Below is the text of Mr Major’s Statement in the House of Commons on the European Communities Bill from the 4th November 1992.
Madam Speaker: Before we come to the European Communities (Amendment) Bill, I must inform the House of two things. First, more than 90 hon. Members have intimated to me that they wish to speak in the debate; I therefore ask all right hon. and hon. Members who are called to exercise a great deal of restraint. I am sure that it will be obvious that I have had to impose the 10-minute limit on speeches between the hours of 6 o’clock and 8 o’clock. Secondly, I have selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition, so let us get on with it.
Mr. Andrew Welsh (Angus, East): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Surely it is wrong that the procedures of the House do not take into account what is clearly a multi-party system. The amendment tabled by Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National party–a motion of no confidence in the Government’s blundering handling of the Maastricht treaty–has widespread support in the House and in the country. What steps can be taken to protect the rights of minority parties–especially when our amendment of no confidence has the support of the majority in the country–and to ensure that their rights are upheld? Our amendment deals with the issue that is at the heart of today’s debate.
Madam Speaker: All the authority I have–through our Standing Orders and procedures which have been handed down for centuries–is used to protect the rights of minority parties. The hon. Gentleman is right. He has been to see me about the matter and I am sympathetic to what he said, but I have to make a decision to protect the rights of majorities as well as those of minorities.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. There is a solution to that problem, and it is very easy. If that minority party there–the Scottish nationalists–will tell this minority party here–the Liberals–to vote with us tonight on our amendment, they can have a vote of no confidence tomorrow.
Madam Speaker: Would that all my problems were solved as easily.
Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster) rose–
Madam Speaker: Is the hon. Lady seeking to raise another point of order?
Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman: The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) knows that he was out of order, because he had no seat in the House when he raised his point of order.
Madam Speaker: There are so many Members crowding into the Chamber that I could not see whether he was in his place at the time. We must now make progress.
The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major): I beg to move,
That this House notes that the European Communities (Amendment) Bill received a majority of 244 at its second reading and was committed to a Committee of the whole House; acknowledges that the House was promised a debate prior to the committee stage; notes that the Danish Government’s intentions have now been clarified; recalls the Lisbon Council’s commitment to subsidiarity, the Birmingham Council’s agreement on a framework for decisions to implement that principle and the practical steps already taken to achieve it; recognises that the United Kingdom should play a leading role in the development of the European Community to achieve a free market Europe open to accession by other European democracies, thereby promoting employment, prosperity and investment into the United Kingdom; and invites Her Majesty’s Government to proceed with the Bill in order that the House should consider its provisions in further detail.
I should like to turn in a moment in some detail to the provisions of the European Communities (Amendment) Bill and the agreement at Maastricht, but I should like, for a moment, just to put this afternoon’s debate in context, for I think that that is relevant. The past two years have seen massive changes, both within Europe and beyond it in almost every part of the world. The Soviet empire has collapsed. Russia has 1,500 per cent. inflation, and the Ukraine higher still. Across the whole of eastern Europe, new democracies are looking to the west and trying to rebuild their countries in a democratic image.
In Europe, in the former Yugoslavia there is a brutal war. The United States–the mightiest economy in the world–has been struggling for the past two years. Japan has falling growth and severe problems in the financial sector. Within the European Community, Italy, France, Germany, Greece and Spain all face increasing economic difficulties as well as those that we face in the United Kingdom.
The world has not seen such a whirlwind of events coming together for many decades, and that is an important background to the debate today. The motion before us is about the treaty agreed at Maastricht, but the substance is about Britain’s priorities in Europe, and the essential question there is quite simple : in this country, are we or are we not to play a central role in Europe’s future development? I believe that the answer that this House gives to that question is fundamental to our future well-being–both economic and political. I have no doubt about the anwer to that question. The answer, in our own national self-interest, must be yes– we will play a central part in the future of the European Community.
Several hon. Members rose–
The Prime Minister: If Opposition Members will have some patience, I will give way when I have made a little progress, but I should like to set the scene and make some progress first.
I do not believe that it is credible for this country to sit by on the sidelines of Europe and let other people determine policies. That is frankly no way for the United Kingdom to behave. It is not in our interests –not now, not in the future, not at any time. I believe that I carry the majority of people in the House in the belief that very few people would advocate leaving the European Community; so let me take our future membership as a point that is accepted across the House.
The question is, what sort of Europe is it that we wish to help build? The Community today is at a crossroads. No one should duck, dodge or weave around that question. There are important decisions to be made, now and in the immediate future, about the way in which the Community develops. We can develop as a centralist institution, as some might want, or we can develop as a free-market, free-trade, wider European Community more responsive to its citizens. I am unreservedly in favour of the latter form of the Community, and I believe that that is the overwhelming view of this country.
But there is only one way in which we can bring that Community about, and I believe that it is this–by Britain playing a full part in the Community, by arguing its case, by forming alliances, by exercising its influence and authority, by persuading, by pushing, by fighting for its interests and, sometimes, by digging our toes in and saying no as we did over the social chapter and the single currency. There is a second question of equal importance. How can a centralist federal Europe develop if some people wish to develop it? The answer to that is equally clear. A centralist Europe is most likely to develop if Britain has no influence in the Community, if it is sidelined, and if we do stand aside and let others run Europe while Britain scowls in frustration on the fringes. That is not the sort of Community that this country wants, and it would not be in the interests of this country or any political party in this country if Britain were to stand on the sidelines and let others run the Community.
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): As one who voted in favour of the Maastricht treaty on Second Reading, may I ask the Prime Minister whether he accepts the advice of the House authorities that, even if he were to lose the vote tonight, he could put the Bill into Committee on Monday or any time that the Government please? Is that not fact?
The Prime Minister: I think that the hon. Gentleman will know that the answer is not as straightforward as he may suppose. Technically he may be correct, but perhaps only technically. Our position on the timing of the Committee stage is clear. We will seek to make some progress before the Edinburgh summit–we need to do so if our views on subsidiarity, enlargement and other vital issues are to carry the day when we get to that summit in Edinburgh.
The hon. Gentleman’s views on Europe are well known–he has held them for many years–and he may be trying to comfort himself with the thought that a vote against Maastricht today will not compromise his principles, because the Government can still move ahead with the Committee stage. I must tell the hon. Gentleman that, in the unlikely event that the Labour party amendment were carried, we would obviously listen to the views that had been expressed in this House. The hon. Gentleman cannot shrug aside the amendment that his own right hon. Friends have put down.
To return to the question that I was developing, I cannot believe that the House wants a European Community with minimum influence for this country. Let me now deal directly with the motion and the Bill before the House.
Mr. Joseph Ashton (Bassetlaw): Will the Prime Minister give way?
The Prime Minister: Not upon this point, because I should like to make some progress, if the hon. Gentleman will permit me. I am sure that hon. Members will wish to develop many questions of substance later, and I will wish to give way when we reach some of those points.
On 3 June, I indicated to the House that there would be a debate before resuming the Committee stage. I did so in response to the then Leader of the Opposition. Despite the amendment put down by the Opposition, the roots of this debate were a request by the Opposition in the summer. Since then, we have had the French referendum, the Danish White Paper and specific proposals and, of course, the Birmingham summit. By Christmas, 10 of the 12 member states expect to have ratified the treaty, leaving only Denmark and Britain to do so. It is against that background that the Opposition amendment proposes that we delay ratification on the grounds that we do not yet have sufficient clarity about the Danish position or certainty about the implementation of subsidiarity.
