§ Considered in Committee.
§ [SIR PAUL DEAN in the Chair]3.52 pm
§ Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)
On a point of order, Sir Paul. As always, it is my desire to be helpful. My admiration both for you, Mr. Deputy Speaker and for Mr. Speaker is second to none, as is my admiration for the Clerks' office which does a great deal of preparation for our sessions.
You will be aware, Sir Paul, that the main body of the Bill is divided into two parts. One is about on-going payments to the Community—that is the modern term for it—and the other part is about a special once-for-all intergovernmental agreement or loan to the Community. Since the Bill was first brought forward, we have discovered, fortunately, that the Community has a surplus of funds. That may not have been apparent to the people who have helped you, Sir Paul, to select the amendments to this Bill. Therefore, there is no longer any need for the second part of the Bill.
I believe that an amendment has been tabled to strike out or delete the second part of the Bill; that is, that amendment has not been called for debate, but I ask you, Sir Paul to look at the matter afresh, especially bearing in mind that the money is no longer needed.
§ Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)
On a point of order, Sir Paul. The Bill before us covers two wholly separate issues. There may be many people in the House who would agree to a change in the own resources decision, but would object strongly to making a substantial payment from the United Kingdom for an overspend that appears to be illegal, and is certainly contrary to assurances given to the House. Is there any way that we can have separate votes on new subsections (e) and (f), bearing in mind that they deal with wholly separate issues and that one involves a huge payment from the House of Commons for something which many hon. Members may consider to be wrong and some hon. Members may consider to be illegal?
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
Further to that point of order. Sir Paul. Generally speaking, I believe that there should be separate votes. According to the press and statements made on television, during the past two or three weeks the Prime Minister has changed her mind about the Common Market, so why are we proceeding with this Bill? Has No. 10 Downing street made any representations to the Chair in line with what the Prime Minister has been saying while she has ben gallivanting round Europe? Why should we allocate money to the Common Market? We are told that Britain should no longer play any role that will lead towards a federal structure in Europe. If we are to provide the Community with cash, that will help those who want to take that route.
I want to know exactly what representations have been made by the Prime Minister—or is it that she has just been engaging in a bout of hypocrisy in her travels round the world, giving the impression that she is against the 30 Common Market when all the time she is assisting her Ministers, including the chairman of the Tory party, to come to this House and ask us to provide the Community with additional finance? It is high time the Prime Minister spoke with one voice and did not give misleading impressions to the public.
§ The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Sir Paul Dean)
I am sure that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) realises that that point is not for me. The Bill has had its Second Reading and we are now proceeding to the Committee stage. Great consideration has been given to the selection of amendments, as is always the case, and it is never a straightforward matter on Bills of this sort. I can assure both hon. Gentlemen who raised these points and, indeed, the whole Committee, that a wide debate on clause stand part will be in order and that with a little ingenuity it will be possible to make most of the points which hon. Members wish to make.
§ Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, South)
Further to the point of order from the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), Sir Paul. Although I can only condemn his aspersions on my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, he is on to a significant argument—that to some extent there has been an important change in Government policy since we first debated the Bill. Will you, Sir Paul, ensure that the Government make a clear statement about why the Bill is needed? I need do no more than refer to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Paymaster General, who on 11 July at column 112 of Hansard with great enthusiasm endorsed the notion of the social fund and expenditure on it. Yet the Bruges speech of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister appeared to condemn all that the social dimension stood for and all on which the social fund was spending the money which is at the heart of this Bill. My point of order in supporting the hon. Gentleman so uncharacteristically is simply to ask you to use your good offices to ensure that the Government make a clear statement of their new European policy.
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)
Further to that point of order, Sir Paul. You slightly surprised me by suggesting that the Government do not change their mind over an issue. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) said, the Prime Minister's speech seems to show a change of policy. I recall that on several occasions the Leader of the House has been to the Table, for example, about the Freedom of Information Bill which the Government allowed through several stages, but which was withdrawn in Committee because of circumstances surrounding Sir Anthony Blunt.
As the Prime Minister's statement appeared critical of the Common Market, the least we can expect of her is that she should send the Leader of the House here to make a statement of policy; otherwise, hon. Members may lay charges of hypocrisy against her, and I am not sure whether that is in order. Unless the Government make a statement about the Bill, the money it provides will go to support strong movements, both in the Assembly and in the Commission, towards a western European united states. That is the main thrust of thought and action in the Assembly of the Common Market.
It seems strange, Sir Paul, that you have heard nothing about such a statement. That is a poor show—the Prime Minister and the Leader of the House are accountable to 31 this House and should be here to make a statement. If they do not come, it cannot be helped if they are labelled hypocrites.
