. Gentleman decide that he wishes to create large-scale unemployment through our accession to the social chapter in Europe?

Mr. Cook: I am glad that the hon. Gentleman explained why I was thought to be his hon. Friend. I was aware that the arguments that we are deploying here are compelling, but I had not anticipated that I had had quite that degree of success.

As to the increase in employment, the hon. Gentleman had better go back and discuss it with the chief executive of Coats Viyella, who pays the Conservative party and has come to the conclusion--he is right, of course-- that if we want to be competitive, we achieve that competitiveness not by lowering wages, not by lowering working conditions, not by producing a casualised, demotivated work force, which would be a low-skill work force, but by building a work force who are committed, who are involved in their company and who have high skills.

Mr. Oliver Heald (Hertfordshire, North): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Cook: No. Not even the promise that the hon. Gentleman might make to call me an hon. Friend will persuade me to give way on this occasion. I anticipate that his right hon. Friend will wish to make a speech.

The Labour party will sign up for the social chapter. We will sign up because it is in the interests of working people in Britain. We will sign up also because it will provide a clear demonstration that we will break with the opt-out mentality of the Government. It will show that we are prepared to play a full part as a full member of the European Union. It will establish that Britain once again can be taken seriously in Europe, because we will take Europe seriously. It will provide a flat contrast with the Government, who are incapable of covering up their divisions over Europe, of agreeing a strategy for Europe, and who are therefore incapable of negotiating for Britain in Europe.


Column 1139

Today's debate provided the Prime Minister with an opportunity to tell the country where the Government stood on the central question facing Europe. His speech proved that he did not even dare tell his own party where it stood. Such a Government do not deserve to remain in office. Such leadership does not deserve the support of the House.

9.32 pm

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Douglas Hurd): What the House has taken part in today is a new production of a fairly well-worn classic play. There have been some familiar figures in the cast, and some new ones too. There has been a remarkable dominance of Scottish voices during the debate. Perhaps that is because the producer is the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), who, whatever his failings as an actor-manager, gave an entertaining, though insubstantial, contribution as an actor. As often happens when people plan what they think is a clever debate long in advance, it does not usually work out quite that way. Of course there is a discussion about Europe, which runs through all political parties in this House and in this country--and not only this country--but the Labour party is singularly ill-equipped to mount this debate and this dramatic production today.

As has been pointed out--though I think rather too gently--by my right hon. and hon. Friends, over the past 35 years the Labour party has changed its policy on Europe six times. I am not talking about the elegant nuances of difference, with which Conservative Members are familiar; I am talking about six changes, each of 180 degrees. It happens that during that time there have been six Labour leaders, but I must tell those who like a simple plot to their play that, disappointingly, there is no parallel between the two facts. There have been six leaders and six turns of 180 degrees, but some leaders have had more than one policy.

Lord Wilson set the pace. He had three policies during his time as leader of the Labour party: out, in, out. That is clearly the model that the current Leader of the Opposition is emulating. I am not sure of the number of months for which he has led the party, but he has already moved from his original view that we must come out to the view that we must do whatever is proposed in Brussels. We listened to his speech carefully; but if he listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Livingston, or studied what the hon. Gentleman has been saying on television and radio, he would find that the hon. Gentleman is now looking desperately for another fence on which to sit. Anyone who studies the six fundamental changes to which I have referred will find that only one thread runs through them: the thread of inconsistency. Why? Because the only consistent thought is of scurrying around for the sake of tactical advantage. Having lived through a good many years of this, I am driven to the conclusion that the Labour party--with one or two notable exceptions--does not actually know or care about Europe or European policy. Labour Members see Europe simply as a board on which they can play little parliamentary games.

As I have said, I have lived through this for some years. Over and over again, I have seen the overriding Labour party desire for some form of words on the Order Paper


Column 1140

enabling Labour to gather into the Division Lobby people of all shades of opinion. All that they need share is some criticism of the Government's policy. Labour is at it again tonight: it wants to lure the leader of the Liberal party--enthusiastic for a single currency--into the same Lobby as some of my hon. Friends, and Opposition Members. It does not matter what people believe in; they are all welcome in the Labour Lobby, provided that somewhere among their views is a criticism of the Government.

We lived through all this during the debates on Maastricht. I became familiar with the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) when he was the actor-manager, and I must say that I developed a certain admiration for his skill and subtlety, damnable and opportunistic though it was on all occasions. Now the hon. Gentleman has been packed off to shadow the Secretary of State for Scotland and to answer the West Lothian question, and we have a different actor-manager. This, I must say, is much less subtle. Here we have a trap with "TRAP" marked clearly on it, plonked in the middle of the motorway; and we are invited to walk into it.

