Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Dykes: Ridiculous.

Sir Terence Higgins: It is not ridiculous, in respect of either scale or effect. The difference is that, with reparations, the Germans borrowed to pay. With fines, we will not be allowed to borrow more, so the House will have no option but to raise taxes or cut expenditure. That strikes at the basis of Parliament. I therefore hope that, when my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor negotiates, he will accept that we should not go along with fines.

12 Dec 1996 : Column 463

I fully accept that, if we are going ahead with the single currency, we will need some supervision, with good statistics and so on, but fines are a different matter. I realise that there is a danger that one country may borrow too much, but there will be strong pressure on it to put the matter right. We had a long period of currency stability under the Bretton Woods agreement, but no one suggested that the International Monetary Fund should impose fines. The system could work perfectly well without them.

In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes), Mr. Kaletsky spelt out in an excellent article the possible extent of such fines. They are not out of line--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order.

Mr. Dykes: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I could not attend yesterday's debate, because I was visiting the European Parliament. I was given to understand by colleagues that yesterday's debate was to have been primarily on economic and monetary union and today's on the intergovernmental conference. I have a brilliant speech on the IGC lined up.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: There may have been a misunderstanding. Today's debate is about the European Union.

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: There cannot be a further point of order because I have already ruled on the matter. Is this a different point of order?

Mr. Mackinlay: Yes. After tonight's debate, could you consider whether, when the Leader of the House announced the business last week, it was clearly stated that the IGC was to be the subject of debate today and EMU yesterday?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I have already ruled on that. This debate is on the European Union. The hon. Gentleman said that he had a different point of order, which I allowed accordingly.

6.56 pm

Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Cromarty and Skye): The only matter that I want to clarify is whether those exchanges ate into my 10 minutes.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) spoke on economic and monetary union yesterday; I shall talk about the intergovernmental conference. Like my hon. Friend in response to the Chancellor's remarks yesterday, I welcome the more robust pro-Europeanism expressed by the Foreign Secretary today. The Prime Minister also expressed it rather well in his television interview at the weekend.

The bad news for the Conservatives is that it is too little, too late. If they had shown firmer resolve at the top of the Government, they might not have got into the terrible quagmire that has developed since the Maastricht treaty, with the whipless Tories and so on. It is not merely

12 Dec 1996 : Column 464

a case of the tail wagging the dog; the tail has got bigger and bigger because those in charge of the animal have not imposed the necessary discipline.

The Foreign Secretary's comments on the IGC were strange, coming from a Conservative. He bewailed the tendency in Europe towards endless modification. I had always thought that one of the great tenets of British Conservatism was that our unwritten constitutional procedures gave us limitless scope for endless modification--not pulling the plant up by the roots to see how it was growing, but pruning and nurturing it in a conservative way. His complaints about modification in the context of the IGC are inconsistent with that view.

In the latter stages of his speech, the Foreign Secretary said that the differences among the Opposition were substantive and very real. He would have better addressed those remarks over his shoulder to his Back Benchers, where the fatal--from the point of view of the British Tory party--splits are all too evident.

One thing is coming through clearly as the IGC process continues: the underlying arrogance that we hear, particularly from Conservative Members with a certain cast of mind on matters European. They suggest that the process of negotiation involves the British explaining to everyone else in Europe--perhaps not even bothering to explain, but simply haranguing them--that we know best, that our procedures are unimpeachable and that if everyone else followed our lead they would get on much better.

Negotiation, by definition, involves give and take--meeting people halfway and accepting that other traditions and cultures can have a beneficial impact on ours, just as we like to believe that our cultures and traditions can have a worthwhile impact on others. The process of negotiation as conducted by the present Government is what Lord Carrington, in a different context several years ago, famously described as megaphone diplomacy.