§ 4 pm
The First Deputy Chairman
The two points that have been made are not really matters for the Chair; they are pleas for the Government to make statements. The sooner we get on with the Committee stage, the more likely we are to hear some answers to these points. I hope that we shall hear no more such points, because they are directed much more to the Treasury than to the Chair.
§ Mr. Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West)
Further to this point of order, Sir Paul. May I, as a compromise, suggest that you call on the Paymaster General at an early stage? I am sure that there is neither populism nor duplicity nor ambiguity in the Prime Minister's position. I have no doubt that the Government will now say that they are opposed to the 80 per cent. increase in the social fund. It is absolutely certain that the Government are not prepared to allow the Labour party to become a Euro-fanatical party, using the social fund to enhance its interventionist and Socialist policies.
I know that the Paymaster General will want to state the Government's position at an early stage. May I therefore respectfully suggest that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, call upon him immediately, thereby avoiding a long debate?
§ Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Some of us have the impression that there was a major change of heart by the Opposition during the summer. So that this affair is kept in balance, could the attention of the Labour Front Bench spokesmen be directed to explaining their conversion to the new policy that has overtaken their party, and could they inform their hon. Friends the Members for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) about it?
The First Deputy Chairman
It is clear that the suggestions that have been made recently are most helpful. Everyone is anxious to hear what the Paymaster General has to say about the Bill, and I seriously suggest to the Committee that the sooner we start to debate the amendments that have been selected, the sooner we are likely to hear from him.
§ Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)
Further to that point of order, Sir Paul. There has been a singular harmony between the two sides of the Committee. I rise to support the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken).
My point of order is this: since the Bill was given a Second Reading, three dramatic events, both highly relevant to the Bill, have occurred. The first was the speech by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister at Bruges, a copy of which even found its way into the hands of my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, who produced it at the Dispatch Box last week. There was also the rebuke delivered to the Prime Minister by my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), who is unaccountably 32 not in his place today. If he were here, I am sure he would want to be the lone voice in the House disagreeing with the speech made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.
The other event of great importance was the visit of the chairman of the European Commission to the Labour party conference—
§ Mr. Skinner
As chairman of the Labour party, I can tell the hon. Gentleman that there was no such visit.
§ Mr. Gow
I apologise to the hon. Gentleman. The chairman of the European Commission made a journey to the TUC, not the Labour party.
Taking all these matters together, I wonder whether you, Sir Paul, might exceptionally allow my right hon. Friend the Paymaster General to speak first in the debate? There may be only a few precedents for that, but the exceptional nature of the events since Second Reading of this Bill justify a departure from precedent.
We should also welcome advice from my right hon. Friend upon one other matter. What would happen if the Bill did not receive a Third Reading? I think there is a growing recognition in the Conservative party that we should not continue this open-ended commitment of our taxpayers' money to the extravagances—sometimes quasi-Socialist extravagances—of the European Community. Will you, Sir Paul, allow my right hon. Friend to address the Committee first
§ Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham, North-East)
Further to that point of order, Sir Paul. You will have noticed that there is some confusion in the House. I thought at first that I was the only person who was confused, but it would appear that the confusion is more widespread.
There appears to be a prima facie difference between the remarks made by the Paymaster General last time he addressed the House and the Prime Minister's remarks on her European tour. It sems that she was saying that she is against the effects of the Single European Act—perhaps she did not understand it when she guillotined it through the House. It would be quite wrong and unparliamentary to accuse her of hypocrisy, so we must assume that she meant what she said at Bruges: that she was against a supranational Europe and an integration of British affairs into such a Europe. That being so, she would presumably not support a Bill giving money for the very policies that she opposed at Bruges. All this has caused some confusion, and I, too, am anxious that the Paymaster General should clear it up.
How will the right hon. Gentleman do this? He will not do so by speaking to an amendment. I hope he will make a short ministerial statement to put us all in the picture.
The First Deputy Chairman
This is developing into a debate on the merits and demerits of the European Community and the attitude to it of various political parties. That is not in order under the guise of points of order.
There have been many pleas from both sides of the House for the Paymaster General to make the Government's view clear. Again, I suggest that we are much more likely to get clarification from the Government when we get on to the amendments.
As regards the other point, we should be much wiser to follow normal precedents and get on with the 33 amendments. As soon as the Paymaster General rises—if he does—to speak to any of the amendments, he will as usual be called by the Chair.
§ Mr. Budgen
Further to these points of order, Sir Paul. May I suggest another compromise to try to encompass the will of the House? It is plain that the House anticipates a significant statement from the Paymaster General. As we have come to expect absolute consistency from the Government, it is obvious that he will make a statement that will transform our relations with the EEC. May I suggest that he be called first to make that statement?