I do not know whether the hon. Member for Livingston obtained part of his education in the kirk. Had he done so, he would be familiar with the book of Proverbs, which states:

"Surely in vain the net is spread in the sight of any bird." That is what the hon. Gentleman has tried to do, but he has done it in the presence of a good many fairly wise and wily birds on both sides of the House.

Speaking of wise and crafty birds brings me naturally to the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux). He intervened in the Prime Minister's speech, and I feel that the question that he put--now that we have reflected on it--requires a fuller answer. I believe he referred to horizontal transfer of sovereignty between member states. He knows, or I hope that he knows, that there is no proposal for joint authority--for horizontal transfer of sovereignty--in the framework document. He also knows, and I am happy to confirm, our view--which has long been clear--that there can be no change in the sovereignty of Northern Ireland except at the wish of the greater number of the people who live there. If that is the assurance that he wanted--and I think that it is--I gladly give it.

There have been some notable contributions to the debate. My right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) chided Ministers for not setting out the advantages of membership. I thought that that was a little hard because my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister did exactly that in his speech. When I come to enlargement, I shall deal with what my right hon. Friend said on that subject.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) urged us--we need no urging--to put forward positive ideas at the intergovernmental conference next year on how the structures and procedures of the Union's institutions can work better. He listed the Council, the Commission, the courts and the Parliament. All those existing institutions are clearly necessary, but we believe that they could work better. We certainly think that the Commission should do less, and do it better.

My right hon. Friends the Members for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Renton), for Woking (Sir C. Onslow) and for Horsham (Sir P. Hordern) made thoughtful speeches which need to be taken into account in any analysis from


Column 1141

upstairs on where the Conservative parliamentary party now stands. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) made a rumbustious and welcome speech in which he made the case for a referendum on a single currency. He was supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Martin). I think that everybody understands the force of those arguments, which are deeply constitutional. Both my hon. Friends will have heard what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said about keeping that choice before us.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Mr. Wardle) spoke along lines that we could have anticipated, but which were nevertheless clear. He acknowledged what is certainly true: that there is no difference in objectives or policy between my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the rest of us and himself. The question is one of timing and tactics. My hon. Friend quoted article 7a and agreed that it was accompanied by a general declaration which made it clear that nothing in the Single European Act would prevent member states from taking necessary action against illegal immigration.

The legal position is not quite as straightforward as my hon. Friend suggested. I refer him to the opinion of, say, Lord Oliver of Aylmerton, a Law Lord, in a Select Committee of the House of Lords. In any case there is a clear commitment by the Heads of Government of the time--1985--which included the present Federal Chancellor and the current President of the European Commission on the point. We have sustained for 10 years without challenge or difficulty immigration controls at our ports and airports. The Prime Minister said today, as he has said before and as my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has said, that we shall take whatever steps are necessary to protect our frontier controls. My hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle suggested a specific tactic: that 10 months before the opening of the intergovernmental conference, we should put that on the agenda. There are disadvantages and risks in that tactic, and we do not need to decide on it now. However, the undertaking given again today by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister stands.

Several hon. Members referred to two themes that have run through the debate. The first of them is flexibility. The hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Hoon) spoke of that as if my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister had invented the idea in a fit of pique or of determination to be isolated. That is absolute nonsense. We have flexibility; there is flexibility in defence. I have just visited Austria, Sweden and Denmark, which are not full members of the Western European Union, whereas we are. In the debate my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made specific proposals about defence and stated and showed that Britain was in the lead in that subject. Others are not, and others may not wish to be included. It is a perfect example of the flexibility about which the Prime Minister spoke, and so it is with frontiers. Britain and Ireland are island countries and we naturally have different ideas about frontier controls from those in countries with land frontiers. Why is that wrong? Why is that an aberration? It is part of the essential flexibility of Europe. Those who deny that flexibility are denying something that is not passing, not an aberration, but is an essential part of Europe. It is a


Column 1142

natural feature of what we are trying to do. The United States of America is not the good model for the future of Europe.

The Leader of the Opposition seems quite astray on qualified majority voting. He seemed to suppose that there was not any and that we were blocking its introduction. Of course there is. Those who say that the common agricultural policy could not be reformed without QMV seem to ignore that QMV applies to the common agricultural policy. What the Prime Minister talked about is further extension of QMV, which we oppose.

