Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Noble Lords: She is.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, she is in a much more distinguished place, and I beg her pardon. We shall end up with co-terminality between the Council of Europe and the European Community—a very welcome prospect—but we should think about the effect of that.

The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, referred to the effect on enlargement of the CAP. I put it the other way round. I cannot see how the CAP in its present form can survive with 27 members.

Similarly, I cannot see how those additional 12 members will come in if we are going to be just a free trade area. They want much more than that, but they do not want federalism. We cannot have federalism with 27 states. So much of the discussion about the ultimate result of ever closer union—if people are afraid or

8 Mar 1995 : Column 347

hopeful of federalism coming out of it—will be blown away by a Europe of 27 member states. That is one of the factors which will limit the scope of the IGC.

The second of course is the whole concept of what the Prime Minister called a multi-track, multi-speed, multi-layered Europe; in particular the single currency issue which has been referred to by many noble Lords.

Let us first make it clear that we in the Labour Party do not propose to abandon unanimity as a criterion for much of the decision-making of the European Union. As Robin Cook made clear in the debate last week, we shall still be demanding unanimity for fiscal and budgetary policy; for foreign and security issues; for changes to the Treaty of Rome and other areas of key national interest. But at the same time the Government's policy of opting out, in particular on the Social Chapter, has meant that there is, in practice, majority voting, with the UK being left out of many of the important issues—social and employment issues—which are being considered by the European Union. Therefore, we have majority voting and a diminution of our sovereignty by our own decision to opt out of some of the provisions of the Maastricht Treaty.

More important is the issue of the single currency. Let us agree that we shall not have a single currency in 1997. Only five member states have reached the stage of convergence, even on the existing criteria. They would have to get there quickly, certainly by 1997, if in 1999 there was to be convergence on the 1997 principles.

But 1999 is going to be very different. No longer will it be a requirement that a majority of members of the Community—that is, eight member states—shall achieve a convergence and decide to impose a single currency. By 1999 there could be a core of member states going it alone and raising for us the different issue, which we have not yet faced, of what happens if there is a single currency which we are invited but not required to join; in other words, if there is an inner circle with all the political and economic fragmentation that that might bring about.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Desai who criticised the convergence criteria set down by Maastricht for a single currency. I agree that the definitions are unsound. My view is that they are central banking criteria rather than governmental criteria and that, if they are achieved, the result is likely to be an equilibrium, but an equilibrium at a low rather than a high level. Far more important than any of those are full employment, growth and convergence in productivity. My noble friend was right in saying that we cannot wait for that, but at the same time we must expect it and must work towards it.

I have left myself little time to do what I wanted to do; that is, to set out in more detail the policies that were set out in another place last week. I believe that the Labour Party has a vision for Europe that goes beyond the day-to-day policies. The vision of a democratic and social Europe was set out by Elisabeth Guigou. That is where I begin to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, and my noble friend Lord Bruce of Donington, who spoke of the need to bring with us people rather than politicians.

8 Mar 1995 : Column 348

Incidentally, I strongly object to the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, saying that he is not a politician, unlike other noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. He has been a distinguished insurance broker for most of his life and I have been a market researcher for most of mine. However, when we are here we are both politicians and we take a party whip. The noble Lord cannot escape responsibility for being a politician simply by denying it.

That vision of a democratic and social Europe is one to which the Labour Party adheres. We do not believe that the leadership so far shown by this Government—there is always time for repentance—has indicated any sign that they understand the issues before Europe and this country which will arise at the Inter-Governmental Conference next year.

8.23 p.m.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I am sure that the whole House is extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, for initiating this debate. We have heard a series of notable speeches. They have covered the entire spectrum of views. However, if one necessarily starts on the left-hand side of the circle one might end up on the right-hand side, as the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, appeared to indicate he had.