On subsidiarity, we secured the principle in the Maastricht treaty, and it is justiciable. In Lisbon, we made progress and agreed that subsidiarity should be integrated in the work of the Community as a legally binding rule. In Birmingham, we agreed a framework for specific decisions in Edinburgh.
That framework provides for a clearer understanding of what member states should do and what needs to be done by the Community. It provides for action by the Community only where member states have given it the power to do so in the treaties, and only where proper and necessary. It also provides for the lightest possible form of legislation, with maximum freedom for member states on how best to achieve the Community’s objectives.
We made more progress in Birmingham than we foresaw when we went there. Implementing decisions will be agreed in Edinburgh, and the House will probably debate subsidiarity in Committee only after Edinburgh, when the outcome of Edinburgh will be known to the House. As regards the position of Denmark, the Danish Government have now put forward a memorandum with firm policy proposals. We shall discuss that memorandum with the Danish Government and other member states. Some of the work called for by the memorandum is already in train, and was set in train not least in Birmingham. The task that lies ahead is to find ways of accommodating the needs of the Danish Government while respecting the intention of all member states, including Denmark, not to reopen the substantive text of the Maastricht treaty itself. That is a task that will very much involve Britain as President of the Community.
Let me turn for a moment to the Opposition amendment. In June, the then Leader of the Opposition said that, before the House resumed discussion on the Maastricht Bill, we should have a written report on the Danish position and a debate. The House has the report, and this is the debate.
Against that background, it can be seen that the amendment which the Labour party has put down today is a fraud. It is a very odd amendment from an allegedly pro-European party. The amendment in the name of the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) might usefully be called a “Napoleonic” amendment. “Not tonight Josephine,” is the message from the right hon. and learned Gentleman, “we’ll debate it at some other time.” That is not the politics of principle. It is the politics of political expediency– [Interruption.] We are told that the Leader of the Opposition is a man of great principle. We are told that he has deeply held views about Britain’s place in Europe. As long ago as 1971, he said :
“Ministers are in a better position to secure national interests and bolster up the country’s sovereignty when they are inside the conference room, not waiting outside.”–[ Official Report, 26 July 1971 ; Vol. 822 ; c. 128.]
I could not agree more with the right hon. and learned Gentleman. Then, last May, he said :
“I do not think that we”–
the Labour party–
“should oppose the Maastricht treaty”.
Then, in September, he said :
“I have always believed Britain’s future lies in Europe and that we must take a confident and leading role in the European Community”. A leading role, but he is seeking to hide behind Denmark and the splits in his own party.
The hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) said just over a month ago :
“I want to see progress in the European Community as set out in the Maastricht treaty”.
He wants to see progress. That is why his amendment proposes delay–so that we can see progress. These are said to be deeply held views-principled views, honourable views. Yet now all is set aside in the interests of an expedient amendment.
The Opposition would do well to recall what the hon. Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice) said recently, which was as follows : “Another Labour flip-flop over Europe would not only rob the party of all credibility but would be against the best interests of Britain and the European Community.”
He added that it
“would cost Labour dear.”
I agree with him. He then said–the Labour party should bear this in mind–
“there would be a heavy domestic political price to be paid for yet another volte-face over Europe.”
There will be.
Mr. Ashton rose–
Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North) rose–
Mr. Giles Radice (Durham, North): Will the Prime Minister give way?
Madam Speaker: Order. The Prime Minister has made it clear that he is not giving way.
The Prime Minister: What is the effective message from the Leader of the Opposition? It is : “Lord, give me Europe–but not yet.”
Mr. Radice: I am grateful to the Prime Minister for giving way. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, by his technical ineptitude, he has provided the circumstances in which the pro-Maastricht majority in the House can be dissipated, and ensured that pro-Maastricht Members can go with anti-Maastricht Members into the Lobby against the Government? Does he not understand that it is not the job of a Labour Member to prop up a discredited Government by supporting a motion that is procedurally unnecessary and expressly designed as a vote of confidence in himself and his Administration?
The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman has said that he is proposing to vote for something that he does not believe in, and against something that he does believe in. If this were truly a vote of confidence, why did the Leader of the Opposition not table a vote of confidence? So much for principle. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has his principles cast adrift on a sea of expediency. When that happens when he is in opposition, he deserves to stay there. It is the sort of contemptible wriggling that will earn him no plaudits either here or in the Community.
I turn directly to some of the genuine concerns about the treaty that have been expressed in each and every part of the House. Sometimes people have said of the Government that we have talked too much of what is not in the treaty and too little of what is in it. I make no apology for talking about what we managed to keep out of the treaty, for I believe that it would have been damaging to the interests of this country. I took the view at Maastricht, as I do today, that a single currency cannot necessarily be in our interests, and certainly is not in our interests at this time.
The timetable that was set at Maastricht was too ambitious. I think that that is becoming increasingly apparent to nations across Europe as week succeeds week. We were therefore right to have our special protocol. It is doubtful that the necessary degree of economic convergence will be there in the time scale set out in the treaty, and I have made that point to the House on many occasions. The danger that now exists on that issue is not that we shall get economic convergence across Europe. In present circumstances, there is a genuine danger of economic divergence.
We have made the point often enough that the social chapter would damage jobs, and I am happy to reiterate that. There is, however, much in the treaty that we want. There are both large and small things that are very much in the interests of this country. As for some of the more modest things in the treaty, we have long sought fines on member states that do not comply with Community rules. This country complies with Community rules, and the Attorney-General would say something smartly to us if it did not. However, that has not been universally the case throughout Europe. Now, under the terms of the treaty, others must comply or they will pay a financial penalty for not doing so.
One of the matters that concerned us most in the run-up to the negotiations was that, hitherto, each and every development in the Community could go only through the central institutions–the treaty of Rome and the Commission, and justifiably through the European Court of Justice. At Maastricht, we developed a new way, and one much more amenable to the instincts of this country–co-operation by agreement between Governments, but not under the treaty of Rome. It covers interior and justice matters, foreign affairs and security, and the option is available for it to cover wider matters in future. Some member states–I make no secret of it–had ambitions for that co-operation to be through the traditional route. We resisted that, and in doing so set a pattern for further co-operation.
Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire, South-West): Can my right hon. Friend say whether there has been a leak of the Maastricht treaty minutes? They have appeared in a Dutch newspaper, which basically says, “Major wants opt-out from EMU and he gets it,” and “Major does not want an immigration policy from Brussels and he gets it.” The paper asks, “Why is it that Major always gets his own way?” Can my right hon. Friend enlighten us on what appears to be an admirable performance by him?
The Prime Minister: I do not know about the article, but I like the principle.
Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North): Will my right hon. Friend give way? [Interruption.] I have horns and a tail, but I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. He mentioned the pillars. Why is it that, under them, the Commission has rights of policy initiation? Does not the Commission have enough powers already without giving it more?
The Prime Minister: As my hon. Friend knows, under the pillars any decision must be unanimous; therefore, we have an absolute block on any decisions taken. That is the critical point in preserving our national interests.
Mr. Ashton: As an ex-Whip, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, even if he wins the vote tonight, he will still need a guillotine to get the Bill through the House? Is he prepared to make deals to obtain that guillotine? Will he accept amendments relating to the social chapter or to other parts of the treaty, or does he intend to go ahead with the Bill as it stands?