The hon. Member for Livingston, with a jutting beard gesture of which we are getting rather fond, became extremely indignant because the Prime Minister suggested, modestly and quietly, that when the European socialist manifesto, co-authored by the right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham), said that QMV should be the rule, that must mean an undermining of the veto. The hon. Member for Livingston became very indignant and said,"No, no." He read again the domestic Labour party manifesto on the subject. All he proved by that indignation is that the Labour party speaks with two voices, both official. Labour is bound, as I understand it, by the European socialist manifesto, which is the nature of European socialism. The right hon. Member for Copeland was shadow Foreign Secretary when he put his signature on it. Those two completely contradictory voices entirely justify the criticism that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made.

The main point that I should like to dwell on is what I believe to be the heart of the matter.

Mr. Lamont: Will my right hon. Friend address the question that I put to the Prime Minister earlier, to which I do not believe he gave a clear answer? I asked whether the Government believe that monetary union will lead to political union or whether they believe, as Lord Lawson said the other day, that one cannot have one without the other? I believe that this is the issue of principle. It is two years since we began negotiations on the Maastricht treaty and that is an issue of principle, not of timing.

Mr. Hurd: My right hon. Friend is one of the greatest experts on the subject because, with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, he negotiated the opt-out. I have always admired the skill with which they both did that. I was sitting in admiration in another room at the time.

I think my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister answered clearly the point that my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Thames (Mr. Lamont) has just made. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that he was absolutely clear that it was right to preserve for this country the freedom, that he and my right hon. Friend had together obtained for us, with some difficulty, at Maastricht. He went on to answer the specific question put by my right hon. Friend. [Hon. Members:-- "Answer the question."] I simply repeat what the Prime Minister said. He answered the question clearly in his speech.

Mr. Robin Cook: If the Foreign Secretary will not answer that question, will he, in the remaining 10 minutes of the debate, answer the question that has now been asked five times in the past five hours? Does he agree


Column 1143

with the Chancellor of the Exchequer that a single currency would not threaten the nation state and, if so, can he explain why his Prime Minister cannot say so?

Mr. Hurd: The Prime Minister answered that question and I agreed with the answer given. The Prime Minister went on to make a point, which I think is overwhelming common sense: this choice of a single currency or not is not before the House. It will not be before the House for four or five years at least. Other countries are committed to accept, regardless of the circumstances at the time, but we are not because we have the freedom of the opt-out negotiated at Maastricht. If and when that choice comes to us, the Government will take that choice and recommend it to Parliament in the light of not just one set of facts but of all the facts which are valid at that time--the facts at the time, not the hunch at present.

Of course, there is a constitutional question; of course, there are economic questions, and the Prime Minister went into these in some detail. The only sensible course is not to pontificate about this now but to weigh up the choice when and if we need to take it as a nation.

Mr. Cook rose --

Mr. Hurd: No, I am not going to give way to the hon. Gentleman again.

It seems to me an entirely sensible course to which the great majority of people in this country would adhere.

I now come to what I believe is the basic flaw in the critique of the Leader of the Opposition and the leader of the Liberal party. The Leader of the Opposition spoke as if there was only one model for Europe and the question was whether we moved forward in some direction which he regarded as inexorable or whether we retreated and turned our back on Europe. I entirely reject that choice; that is not what it is about. There is not just one model. There is a choice of directions, and we are among the people who make the choice. It is the essence of our policy that we should work with others to make the choice which has not already been engineered but which is a choice with which we can feel at ease.

This is a debate that we have had, with variations, several times before. I think that there is an opportunity now--the Labour party has given us that opportunity--to draw a line under divisions and discontents, which have been very real. There are rancours belonging to the past and they are certainly very real. They belong to the debate on Maastricht, but there is a danger in constantly fighting and refighting old battles. Obviously, there is a political danger here--there is no doubt about that--but there is another point which is perhaps not so familiar.

As I said, I have just returned from visiting Denmark, Sweden, Austria and Germany. I agree with the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Sir A. Hamilton). In all the countries that I visited--and this was not true before

Maastricht--there is debate on the issues that have come forward in this country. Before Maastricht, we had the sensation--it was well founded--that ours was the only country in which there was a debate. Now there is a debate in all the countries that I visit and, in some of them, there is a lively interest in the ideas that we propose. However, I must tell my right hon. and hon. Friends and the House that interest in these ideas is weakened and is not going to be effective if it appears that they come out of domestic division here at home. This I find infinitely


Column 1144

frustrating because I am quite sure that the ideas that we are working out and putting forward are the right ideas for Europe and I do not want to see that frustrated because they appear to arise from domestic controversy at home. [Hon. Members:-- "Tell us one."] That is precisely what I am about to do, and I have seven minutes in which to do so.