We have had a long debate about much more than the positive role that we should play in the Inter-Governmental Conference in 1996. On the whole, the debate has been remarkably constructive about the future of the European Union. It will be important to read carefully what all noble Lords have said and I shall enjoy doing so. Certainly, the many contributions have been helpful in presenting the real balance of opinion in this country, as the Gallup poll showed last Friday and as my noble friend Lord Blaker explained today.

Perhaps I may comment on not having spoken earlier in the debate, for which I was chided by the noble Lord, Lord Richard. When such a Question is tabled the Government spokesman does not normally speak twice. If the Government spokesman spoke twice, the amount of time for Back-Benchers to speak in the debate would be reduced. Furthermore, as a result of tonight's performance, I am certain that this is but the first of a number of debates on the Inter-Governmental Conference that might take place during the next one, two or three years, or however long it takes to reach a conclusion.

I wish to be positive. We are members of the European Union, not because of idealism or romanticism but because our European Union membership is in Britain's national interest. Of course there are costs to membership; any organisation has to have rules and we will not always like them. But the benefits of our membership outweigh those costs, as my noble friend Lord Oxfuird indicated tonight. Indeed, we always do our best to obtain a sound cost-benefit analysis but whether others would necessarily have the same premises and therefore arrive at the same conclusions is obviously a further debating point between myself and the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon.

8 Mar 1995 : Column 349

Membership of the European Union means jobs, investment and prosperity that we would not otherwise have had. From what I saw in the days when I was fully employed by industry and in the days since, when I have been a politician, I have no doubt about that. However, I am still fundamentally interested in making industry work. We must use our European Union to help industry, British and European, to create a greater economic base for our people.

The Union is the world's largest trading bloc with 40 per cent. of world trade. Britain is more dependent on trade than any other large industrial economy. We are the world's fifth largest importer and exporter and the European Union now takes 53 per cent. of our visible exports, as my noble friend Lord Blaker said. The single market, though not yet complete, offers our businesses huge opportunities. Britain is selling croissants to the French, smart cards to the Germans, pizzas to the Italians and—especially for my noble friend Lord Beloff—chocolates to the Belgians. I hope that he will be eating English chocolates if he buys them in Belgium because he will find the quality superb.

Our trade surplus in financial and business services with the rest of Europe tripled from £1 billion in 1983 to £3 billion in 1993. During the past six years our car exports to Europe have more than doubled. In 1994 we produced more cars than for 20 years.

Membership of the European Union has reinforced the position of the City of London as the world's biggest foreign exchange centre. More than 70 per cent. of European foreign exchange transactions and 90 per cent. of European cross-border equity deals go through London. As the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, said, the Deutschebank has just moved all its foreign investment banking from Frankfurt to London. Those are exactly the issues to which my noble friend Lord Boardman referred. London is the financial centre for the European Union.

European competition laws mean that, whatever the inhibitions of national governments, barriers to trade are coming down across Europe, and so they must. We have all heard the arguments about airlines, but British Airways is now flying from London to Orly Airport, a route which was for so long wrongly protected for Air France. But we must go on and go further.

We have become a magnet for inward investment and, directly or indirectly, that has brought more than 600,000 well-paid jobs to the UK since 1979. We attract one-third of all inward investment into the European Union. In the past two years alone there have been more than 400 inward investment decisions, safeguarding around 100,000 jobs, many in areas of high unemployment. The reason that those companies are attracted to Britain is because we provide an open, deregulated environment for business. They would not come unless we were also active, committed members of the European Union, pushing the Union down the open, free market path that it has followed since we joined.

Membership of the European Union has allowed us to promote free trade, open market policies across the world. The GATT deal was clinched by a British

8 Mar 1995 : Column 350

Commissioner—Sir Leon Brittan—negotiating on behalf of Europe as a whole. That is a huge step towards the open, world-wide trading system which the UK has always supported. Britain, with its dependence on foreign trade, will benefit more than most from the completion of the Uruguay Round. The GATT deal is worth about £500 for every household in this country and the combined value to Britain of the single market from the GATT Round is estimated at between £20 billion and £35 billion.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page