The Prime Minister: I cannot anticipate what will happen when we reach the Committee stage, and the hon. Gentleman would not expect me to do so. I certainly do not anticipate accepting amendments that would bring the social chapter within the ambit of our proposals. I was dealing with the question why we should co-operate with our European partners, either through the twin pillars or by other routes. I tell the House that it is very much in our interests to have that co-operation. There are issues throughout Europe that cross frontiers and can be dealt with only internationally, such as drugs, crime and illegal immigration. There is the exchange of intelligence on terrorist threats, the Dublin asylum convention something of great importance to us–and the co-operation in the fight against drugs, with 60 per cent. of heroin being seized at United Kingdom frontiers after it has passed through other countries in the Community. Those are practical reasons for the co-operation that we agreed to enter into under the Maastricht treaty.
I know that many hon. Members throughout the House are concerned about ensuring that we keep immigration issues under the control of this House and out of the competence of others, including the European Community. That is the effect of the references to immigration and asylum issues in the Maastricht treaty. Those matters will be kept out of Community competence and dealt with under separate intergovernmental pillars–that is, by unanimous agreement between Governments. Only two limited aspects of visa policy are transferred to Community competence, and I shall explain to the House the rational reason for that. The two aspects are : a visa list and agreement on the format of visas.
Several hon. Members rose —
The Prime Minister: I shall not give way, as I am in the midst of advancing an argument that is relevant to many hon. Members, and I should like to conclude it.
The purpose of that co-operation is clear. We may need at any time in the next few years to deal with the possible difficulties of large-scale migration, either from across eastern Europe to western Europe or from north Africa, up through the southern states of Europe into northern Europe. The Maastricht treaty equips the Community as a whole to deal swiftly and effectively with such problems, should they arise. I know that the following matter concerns some hon. Members–not least some of my hon. Friends. The test alludes to the possibility of further Community competence, but that is subject to a double lock : first, the agreement of all member states–that would require the United Kingdom’s agreement–and, secondly, the specific approval of national parliaments, including this Parliament. Therefore, there is a double lock to protect our authority over immigration matters.
I shall mention another matter of concern to the House : the number of issues of competence that fall under the control of the European Community. One of the greatest concerns has been what many hon. Members in the past few years have referred to as the “creeping competence” that comes about either by the abuse of articles in the treaty or by judgments of the European Court of Justice. I shall illustrate the issue by using the health and safety article to pursue wider social legislation. That is by no means the only illustration, but it is an important one.
Due to provisions contained in the Maastricht treaty, the article codifies, clarifies and limits competence in the sectors of health, education, culture, vocational training and others. It closes down the difficulties that we have faced with creeping competence in a way that has not previously been done.
I shall give but one illustration to the House, as I know that it is one of concern. A number of hon. Members have expressed the fear that the treaty gives the Community a greater say in education. The reality is that article 128 of the treaty of Rome was an example of an article subsequently used for creeping competence.
That article is abolished by the Maastricht treaty, and the new article spells out that it is the responsibility of member states to deal with the content of teaching and the organisation of education systems. The action that the Community can take is spelt out clearly, and stipulates that the Community is specifically debarred from any harmonisation of the laws and regulations of member states. There are many such illustrations that the House will wish to discuss in Committee when we embark on it.
Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): Will the Prime Minister help the House with the context of the debate? Who authorised the briefings held the weekend before last, at which the Prime Minister threatened a general election if he lost today’s vote?
The Prime Minister: I am talking about the substance of debate today.
The difficulties and concerns that some people have expressed about the relationship–
Mr. Neil Kinnock (Islwyn): Last week, the Foreign Secretary said that tonight’s vote would decide whether the Prime Minister leads the British representation at the Edinburgh summit. Does the Prime Minister agree with the Foreign Secretary? If he does, does that not make tonight’s vote a confidence vote?
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Douglas Hurd): Not true
The Prime Minister: I think that the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) will have heard my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary say, from a seated position, that that was untrue. The right hon. Gentleman has been misled–I know that he will accept that.
Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South): Does the Prime Minister agree that the declaration adopted at Birmingham stated that there could be no change to the Maastricht treaty? If so, how can the Prime Minister argue that the Danish position has been made clear, when the Danish Government are arguing for a legally binding change? How can there be a legally binding change that will satisfy the needs of the Danish people while, at the same time, there is no change to the Maastricht treaty?
The Prime Minister: Almost every intervention from Labour Members– [Hon. Members– : “Answer”.] I shall answer specifically in a second–has been trying to find another weaselly excuse for not voting for a motion that they are in favour of. The answer to the hon. Gentleman’s specific question is that the Danish Government are not seeking to change the substance of what is in the treaty. They are seeking to add to it clarifications and extra matters beyond the treaty, as their Prime Minister has repeatedly made clear.
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South): Will the Prime Minister give way?
The Prime Minister: No, I will make some progress. The House is aware that I have given way a number of times already.
I should like to turn now to the exchange rate mechanism and the fears that have been expressed about the relationship between the mechanism and any possible future commitment to a single currency. It is the Government’s intention that the United Kingdom should enter the second stage of monetary union in 1994. It is important to understand precisely what that involves. During the second stage, monetary policy remains a national responsibility and the United Kingdom is not committed to going beyond stage 2. This is not affected by the establishment of the European Monetary Institute, whose functions will be in elaboration of the existing committee of central bank governors. We will continue to take our own decisions on monetary policy matters and will remain entirely free whether or not to participate in the exchange rate mechanism as a quite separate matter from the ratification of this treaty.
The only relevance of the mechanism in this respect is as one of the convergence criteria for the move from stage 2 of economic and monetary union to the final stage of a single currency. I have repeatedly made it clear, and do so again today, that it is far too soon to consider whether the United Kingdom should join a single currency. I have made that clear in the House on many occasions in the past.
Mr. Den Dover (Chorley): The Prime Minister will be well aware of the strong misgivings in the House and outside about the possibility of moving to a single currency. Will he therefore at least keep the door open about whether there should be a referendum on that matter at some convenient time?
The Prime Minister: I have kept the door entirely open to decisions by the House, at a time when it is economically appropriate to make a decision. As I have said many times in the past–I repeat for my hon. Friend what I said on 20 May–I do not believe that it is right to predetermine a decision that should properly be taken only by Parliament, in the light of the circumstances then prevailing across Europe. This decision, as I said then, is too important to be an act of faith : it must also be an act of judgment, and that judgment cannot sensibly be made until we see the economic circumstances of the day.
Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield): Everybody respects the Prime Minister’s desire to take Britain to the heart of Europe, but does he honestly believe that the people of this country can be made to accept that on the basis of legislation passed by the Whips, of either party, on votes of confidence? Is it not clear that, as he is prepared to wait for the Danish people to determine in a referendum whether to reverse their previous decision, he should have the same respect for the rights of the British people–of all opinions, for and against Maastricht, and of all parties–to have a part in deciding the biggest constitutional issue that has come before Parliament this century?
The Prime Minister: I have great respect for the right hon. Gentleman as a parliamentarian, and as a parliamentarian he will know that, through the centuries, it has been through this House that we have dealt with such matters. I understand the strong feelings that exist in many parts of the House about referendums, but it has always been my view that these matters are best dealt with by the House, because we are ultimately answerable to the electorate for the decisions we take.
Dr. Tony Wright (Cannock and Burntwood): Will the Prime Minister give way?
The Prime Minister: Will the hon. Gentleman forgive me? I have given way generously to hon. Members on both sides, and I would like to make a little more progress.
Mr. William Cash (Stafford) rose —
Madam Speaker: Order. The Prime Minister has made his views clear.
The Prime Minister: So the provisions that we have in the treaty mean that, in both stages two and three, we will be entirely free to decide the framework and institutional arrangements for the conduct of monetary policy in the United Kingdom. That is the position, and it will remain so. I believe that it will be better understood not just in the House but beyond it when we have had the opportunity of discussing these matters at great length in the Committee to which I trust we will move, both before and after Christmas.
Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh) rose —
The Prime Minister: If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I have given way on many occasions, and I would like to make some progress. I turn now to the important question of citizenship. Let me again make it clear to the House that our position as British citizens now and in the future will not in any way be affected by the Maastricht treaty. That is the position, and it will remain the position. In tomorrow’s edition of The European –I have not often found things that I like in newspapers in recent weeks, but I have now–there is an article by the Chancellor of Germany, who makes the point very clearly that we will remain, he writes, Germans, Britons, Italians and Frenchmen, and at the same time Europeans; there is no question of subordination to a European citizenship in any way in the treaty immediately in front of us.
One other important matter of concern to the House in the treaty is that of common defence, so let me turn to defence and the perspective of a common treaty.
Mr. Cryer: The treaty needs 12 states to support it–he is wasting time.
The Prime Minister: If the hon. Gentleman were to read the treaty, he might better understand it, and if he were to listen, he would understand it better yet.
Mr. Cryer rose —
The Prime Minister: The treaty reflects a British concept of a possible longer-term perspective of a common defence policy, and it does so because, in my judgment, it is right that Europe should do more in its own defence in future; but it is important to realise the context in which that will happen.
Any defence co-operation will take place within the Western European Union, and the Western European Union is free to take its own decisions on defence. It will not be under instruction in any way from the Community member states, now or at any stage in the future. It is equally clear that any decisions must be without prejudice to our obligations under NATO. NATO has in any case already recognised the Western European Union as the European pillar of the NATO alliance.
All the decisions in this area will be taken by unanimity. There is no question whatsoever of our allowing any of these provisions to come within Community competence now or in the future.
Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way–my point is an important one. May I remind him of the decision of the National Assembly of France on 30 August 1954 not to ratify the proposed European defence community? From that decision there arose the free association of independent sovereign states– the Western European Union and, as a consequence, NATO was strengthened through the accession both of West Germany and of Italy. That procedural motion of 30 August put France, by the decision of its parliamentarians, at the heart of Europe for the next generation. No one can say that they were unmindful of either France’s interests or Europe’s and nor shall we be when we vote against the Government motion tonight.
The Prime Minister: I am not entirely sure that I detected my hon. Friend’s question.
Let me turn to an important issue that is not itself directly in the treaty but is absolutely dependent on the treaty–the enlargement of the European Community. The United Kingdom’s policy is unreservedly in favour of widening the borders of the Community. We should like first to bring in the EFTA states and then in due course the newly democratic states of central and eastern Europe. We would like the EFTA states to join us for a number of important reasons. First, it would widen the Community to embrace democracies which look to us for political and economic stability; secondly, it would increase the free trade area of the single market; thirdly, it would reinforce the democratic structures of Europe.
But there is a fourth reason why it is very much in Britain’s self- interest, and that is that the EFTA states would bring in further net contributors to the European Community budget. In future, when the EFTA states have joined, those factors will ensure a better balance. The EFTA states will also ensure our vigorous enforcement of Community obligations.
One of the difficulties at present in the Community is that, of the 12 member states, only three, Germany–by far the largest–the United Kingdom and France, are significant net contributors to the Community budget. Italy and the Netherlands are broadly in balance, but the others are all net beneficiaries, in some cases by large amounts. The practical effect of that is to tilt decision making in favour of the centre because of the interest which a majority of states have in more Community expenditure and because the Commission has responsibility for the administration of those funds.
We will have a much better balance in the Community when the extra contributing nations join it. That will mean that we have nearly 50 per cent. of contributors, a much more healthy position for the future development of the Community.
There are a large number of practical reasons why we should ratify the treaty. I know that there is a seductive argument used by some that says, “Delay–don’t hurry. We didn’t want the treaty in the first place, so just concentrate on the economy and push it to one side.” But the fact is that our European policy and our economic well-being are inextricably linked, and will remain inextricably linked in future.
The EC receives £60 billion-worth of manufactured goods and 54 per cent. of our total trade is now with the EC. An estimated– [Interruption.] I should have thought that the Opposition would be interested in this point. An estimated 3 million jobs depend on trade with the Community. In 1990, the United Kingdom received £17 billion-worth of inward investment, and 50,000 manufacturing jobs flow from Japanese investment in the United Kingdom–new markets, new jobs.
The economic reality is that the Community has been economically good for Britain and good for our position as a power in world trade. Scottish Members will recall a practical illustration of that. It was GATT action by the Community that persuaded Japan to open the market for Scottish whisky. I could stretch that list from here to the doorway and back again.
The Community is good for future trade, and the evidence is clear in the attitudes of countries not yet in the Community. A large array of countries is queuing to join the Community–Sweden, Finland, Austria, Switzerland, Hungary, Poland and Czechoslovakia. Can they all be wrong about the advantages–social, economic and in security terms–in joining the Community? They all see the Community as a necessary ingredient in their future prosperity, and I believe that they are right in that judgment.
We are seeking to build–this treaty is part of that building–a safer and more secure Europe than any previous generation has known. That is an opportunity for this generation of politicians if they have the courage and the vision to take it and I believe that the House should do so.
Neither is this just a question of international matters of that sort. The fact is that our relationship with the European Community is very hard-headed and very much in our own interests; our jobs, our markets, our future prosperity. That is not just the Government’s view. British Aerospace is a large company in which many people will have an interest and they would do well to listen to its chief executive, who says :
“The risks of non-ratification to all our businesses and employees are too high to be seriously worth consideration.”
As 27 senior business men recently wrote :
“We are also concerned about the signal that failure to ratify the treaty would give about our future position in the Community.” If our interests are so great–and undeniably they are great–this country must play a central role in the Community, and we cannot do that if we shy away from the agreements into which we have entered with our partners in the Community.
I know that it is the wish of some that the Maastricht treaty might not have been proposed by others in the Community. The fact is that it was. It is equally the case that we got the best out of it that we could in our own national interests. Those who argue that, because we did not propose the treaty, we should take advantage of present circumstances to ditch it do so in the belief that we could have everything we want in Europe and sacrifice nothing. I have to tell them that that argument is not real in regard to the way in which the Community conducts its business.
Without the Maastricht treaty, there would be no enlargement of the Community–and every hon. Member knows that it is right to enlarge the Community, and that it is in our interests to do so. Without the Maastricht treaty, we would have no means of developing co-operation between member states outside Community competence–and we want to develop co-operation outside Community competence.
Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, Derby): Will the Prime Minister give way?
The Prime Minister: No, I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman. Without Maastricht, we would have no subsidiarity, and we know that we need that. No hon. Member should kid himself that, without Maastricht, we would have a Community without any of the problems posed by the Maastricht debate. Instead, we would have a Community fighting–day after day, time and time again–all the battles that were fought and largely won by us in the treaty that the House will shortly reconsider. Anyone who believes that that situation would be good for political stability–
Mr. Wareing rose —
Madam Speaker: Order. The Prime Minister has made it abundantly clear that he is not giving way. The hon. Gentleman should not proceed in such circumstances.
The Prime Minister: With respect to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Derby (Mr. Wareing), I have given way frequently enough, and many hon. Members are waiting to speak.
Anyone who believed that that situation of uncertainty would be good for political stability, for business, for growth and for jobs would simply be deluding himself. It would be a fatal cocktail for the future interests of this country if we were to shrink from meeting the agreement into which we freely entered.