What will be happening next year? Three things will be happening more or less at the same time. No doubt there will be a continuing discussion about a single currency. There will be preparations for the enlargement of the European Union. I disagree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup on this point. I do not think that we should be grudging about enlargement. The countries of central and eastern Europe have to be able to comply with the treaty and meet the conditions about competition, about the single market. They will not, of course, find that easy and they will not be able to do it at once, but they are political democracies--they have free elections. Their problems arise from the free market. We should give them time, but we should encourage them and we should not say to them that they are not really European countries, that they are not really entitled to join the European Union because we are too busy sorting our own ideas. We should encourage them to join. That process will go ahead next year and the year after.

Alongside that process, as the Prime Minister said and as we said at Question Time today, must go changes--drastic changes--in the common agricultural policy and in the structural funds. One cannot possibly imagine extending, enlarging the European Union and maintaining in its present form a common agricultural policy covering the farmers of Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia. That will be the second thing going on next year.

Thirdly, there will be the intergovernmental conference which will consider the structures that were established at Maastricht. As the Prime Minister said, I am absolutely clear that there will be no attempt from anybody to overturn, to destroy those three pillars and say that we must start again. That is not the mood of the Union at all.

We have the Community itself--the first pillar--the single market, from which this country benefits, the single commercial policy and the gradual dying away of state aids and protectionist devices. Of course there are fierce rearguard actions from the protectionists, and we read of the battles. We do not read, so much, when the battles end in success. We read of the efforts by the French to keep out our lamb, of the Germans to keep out our beef, of the French to keep our aircraft out of Orly airport. We do not always read that, actually, we won all those arguments because there was a single market, because there were rules and because in the end, however grudgingly, those rules had to be obeyed. That is one pillar.

Alongside that pillar is the co-operation in foreign and security policy and in home and justice matters. I shall send my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup the speech that I made in Berlin yesterday, which he had some difficulty in getting. I am in favour of co- operation in foreign policy, but I am not in favour of seeking to make that effective by majority vote. I contested that fiercely in the Maastricht negotiations--successfully--and would do so again. I do not believe


Column 1145

that we would achieve a more effective European foreign policy if we introduced majority voting and started trying to vote people down.

We have two highly successful institutions in Europe--NATO and the European Union. We have a queue of countries wanting to join both. It is in the fundamental interests of this country that the success of those institutions should not unravel. There are two ways, it seems to me, in which the European Union could unravel. One is that we could go back into a dangerous muddle of old rivalries, rumours of war, commerce and investment constantly interrupted by rows over tariffs and conflicting trade arrangements. If we went back downhill in that direction, just when the North American Free Trade Agreement is forming, just when Asia and the Pacific are coming together as an entity, just when Latin America is coming together, we would be moving right against the grain of the world. One way in which Europe could unravel is through cynicism and neglect. It could unravel if we were tolerant of fraud. It could unravel if we were unable to practise subsidiarity successfully.

Another way in which Europe could unravel is that it could try to go forward in a purely theoretical and philosophical way. There could be some great centralising movement, some talk of a great leap forward, but, in fact, it could be a leap forward into a bog. That is why I believe that Prime Minister Balladur is right to say that there is no point in reviving the anachronistic debate on federalism. A Europe of nations is working together as never before, working with the grain of history, with popular feeling. It is not a question of advancing or retreating on a road which is already engineered by others. It is a question of choosing the right road, forgetting our defeatism on that road, and putting our energy and commitment into the matter that way. After a year or two at this task, I am quite sure that that can be done and that our ideas of a Europe of nations can succeed. It is possible, it is right, and I ask the House, by rejecting the motion, to help us to succeed.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question: --

The House divided: Ayes 314, Noes 319.

Division No. 92] [9.59 pm

AYES


Column 1145

Abbott, Ms Diane

Adams, Mrs Irene

Ainger, Nick

Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)

Allen, Graham

Alton, David

Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)

Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale)

Armstrong, Hilary

Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy

Ashton, Joe

Austin-Walker, John

Banks, Tony (Newham NW)

Barnes, Harry

Barron, Kevin

Battle, John

Bayley, Hugh

Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret

Beggs, Roy

Beith, Rt Hon A J

Bell, Stuart


Next Section

  Home Page