As that is likely to render all the amendments to the Bill completely otiose, you, Sir Paul, may consider adjourning the Committee as soon as the Paymaster General has finished speaking. If it is then thought that he speaks, although with great authority, not with the same authority as the Prime Minister does, that would give the Prime Minister an opportunity to make her statement to the House. Sadly, when she made her Bruges speech she was unable to express her views to the House as well as she was to the popular newspapers.
Perhaps, once the Paymaster General has spoken, all criticism will be silenced, but in the unlikely event of that happening I suggest that it would be the will of the Committee generally that there should be an Adjournment.
§ Mr. Cryer
Further to that point of order, Sir Paul. I have looked through the explanatory and financial memorandum to the Bill and I find no explanation of the extent of loss of sovereignty by the House. With the continuing erosion of the powers of the House and the transfer of powers to the bureucrats in Brussels, it would be a great help if you would arrange for a report of these discussions to be brought to the attention of the Procedure Committee. It is about time that Members of the House and the public outside, who have been misled about the reality of the Prime Minister's speech—that sovereignty is being eroded by statutory instruments, by the Single European Act and now by this Bill—knew what was happening.
It would assist the procedures of the House immeasurably if an assessment was made of the loss of sovereignty and either you, Sir Paul, or Mr. Speaker made a statement before we considered such legislation. It is the job of the Chair above all to protect the rights and privileges of the House. Before every stage of a Bill dealing with the Common Market there should be a statement from the Chair. You have seen this afternoon that hon. Members on both sides of the Committee are worried about the matter. The Leader of the House has made no representations to come here. The Prime Minister has made no statement of her views on the Common Market. We know that Ministers are completely subservient to the whims of the Prime Minister, and on any objective assessment it must be vital to have a further examination of the legislation. I should have thought that you, Sir Paul, should undertake that.
34 It might be better—the suggestion has already been made by a Conservative Member—if the Committee was adjourned so that you, Sir Paul, and Mr. Speaker could consider the matter urgently. The important thing about the House is that it acts as a platform so that people can know what is going on. If matters are cloaked in rhetoric about standing firm against the Common Market, when the House is conceding more money in Bill after Bill, the people outside should have an authoritative assessment of the loss of sovereignty under this legislation. You could give that authoritative assessment from the point of view of protecting the rights and privileges of Parliament which have been built up through blood, sweat and tears over many years.
I have asked you to consider an important task, Sir Paul, and I suggest that we adjourn.
§ Mr. Teddy Taylor
Further to that point of order, Sir Paul. Although I have no way of knowing whether the Prime Minister will be voting for or against the Bill in view of her Bruges speech, may I appeal to you, Sir Paul, to give us some idea of what the House should do tonight when voting? Two matters are before us: first, the proposal to give a great deal of cash to the Common Market in all future years; and, secondly, a proposal in new sub-paragraph (f) to pay £765 million immediately to cover overspending in the past. Is there no way in which hon. Members who are against paying that huge additional sum for the overspend will be able to express their views? The House must have a duty to control cash. We talk about child benefit, which involves a much smaller sum. When there is an overspend, which we were assured would not happen, Members of the House should be able to vote for or against it. They should also be able to vote for or against giving much more money to the Common Market for future years.
To take amendment No. 10 as an example, is it not right that we should have the opportunity of saying yes or no to what appear to be two separate decisions taken on two separate occasions by separate bodies in the EC? If the House is to exercise its judgment on financial matters, it must have separate votes. That could be done if one of the amendments that was not selected was reconsidered.
§ Mr. Skinner
Further to that point of order, Sir Paul. I agree that the £765 million and the other sums of money should be decided by the House in separate votes. During the past few days I have listened to hon. Members on both sides of the House clamouring for compensation for people who lost considerable amounts with Barlow Clowes. There will be a call from the Opposition for child benefit to be uprated, yet here we are talking about £765 million being thrown down the drain—being allocated to the bureaucrats in Brussels to oil the wheels of the gravy trains. The money would be better given to people with children in Britain. It would be folly indeed if we could not have separate votes on those matters.
This is a discussion about one set of statements made by the Head of Government and another set of statements being made in Parliament. That does not happen often. Parliament is being asked, or behalf of the Prime Minister. to consider proposals that she is purported to be solidly against—certainly in her gallivanting trips round the world. It is high time that we had a statement from the chairman of the Tory party, and as chairman of the 35 Labour party I ask him to make a short statement saying that changes have been made in Government policy since the recess. The Bill should be abandoned and we should have the opportunity in the near future to repeal the Single European Act, which is the mother and father of this sort of legislation.
We cannot have the Prime Minister trotting round saying one thing and then telling Ministers to come to Parliament and do the opposite. The Minister should make it clear today that the Bill will be abandoned and that we shall retrace the steps of Common Market legislation, which has been an unmitigated disaster for the British people.