There is a very practical point of real and immediate importance that the House should consider. At the Edinburgh summit in a few weeks’ time, we will have important matters to agree with our European partners–matters of crucial interest to us : the Community’s future financial arrangements, the final stages of the single market, and enlargement. If the House votes against the Government today, it will diminish our capacity to negotiate successfully on matters in our own national self-interest. That is the point that every hon. Member should carry into the Lobby. If hon. Members want to diminish our capacity to negotiate what is right for this country, they should vote for the Opposition amendment and against the Government today. I must tell the House, however, that, if it were to do that, our European partners would not take our negotiating position seriously, now or in the future, and we would not be able to make agreements that are in our own national self-interest. I understand very clearly the frustration that some people feel in having to make compromises to advance the British interest ; the temptation to break out–to go our own way–is sometimes strong. I must tell the House, however, that it would be wrong to do so. National self-interest is not about striking attitudes, but about striking deals that are in our own interest–and that is what we must do in the Community. That is why every British Government from Harold Macmillan’s onwards has sought first to enter the Community and then to make a success of our membership.
I have to tell the House, and I have to tell the country, that we cannot continue to make a success of our membership of the Community unless we ratify the treaty to which we agreed. That is my clear judgment, and I would be doing the country and the House a disservice if I did not back that judgment with all the force at my command. That means that, after this debate has been concluded and won by the Government, we shall bring back the Bill and seek the support of all the Members of this House to secure its adoption–that is what is in our own national self-interest. In order that we may do so, I ask hon. Members to support the motion.
Mr. John Smith (Monklands, East): I beg to move, to leave out from first “House” to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof :
“recalls the conditions relating to the Danish position and to subsidiarity laid down by the Prime Minister in the debate in this House on 24th September ; and believes that these conditions cannot be satisfied until the Edinburgh European Council at the earliest and that therefore further consideration of the Bill should await the outcome of that meeting.”
Before I enter on the merits of the debate I think that it would be appropriate to congratulate Governor Clinton on his tremendous victory in the American presidential election–[Hon. Members :– “Hear, hear.”] He fought a positive campaign, which set out a new agenda for America’s future, and he eloquently and effectively made the case for change. He deserves his victory, and we in the Labour party wish him well. I add that we are delighted that a major battle has been won against negative campaigning –[Hon. Members :– “Oh!”]
Madam Speaker: Order.
Mr. Smith rose– [Interruption.]
Madam Speaker: Order. The House should settle down now.
Mr. Smith: I take it, Madam Speaker– [Interruption.]
Madam Speaker: Order. A bit of fun is all right, but we want to make some progress now– [Interruption.] Order. I can hear as well as anybody else in the House.
Mr. Smith: I take it from Conservative Members’ reaction to what I said that the two Tory strategists who were sent to help President Bush will not be welcome when they come back to this country. What the Conservatives have done seems an odd way to start off a relationship with the new President.
The House will remember that the roots of the motion and the debate go back to 24 September– [Interruption.] If the Prime Minister will hear me out, and listen to the argument, he will be able to pass comments on it. The right hon. Gentleman will recollect that on 24 September, in the recall debate following black Wednesday, he chose to set out to the House in clear terms the way in which the Government proposed to deal with the European Communities (Amendment) Bill. He made two points, which he referred to only obliquely today–the Danish question and subsidiarity. This is what he said : “we need a definition–a settled order–of what is for national action and what is for Community action. We need clear criteria by which Community proposals will be judged. When we are satisfied that such a system has been put in place, and when we are clear that the Danes have a basis on which they can put the treaty back to their electorate, we shall bring the Maastricht Bill back to the House of Commons.”
It is clear that the Prime Minister prescribed that there should be a settled order of subsidiarity, and that the Danes should have a basis for a new referendum–both to be in place before the House proceeded further with the Bill.
Today the House must judge whether the substantive conditions have been met.
The Prime Minister: The roots of the debate go back to the answer I gave to the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) when he was Leader of the Opposition, when I agreed that we would consider arranging a debate in the House in October, as soon as we came back from the recess. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House subsequently specifically confirmed that to the House.
Secondly, I fear that the right hon. and learned Gentleman should have looked at the paragraph governing the words that he has quoted. That said :
“It would not make sense to bring the Bill back to the House before we know clearly what Danish intentions are, and when and how the Danes propose to consult their people again. When those things are known we must examine the Bill further.”
As I clearly set out in my speech, both those things are now known.
Mr. Smith : — [Interruption.] Hon. Members will surely let me reply. Clearly, the Prime Minister was planning for two eventualities because he put two versions to the House. The version that I have quoted embarrasses him because it says clearly : “When we are satisfied that such a system has been put in place.”–[ Official Report , 24 September 1992 ; Vol. 212, c. 8.]
The words carry no ambiguity.
The Prime Minister said that the roots of today’s debate went back to the debate with my right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock). My right hon. Friend asked the Prime Minister for a written paper and a debate. I do not know where the report is. We do not have a written report before the House. In any event, I will not quibble with the Prime Minister about that because there is a more important matter.
The Prime Minister: Just to ensure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has no need to quibble, the paper is in the Library.
Mr. Smith: The proper– [Interruption.]
Madam Speaker: Order. The Prime Minister was heard in reasonable order by the House. The same must apply to every right hon. and hon. Member.
Mr. Smith: The proper place for the Prime Minister to put any report is before the House, not in the Library. The Birmingham summit–a non-event to which I shall return later–has occurred and the Danes have set out their negotiating position in a series of proposals to other member states, the most important of which they wish to be juridically binding. Do those developments satisfy the conditions set out by the Prime Minister? Is there now “a settled order” for dealing with the allocation of responsibility between nation states and the Community? The Birmingham declaration said :
“we reaffirm that decisions must be taken as closely as possible to the citizen.”
Note the word “reaffirm”. It is not a word which signals some change.
The communique went on to say :
“the Maastricht Treaty provides the right framework and objective for subsidiarity.”
It was interesting that, when the Prime Minister came back to the House after the Birmingham summit, he told us that for the first time there was a proper framework for the practical definition and implementation of subsidiarity. When we check that against the summit communique, we discover that he was referring not to something new but to the treaty itself, which existed long before the Birmingham summit.
All that happened at the Birmingham summit was that member states invited reports–presumably from the Commission–on the ways in which Maastricht might be taken forward. The Prime Minister came back and told the House that decisions would be taken at Edinburgh to make subsidiarity an integral part of future Community decision-taking. He did not succeed in discharging his obligation to the House.
Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East): Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?
Mr. Smith: The hon. Gentleman must allow me to finish this point because it is at the heart of the amendment.
The Danes have set out their stall. We have yet to know the reaction of the other 11 member states to that. Their reactions might be positive or negative but the Prime Minister must confirm —
Mr. Phillip Oppenheim (Amber Valley): Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?
Mr. Smith: I have already said that I want to finish this point. If I am allowed to finish this passage, I shall give way. I am adopting the same practice as the Prime Minister in the early part of his speech.
The Prime Minister told us that it was the aim of the Danes to ratify the treaty. He said in his report to the House :
“we plan to set in place at Edinburgh the framework that will allow them to do so.”–[ Official Report, 20 October 1992; Vol. 212, c. 320.]
Note that in both cases the Prime Minister said “at Edinburgh”. He did not say “now”. That is the undertaking which he gave to the House and which has not been discharged. It was not the Opposition but the Government who gave that undertaking to the House.
If the Danish position cannot be resolved, how can there be a basis for a new referendum? If there were any doubts about the Danish position, they were revealed in a memorandum from Mr. Michael Jay, an assistant under-secretary of state at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. He said :
“The Danish plan is unlikely to be acceptable as it stands to member states and some of them may make this clear. We may therefore have a difficult negotiation ahead of us, which could play awkwardly with the paving debate and the Maastricht Bill”.
