HC Deb 26 June 1991 vol 193 cc980-2
5. Mr. Skinner

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the progress of the intergovernmental conferences.

Mr. Hurd

The conferences on economic and monetary union and political union have made good progress, but a number of problems remain to be resolved during the next months of negotiations before the shape of the final package becomes clear.

Mr. Skinner

Is not it ironic that at a time when the Soviet Union cannot handle the 15 nationalities in that empire, the Indian sub-continent is continuing to disintegrate and Yugoslavia cannot keep its nationalities together, people like the Foreign Secretary continue to waffle on about some grand political design in the Common Market? The truth is that British history and western European history show that in the past 11 centuries treaties have been drawn up between some of the oldest industrialised countries, every one of which, almost without exception, is in the dustbin of history. This latest grand political design will finish in the same place.

Mr. Hurd

I am disappointed with the hon. Gentleman. Up to now, I have disagreed with everything that the hon. Gentleman has said about Europe, but at least what he has said has been plain, blunt and brief. He is taking a bad example from his leader.

Mr. Soames

Does my right hon. Friend agree that sovereignty is not some kind of political football to be used for the vanity of politicians? If we are to cede some sovereignty in the interests of creating a modern and vigorous western economy in this country with greater prosperity for all our people, that is something devoutly to be hoped for.

Mr. Hurd

I understand that we are to discuss those matters later today and I look forward to doing so. Although it is not certain, we believe that it is increasingly possible that in both conferences at the end of the year we shall be able to reach conclusions of which the House will overwhelmingly approve. They will reconcile our desire and determination to keep our own identity with our wish to go forward and work increasingly in Europe.

Mr. Benn

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that, whatever may be the merits of a single currency, economic and monetary union and a federal arrangement, none of those issues was put before the electorate in a referendum or put before the public for endorsement in the 1987 general election? As they touch not only the rights of Parliament but the rights of the British people to elect and remove those who make the laws under which they are governed, will not the matter have to go back to the British people before any move is made to take away their rights through any of the proposals now before the intergovernmental conferences?

Mr. Hurd

I do not think that such matters are best tested in a referendum. They are best tested in the House. That is a continual process, which is continuing again today.

Mr. Janman

My right hon. Friend, more than most, will be aware of the problems being caused to the Government by the Single European Act, particularly in employment and the extension of majority voting. Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that at the intergovernmental conference on political union the British Government will veto any changes to the treaty of Rome that extend majority voting?

Mr. Hurd

I do not agree with my hon. Friend about the effects of the Single European Act. It is working out overwhelmingly beneficially to this country. As for our stance in the IGC on political union, perhaps my hon. Friend will await my full explanation in a few minutes' time.

Mr. Robertson

May I press the Foreign Secretary on that point? In the IGC on political union the Government are isolated on the social charter, the extension of qualified majority voting, any extension of powers to the European Parliament and reforms to the regional and structural funds. As all those matters are of central and fundamental importance to our 11 European partners, will the Foreign Secretary use the veto if they press it to a conclusion later this year?

Mr. Hurd

The hon. Gentleman's premise is wrong and consequently his sequence does not follow. The only matter on which we are sometimes alone is legislation that flows from the social charter. Even there, one directive was passed unanimously again yesterday. Others have failed to make progress not because of Britain but because a sufficient number of countries were opposed to them.

Back to
Forward to