The First Deputy Chairman
Order. The Committee has had a good run on this. No new points have been made that I have not already answered, and it is an abuse of points of order to attempt to debate the merits of the European Community or to go back on a Bill that has received its Second Reading. I have deliberately given the Committee a good run, but it is becoming an abuse of our proceedings. We must get on with the amendments.
§ Mr. Aitken
On a point of order, Sir Paul. May I draw your attention to the Bill, which states that its entire purpose isto make payments to finance the Communities' general budget for the financial year 1988",because on that sentence the entire edifice of the legislation that we are about to discuss is to be debated?
There have been other major events since we began our deliberations on this legislation. During the summer recess, the European Community came up with a new set of figures. To those of us who have followed the simple process of addition and subtraction as conducted by the European Community, it is no surprise to find that once again the Community has got its figures wrong, this time on what might be described as the encouraging side of the balance sheet.
I draw your attention, Sir Paul, to a headline in Saturday's Financial Times, which runs:EC to save £2.47 bn. on budget".The article continues by pointing out all the savings that have been made. On the revenue side, the Community is expected to end this year with a 2 billion ecu surplus, which is attributed to factors such as the summer drought in the United States, which has driven down world food prices.
My point of order is that here we are debating legislation to increase by a massive 25 per cent. the resources that are available to the European Community yet the very purpose for which this legislation was introduced has fallen away. The European Community now has plenty of money for the purposes decided. Of course, it now wants to spend the extra money on a range of new policies which, I would suggest, are unacceptable to this House. When my right hon. Friend the Paymaster General makes his statement which, if it is a speech of 36 repentance, will be one of the greatest political spectacles since Cranmer thrust his right hand into the flames, we look forward enormously to having an explanation of how the sums have gone wrong all over again and how we are now voting to the European Community money which is not required. We also want an explanation of what the money is needed for.
The First Deputy Chairman
Order. We cannot have interventions in points of order.
The hon. Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) is now anticipating the speech that he would hope to make on clause stand part when we eventually get there. We have had a preview, but we must now get on with the business before the House.
§ Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton)
I rise to support the proposition made by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) that the House should adjourn. The problem is the Single European Act. Hon. Members said that presumably the Prime Minister knew what she was doing when she signed it. I suggest in the light of her Bruges speech that she did not know what she was doing. With due respect, we do not want the monkey, we want the organ grinder so that the confusion can be settled once and for all.
§ Mr. Marlow
I wonder if you can help the House, Sir Paul, by giving two quick rulings? First, if my right hon. Friend the Paymaster General wishes to give a statement, would you agree to his giving a statement because that would clear up a great deal of confusion about the problem that exists at the moment? If you would agree to that, I am sure that my right hon. Friend will be only too happy to do so, so perhaps you could state your view on that when I sit down.
Secondly, Sir Paul, you kindly said—we are very grateful—that under clause stand part you will allow a wide-ranging debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) and chairman Dennis, the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), have both said that we should be entitled to have separate votes on the two separate issues. Will you allow the Committee the privilege of looking into the recesses of your mind as to whether it is possible to have those two separate votes?
The First Deputy Chairman
These points have been raised before, and I have done my best to answer them. The Committee stage of the Bill is in order; otherwise it would not be set down for debate today and the sooner we get on with the debate, the more likely we are to get the statements from the Government which have been demanded from both sides of the Committee.
37 As I told the Committee right at the beginning, careful consideration has been given to the selection of amendments. I have listened carefully to what has been said but nothing has been said to alter in any way my judgment about the selection of amendments.
§ Mr. Leighton
My difficulty, which has not been cleared up yet, is that I do not know whether the Prime Minister will vote for the Bill. I do not know whether the Prime Minister supports the Bill. I studied her speech in Bruges carefully—I know that it happened outside the House and that it was in the recess—and I give her the benefit of the doubt and assume that she meant what she said. If she did mean what she said, she will not support the Bill, which puts us in some difficulty if we are to spend our time discussing amendments without knowing whether the First Lord of the Treasury supports the Bill. We have asked for some clarification before we start on the detail of the amendments. We want a simple statement from the incumbent of the Treasury Bench to clear up this matter. Do the Government have a united view? Is what the Paymaster General said the last time he addressed the House the Government's policy, or should the Bruges speech be considered Government policy? We are still in difficulty.
The First Deputy Chairman
Order. Committee procedures are well established and I am sure that the whole Committee is eagerly awaiting the speech of the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), who will move the first group of amendments. The sooner we get on to that—
The First Deputy Chairman
Order. The sooner we get on, the sooner we shall hear from the Treasury Bench.
The First Deputy Chairman
Order. I am not taking any further points of order. I have allowed a good run on points of order.