That is an interesting passage–
Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South) rose —
Mr. Smith: I have not yet finished this bit, but I suspect that the hon. Gentleman will be persistent.
Mr. Thurnham: While the right hon. and learned Gentleman is in the Library checking on his other facts, will he look at The House Magazine for 28 September and refresh his memory? He said then that he did not begin to understand why the people of Bolton did not vote Labour. Does he agree that the people of this country will never trust such an unprincipled wriggler as he is proving himself to be today?
Mr. Smith: Since the hon. Gentleman has challenged me directly he will allow me to say that it is a curious idea that to vote against the motion that the Government have tabled is a move to betray the European ideal.
Mr. Oppenheim rose —
Mr. Gyles Brandreth (City of Chester) rose —
Mr. Anthony Coombs (Wyre Forest) rose —
Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Littleborough and Saddleworth) rose —
Mr. Smith: The motion is drafted in such deliberately anodyne terms that it does not even mention the Maastricht treaty.
Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher) rose —
Mr. Smith: I hope that the House will listen carefully, since many Members seem interested in my reply. The motion is also framed only to endorse the Conservative view of Europe. If the Opposition were foolish enough to vote for it we would endorse the opt-out from the social chapter, and that we are not prepared to do. It might suit Liberal Members, but for us it would be a betrayal of an important principle.
Mr. Oppenheim: I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his courtesy in giving way. May I suggest in a helpful spirit that he should celebrate his accession to the Labour leadership by changing the rather faded red rose symbol for a fig leaf behind which to hide what little is left of his party’s integrity?
Mr. Smith: Not for the first time I have made an error of judgment in giving way to the hon. Gentleman. I thought that he was going to raise a point of substance.
Mr. John Marshall: In 1971 the right hon. and learned Gentleman was seen as a man of principle because he put principle before party. This evening he is seeking to put party before country. Does he not realise that the fact that we are not in the social chapter makes Britain a haven for inward investment, as Monsieur Delors has admitted?
Mr. Smith: On the first point, I have already demonstrated that the motion before the House is not some rallying call for the European ideal, the Maastricht treaty or the European Community. It is a narrowly, carefully drafted motion which has more to do with the internal problems of the Conservative party than with the European Community.
Mr. Brandreth: Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?
Mr. Smith: I must move on; I have given way with considerable generosity. On second thoughts, I will give way.
Mr. Brandreth: I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his courtesy. To come to the heart of the matter, if the engineers, the employers, the motor car industry, the CBI and the chambers of commerce all say that they want Maastricht but not the social chapter, is the right hon. and learned Gentleman a Leader of the Opposition who listens, or is he simply the leader of the opportunists who does not give a damn what message his party sends to the world? At least the Liberal Democrats stand by their principles.
Mr. Smith: Once again I have given way expecting a question only to be given a speech. If the CBI’s view is to be accepted, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will read some of its comments about the state of demand in the economy and the effects of Government economic policy.
Mr. Mallon: I take this opportunity to put to the right hon. and learned Gentleman exactly the same question as I would have put to the Prime Minister had I been given the opportunity. The right hon. and learned Gentleman and I know that in this House there is a majority in favour of Europe and of Maastricht. Can he explain how that majority has been whittled down to a potential minority? Secondly, can he explain why someone like me, in a minority party, cannot vote and deliberate on this issue on its merits but must debate it on the divisions in the Tory party and the contradictions in the Prime Minister’s own position? Does not that border on an abuse of the House?
Mr. Smith: I understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but if he gets the chance on another occasion he should direct it to the Prime Minister. It is he who is responsible for the Government’s handling of this and other legislation and it is he who drafted the motion before the House. I agree that it does not even mention the treaty.
Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed): Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman telling us that the vote tonight on the motion and on his even more carefully drafted amendment goes to the heart of Britain’s policy towards Europe and that, if lost, it would lead to the resignation of the Government? Or is he telling us that this is a narrow and unnecessary motion whose defeat is neither here nor there?
Mr. Smith: I must ask the right hon. Gentleman and other Liberals to read the motion that they are attempting to vote for. All it does is note that there was a majority on Second Reading. It goes on with a few oblique references to subsidiarity and the Danes; it reaffirms the Conservative view of Europe; and it says that we should proceed with the Bill at some stage. I do not regard that as a touchstone of European policy, but what I will tell the Liberals is that they have been conned by the Conservatives and that they suffer from two great defects : naivety and self-importance.
Dr. Robert Spink (Castle Point) rose–
Mr. Dickens rose–
Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham) rose–
Madam Speaker: Order. Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman giving way?
Mr. Smith: No.
Madam Speaker: In that case, hon. Members must resume their seats.
Mr. Dalyell: On a point of order, Madam Speaker. A reference was made a short time ago to a document that is apparently in the Library. When I went to ask Library staff they did indeed produce a document, but it seems fundamentally different from that to which the Prime Minister referred. [Hon. Members :– “Oh !”] The document that the Library gave me is a letter from Poul Schluter to the Prime Minister covering Denmark and Europe. Whatever else it is, it is not recognisable as a report to the House of Commons. [Interruption.]
Madam Speaker: Order.
Mr. Smith: The Prime Minister is waving a document. I think that I have the same document before me. It is a letter from the Prime Minister of Denmark enclosing a document entitled “Denmark in Europe”. It is merely the Danish proposals, yet the Prime Minister pretended to the House that it was a report given to us. [Interruption.]
Madam Speaker: Order. The House must come to order.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Tristan Garel- Jones) rose–
Mr. Smith: I am not giving way.
Madam Speaker: Order. Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman giving way?
Mr. Smith: No.
Madam Speaker: Is the Minister raising a point of order?
Mr. Garel-Jones: Yes. Further to the point of order raised by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), Madam Speaker. The documents available in the Library are a letter from Prime Minister Schluter, a copy of the document issued by the Danish Parliament and a memorandum from the Foreign Office commenting on the Danish document. [Interruption.]
Several hon. Members: On a point of order, Madam Speaker. [Interruption.]
Madam Speaker: Order. Unless the House comes to order, I shall not be able to hear those hon. Members who are screaming to have points of order heard.
Mr. Davies (Oldham, Central and Royton): On a point of order, Madam Speaker.
Madam Speaker: I hope that it is a point of order for me.
Mr. Davies: It is a point of order, Madam Speaker. Is it not the practice of the House that if a document is tabled to condition a debate– particularly if it is a report to the House on which a debate is purporting to take place–that document is listed on the Order Paper?
Madam Speaker: I understand that it is not the document that has been tabled. [An Hon. Member :– “Oh. It has not been tabled.”] If the hon. Gentleman would listen, I am sure that he could hear me. The document has been placed in the Library. I call Mr. Smith.
Mr. Smith: We are all clear about that, then : it is not a report from Her Majesty’s Government to the House but a letter from the Danes with a few comments from the Foreign Office. That should put us all on our guard; we should be very careful about accepting assurances from the Prime Minister.
Mr. Couchman rose —
Mr. Smith: I must move on. I am trying to debate the issue but am being frustrated by hon. Members continuing to raise points of order.
Mr. Couchman: I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way yet again. May I ask him–
Mr. Smith: I am not giving way, Madam Speaker.
Madam Speaker: Does the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman) wish to raise a point of order?
Mr. Couchman: No.
Madam Speaker: In that case, will the hon. Gentleman resume his seat?
Mr. Couchman rose —
Madam Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman told me that he did not have a point of order for me. Has he now changed his mind?