I am glad that the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) is still in his place. I wish to pick up not so much what he said in the House tonight as what he said on the vexed issue of qualified majority voting, which goes to the heart of the intergovernmental process. The only surprise about the Government's White Paper"A Partnership of Nations", published earlier in the year, was that it did not have a question mark at the end of its title. Throughout their period of office, the Government have flagged up and welcomed the extension of QMV, particularly its role in delivering near completion of the single market.

In a review of a book co-written by Christopher Booker--a name to conjure with in this context--published some time ago in The Daily Telegraph, the right hon. Member for Wokingham wrote:

His analysis is flawed and his prescription is wrong.

On the key subject of the utilities, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, in June of this year, electricity liberalisation--something that the Government favour and that they say is in this country's vital national interest--passed through the Council of Ministers only because it

12 Dec 1996 : Column 465

was subject to QMV? The French were threatening to block liberalisation procedures. Gas liberalisation is another such case. I therefore disagree with the prescription suggested by the right hon. Gentleman; there is clearly a need for further QMV in more areas that suit Britain and suit the proper liberalisation of the single market.

Mr. Redwood: We should try to persuade our partners to agree to bring about the good news in their economies that we have brought about in ours with utility deregulation. We should not, however, have the right to make them do it under QMV. We would derive a great advantage under the system of unanimity, because our partners would not be able to impose on us rules and regulations that we do not like.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland): What about the common fisheries policy?

Mr. Kennedy: My hon. Friend, who, for constituency reasons, speaks with more direct knowledge of such matters than perhaps anyone else in the House, asks how on earth we could achieve reform of the common fisheries policy if we were to take the "heads we win, tails you lose" approach of the right hon. Member for Wokingham.

The Conservatives' confusion over QMV is but a mirror image of what we hear from the top. When the Foreign Secretary appeared before the Select Committee on European Legislation on 13 February this year, he said:

What did the Minister of State who is handling the minutiae of the discussions say to the same Committee, as reported in the Financial Times in the past week?

    "We will not accept any undermining or dilution of the veto in any circumstances".

The Foreign Secretary says one thing and the Minister of State, who is handling the detail of the IGC, contradicts him. It is no wonder that the Conservative party is in such an abject mess.

There are areas where we should retain a national veto. I should have thought there were primarily four of them--budgetary and tax matters; constitutional issues, specifically treaty changes; the deployment of national forces; and social security and employment promotion measures in the context of the social chapter--but elsewhere, if we are to maintain the momentum of Europe, we must, in our own national interest, apply a sensible, qualified extension of majority voting in a pragmatic way.

It is a shame that we never hear from the Government any discussion at the IGC of proportional representation for the next diet of European elections. I pay tribute to our sister party, the FDP, in west Germany, and Werner Hoyer, who has raised the subject consistently.

We have heard a great deal lately about the most recent proposals for common borders policy that have emerged in the context of the IGC. That is a red rag to a bull for the Euro-sceptics, and there is much hysteria about it. The United Kingdom should, of course, retain domestic

12 Dec 1996 : Column 466

control over its borders until and unless there is a clear political, administrative and public acceptance of enhanced security for European frontiers as a whole. It would be wrong, however, to deny or decry the fact that there is much cross-border activity, such as anti-drug trafficking, on which it makes sense to have cross-border co-operation and co-ordination for the benefit of all citizens of the EU.

Whatever the outcome of the IGC--and the parallel, and probably slightly longer, discussions on EMU--one thing is clear from the division that was so graphically drawn yesterday: the Chancellor was supported by perhaps 20 per cent. of Conservative Back Benchers but, despite the detailed and principled policy differences, received pretty general acceptance and support for his position from the Opposition.

It is therefore clear that we cannot have a sane debate that reflects the realities of the European issue when the Government are caught in the headlights of their own divisions. That is why a referendum that flushes the argument out into the country will be both necessary and desirable. I believe that, in due course--as before--the voters of this country will use a referendum to commend the further sensible and progressive integration of Britain with the rest of Europe.

Next Section

IndexHome Page