Mr. Couchman: I asked the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) whether he would give way. He resumed his seat and I therefore assumed that he was giving way. That is quite natural, but I am quite prepared to raise the point that I wanted to raise with the right hon. and learned Gentleman on a point of order. Would that be in order?
Madam Speaker: No. Points of order are for me, and not for the right hon. and learned Gentleman at the Dispatch Box. Mr. Smith.
Mr. Smith rose —
Mr. Dickens: On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Like many hon. Members, I am having difficulty knowing what today’s debate is about. May I ask you, because in the Opposition amendment, there is no mention of Maastricht whatever.
Madam Speaker: Order. We must now make progress. Mr. Smith.
Mr. Smith: Let me get back to the subject of the debate, which is a motion tabled by the Government, which we are debating together with an amendment tabled by the official Opposition. I am surprised that I should have to tell the Government that, although such is their state of incompetence on other matters that perhaps I should not be surprised.
People will be wondering why we are holding the debate now, given that we know perfectly well that the earliest date at which the Danish referendum can be held is May 1993. The Prime Minister knows that as well as I do. When we look at the political situation, and the Prime Minister’s predicament within his own party, we realise that this debate has far more to do with the right hon. Gentleman’s problems than with the future of Europe. That is why we have had all the feverish activity of the past few weeks, culminating in the arm twisting of the past few days. Many devices have been used, including, most startlingly, the on-off threat of a general election. If the debate is only about the timing of the Committee stage of the European Communities (Amendment) Bill, why was it that, when the Prime Minister flew to Egypt on 24 October, the accompanying lobby journalists were briefed that the Prime Minister would hold a general election if his authority was further challenged? There is no question about it : the headlines in the Sunday papers carried the story. In The Sunday Times, we read :
“Major threatens general election if he fails to win Maastricht vote”,
and in The Sunday Telegraph :
“Angry Major threatens an election”.
On the flight back from Egypt, no attempt was made to dissuade people from believing the stories.
In an attempt to try to find a resume of those events that Conservative Members would find fair and impartial, I turned to The Sunday Telegraph, whose leader last Sunday summed up the matter very well. Let me briefly remind the House what it said :
“This newspaper tries to keep its readers abreast of events. At present, however, we suffer from a difficulty : a week is such an incredibly long time in current Conservative politics. Last Sunday we reported faithfully the assertion by No. 10 Downing Street that if the House of Commons turned out the Maastricht Treaty Mr. Major would call a general election. On Monday, Downing Street distanced itself from its own suggestion. As the week went on, it was reported, variously, that the Government would back down over the motion for the paving debate this week, that it would go for broke’, that Mr. Major would make Maastricht an issue of confidence in him, that he would insist that it be treated solely, in his words, on its merits’, that his tactic was to go for a bang and that it was to opt for a whimper. As we went to press last night we understood that the Government had proposed a motion on Maastricht which, by not mentioning the subject, hoped to persuade the Tory rebels to back it. By the time you read this the situation may well be different again.”
After that series of events–and we all watched them unfold–is there any hon. Member in the House naive enough to believe that the motion is only about the timing of the start of the Committee stage of the European Communities (Amendment) Bill?. [Hon. Members :– “Yes. The Liberals.”] Yes, there are some hon. Members but not very many. How can a motion that attracted the threat of a general election not be about the credibility, competence and authority of the Government? That has been evident in the statements made by Ministers in the past week or so.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) drew to the Prime Minister’s attention the reply given by the Foreign Secretary at Foreign Office questions last week. As I understand it, the Prime Minister answered that my right hon. Friend had somehow been misled about the reply, which I shall quote so that the House can decide and so that the Prime Minister can correct me if I have been misleading myself in my reading of Hansard :
“The House will have to decide whether it wants my right hon. Friend to preside over that summit preserving and extending this country’s influence over what happens in Europe or whether it does not”–[ Official Report, 28 October 1992 ; Vol. 212, c. 1004.] The House has to decide whether the Prime Minister does or does not do that.
Mr. Hurd: The right hon. and learned Gentleman gabbled a little bit that he did not want the House to hear. The point that I was making was not that the choice before the House was whether my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister would go to Edinburgh or not, because I took it for granted that he would. No, no. The choice before the House, as is clear from the bit that the right hon. and learned Gentleman gabbled, is whether my right hon. Friend would go equipped with all the possible influence that he could exert, or whether he would go weakened by the kind of twists and turns in which the right hon. and learned Gentleman is indulging.
Mr. Smith: I must say that, having listened to the Foreign Secretary’s reply, I find it a bit rich to be accused of twisting and turning.
The Foreign Secretary said that the House will have to decide whether the Prime Minister will or will not. Let me be charitable to the right hon. Gentleman and take his alternative explanation, that it is about the authority of the Prime Minister when he goes to the summit, which is further evidence that it is not about the Bill.
Mr. John Hume (Foyle): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. On the question being discussed, given that the House has already approved the Second Reading of the European Communities (Amendment) Bill on the Maastricht treaty, can you tell us whether this debate is a necessary part of the constitutional process of endorsing that treaty? If not–which is what I expect you to say–this debate must be for some other purpose.
Madam Speaker: That is hardly a point of order for the Chair. The hon. Gentleman knows that formal proceedings on the Bill will not be affected by the outcome of the result today– [Interruption.] Order. Hear me out. The Committee stage of the Bill will remain among the Remaining Orders.
Mr. Smith: I also referred to statements made by other Ministers about the nature of this debate. In “On the Record” the Secretary of State for Wales–
Mr. Tim Devlin (Stockton, South): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. The amendment on the Order Paper in the name of the Opposition calls for a four-week delay in consideration of the Bill, until after the Edinburgh summit. First, that is surely at odds with your ruling. Secondly, is it not at odds with the Leader of the Opposition’s speech, which seems to be about confidence?
Madam Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman and the entire House should not anticipate what will happen at the end of the debate and should allow it to proceed normally. Hon. Members are seeking to speak, and I think that the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Devlin) is one of them, so let us make some progress.
Mr. Smith: Some Conservative Members seem to be reluctant to engage properly in this debate, but I am doing my best. Even if there are another 10 bogus points of order from the Conservative side, I will refer to the statement made by the Secretary of State for Wales in “On the Record” on Sunday. He warned Tory rebels that they were playing with fire and told Mr. Dimbleby :
“We have to show our confidence, not only in the Government, but also in John Major.”
That was a sort of double whammy confidence motion.
The third–perhaps even more ominous to the Prime Minister–was the President of the Board of Trade, who said on ITN on Monday : “The Prime Minister is entitled to our confidence now. ” The right hon. Member also chooses his words with care, so I do not believe that the qualifying ” now ” was accidental–now, but not necessarily for ever. That was not the only effort by the right hon. Member, the Lord President. I beg his pardon : he has an even grander title than Lord President of the Council; he is President of the Board of Trade. I think that, for short, we shall call him Mr. President during this exchange. He told BBC radio presumably he was addressing Conservative Back Benchers as he used direct speech : “if you vote against the Prime Minister and the Government on Wednesday, on Thursday you have a policy vacuum at the centre of British decision making of incalculable destructiveness.” Gosh, what an awful prospect that would be.
After all the clear and decisive leadership of the past few weeks, after all the consistent and determined implementation of long-established policies, well and clearly understood, how could we cope with the black hole of a policy vacuum? Perhaps Mr. President could reflect that the Government’s basic problem is not the threat of a policy vacuum, but the stark reality of such a vacuum, which extends right to the heart of the Government.
Only this week, with singular appropriateness, the Governor of the Bank of England referred to a policy vacuum at the heart of economic policy.
The Prime Minister: Yesterday the right hon. and learned Gentleman quoted the Governor of the Bank of England. I gather that he misquoted him, and that the Governor will be writing to him about that. So he had better not pursue the point.
Mr. Smith: While the Governor is doing that he had better write to the newspapers from which I quoted, which quoted him in direct speech. When I checked with the Bank of England I was told that the quote was from a question and answer session with foreign journalists and that the Bank was unable to provide a text. I shall look with interest at what ends up in the Library.
If we had any doubt over what the debate is all about, we could have resolved it by looking at the terms of the motion. There are no ringing declarations about the future of Europe, which would rally the troops under the Maastricht banner. There is no declaration of principle of any discernible kind. I have already drawn attention to some of the hallmarks of the motion, which has the Prime Minister’s style all about it. It is the product of the internal machinations of the Conservative party, and it is designed for internal Conservative party purposes. Only someone of enormous naivety–
Sir Peter Hordern (Horsham) rose —
Mr. Smith: I should have been delighted to give way to more hon. Members if there had not been so many organised points of order. I have to get on with my speech. If the hon. Gentleman has a complaint, he should take it up with his hon. Friends.
Only the most naive of people would believe that the motion is some touchstone of loyalty to the treaty. The truth of the present situation and the background to the debate, as the whole country knows, is that an increasingly angry and bewildered nation is watching with astonishment and dismay as the Government stumble from one disaster to another. They recollect the Prime Minister’s bland assurance–that is why they would not want them to be propped up or given a motion of confidence of any kind– that if they were only to vote Conservative on Thursday, recovery would continue on Friday. Not merely has there been no recovery, but the Government’s economic policy was blown to smithereens on black Wednesday.
In the motion, the Government have the nerve to refer to the promotion of “employment, prosperity and investment”. Do they know what is happening in this country? When the Prime Minister emerges blinking from his bunker, does he not see the destruction that his economic policies have caused? Bankruptcies and home repossessions continue at record levels and unemployment is rising relentlessly and, I fear, menacingly, and will certainly pass 3 million. Hardly a day goes by without new redundancies, as prestige firms in vital manufacturing industries throw more skilled workers into unemployment and undermine the country’s wealth-creating capacity.
Ominously, the most recent surveys of business confidence–I refer this to the attention of the hon. Member for City of Chester (Mr. Brandreth) who mentioned the Confederation of British Industry–from the CBI and British chambers of commerce point to a further downturn in output, investment and job creation. All the signs are that the country is heading from recession into slump.
Just before the election, in the March Budget, the Government sought to paint a different scenario. In the budget we were told that growth would be 1 per cent. this year, and–it seems incredible that they were able to say so, but they did–that it would be 3 per cent. next year. They said that manufacturing output would rise to 4 per cent. by next year and forecast the balance of payments at £6.5 billion.
What are the forecasts now, six months after that election? According to the Treasury survey of independent forecasters, growth will fall again by almost 1 per cent. and will not rise; manufacturing output is expected not to rise but to fall by 1 per cent.; and the balance of payments deficit is predicted to be £12 billion, which is almost double the predicted figure. That is in the middle of the worst recession since the war.
The Government have never realised that our economic success in the European Community–we have heard a lot about that from the Prime Minister and others–can only be achieved if we build a strong economy, based on manufacturing strength, investment, skills development and on Government partnership between industry and commerce. Nor have they realised that the Community can best recover from recession by co-ordinated policies for recovery, growth and jobs.
The United Kingdom presidency of the Community, which has about eight weeks to run, has been a disastrous missed opportunity. Why was the Birmingham summit not used to consider urgent Community-wide action to promote recovery and investment, instead of the Prime Minister’s game of words over subsidiarity–a principle which he lauds for Europe but which he denies here?
I have a direct question for the Prime Minister : why did he refuse to put growth and jobs on the agenda for the Birmingham summit although he had been asked to do so by the Commission? [Hon. Members :– “Answer.”] The Prime Minister can clear that up. I am told that the Commission asked for those subjects to be put on the agenda for the summit, but, if that were not the case, the Prime Minister can correct me.
The Prime Minister: The right hon. and learned Gentleman better wait for the reply to his hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) before he pursues that line of argument.
Mr. Smith: I thought that the right hon. Gentleman was going to ask me to go to the Library.
The Prime Minister: There is no need to ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman to go to the Library. He gets all his information from The Sunday Telegraph.
Mr. Smith: I know that the Prime Minister is very good at telephoning the editors of newspapers, but I think that that is one number that he should not put at the top of his list for a little while.
Instead of positive action being taken in the Community, what have we had? Instead of the Government working together with the other member states at the heart of Europe–where the presidency of the Community takes the United Kingdom–their effort has been concentrated in other directions. They have proposed plans to close 31 pits, which will lock off millions of tonnes of recoverable coal reserves, destroy 100,000 jobs in the mining and related industries and devastate whole communities throughout the coalfields.
Next week, in the autumn statement, we will be told who is next to pay the price of Government incompetence. I suspect that it will be teachers, nurses, the low paid, the sick, the elderly and the poor. Because of Government incompetence, public services will be undermined even further and the recession prolonged even longer. [Interruption.] I know that Conservative Members do not want to listen to this, but that is what is happening.
As the public well understand, it is not just policies that are the problem –it is the Prime Minister as well. He has the precise opposite of the Midas touch : from black Wednesday to the pit closure fiasco and onwards to the mysteries of whatever the Government’s new economic policy is, his baleful presence courts disaster. I understand that even at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea fans would prefer he stay away because most times when he attends Chelsea loses.
Last month the right hon. Gentleman contributed to a book about football entitled “We’ll support you evermore”–obviously not a Conservative party publication. When we think of the Prime Minister’s record since the election, a passage about his experience as a football supporter hits the truth with uncanny precision. He wrote : “After all, I have nearly 30 years behind me of high hopes at the start of a season fading into disappointment with a string of disappointing results by January.”
As we have repeatedly made clear, as recently as our last annual conference, our commitment is to closer economic and political co-operation in Europe. [Interruption.] But we have a different agenda for the Community from the Conservatives. We want a Community for people, not just a market for business. That is why we will continue our efforts to overturn the foolish opt-out from the social chapter, which is regarded as essential by all the other 11 member states.
I noticed that the Prime Minister’s speech consisted of telling us that we should be at the heart of Europe, but for most of the time he told us how he had successfully disengaged us from it.
We also recognise that the British economy is and will continue to be closely integrated both financially and industrially with our EC partners. Those realities mean that Britain’s industrial and economic performance depend crucially on developments in the European Community. But it also means that if we are to contribute to and gain from the Community, because it is always a two-way process, we must have a strong and dynamic economy. Under the Government we have been pushed to the sidelines principally because of economic weakness. That affects our stance in Europe just as it affects it over the whole range of Government policy.
We set out our view clearly, and at some length, in the reasoned amendment for which we voted on Second Reading of the European Communities (Amendment) Bill and we will reflect that view in further proceedings on the Bill.
In a curious sense, this debate and the ambiguous and anodyne motion upon which it proceeds has no formal parliamentary status. It is a device, a happening, a political event justified by the Government at different times and on very different grounds, to very different people, as both expediency and the tide of war within the Conservative party dictated.
Those of us who have a sense of political reality can see clearly through all these manoeuvrings. This debate has been turned by the Government into an occasion to garner support for a discredited Prime Minister and a discredited Government. We on the Labour Benches will not be conned by the Government’s contrivances. We will vote against a Government who are undermining our society, destroying our economy and thereby wrecking our future in Europe.