HC Deb 28 October 1992 vol 212 cc1001-5
7. Mr. Byers

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what plans he has to renegotiate the Maastricht treaty.

9. Mr. Raynsford

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the latest position in respect of the Maastricht treaty.

11. Mr. Winnick

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what is the latest position on the Maastricht treaty.

Mr. Hurd

In Birmingham on 16 October, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and his colleagues, including the Danish Prime Minister, reaffirmed the importance of concluding the ratification of the treaty as soon as possible, without reopening the present text. We believe, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made clear again yesterday, that the treaty is good for Britain, and we intend to stand by it.

Mr. Byers

Does the Foreign Secretary accept that, whatever the merits of the Maastricht treaty may have been in December 1991, it is clearly not a treaty based on economic growth and job creation and will therefore not lift Europe out of recession? Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise the depth of public concern about the Maastricht treaty, and is he not aware that, unless the Government indicate a willingness to amend the treaty, they will face defeat in the House next week?

Mr. Hurd

That is something that will be judged by the House and not by the Government. I am well aware of public concern about the recession and unemployment, and that concern is shared in many countries of the Community which, in one way or another, have the same anxieties. What I do know is that, if the hon. Gentleman is seriously interested in foreign or, indeed, British investment in this country, he will not wish to support or vote for a concept of Europe that gives investors the idea that we are half way in and half way out.

Mr. Raynsford

If the Foreign Secretary believes that there is a common interest between Britain and Europe in action to get out of recession, why have the British Government, according to today's Financial Times, given a cool reception to the proposals made by the Commission's President yesterday for a concerted European growth programme to get Europe out of recession with measures to tackle the investment shortage and to boost growth and confidence?

Mr. Hurd

I listened to the President of the Commission sketch that idea yesterday. It was not put forward by him or anyone else at the Birmingham summit. What the Birmingham summit did was to reaffirm the policies that the Heads of State or Government gathered there decided offered the best chance of sustainable growth. Those policies are being followed in country after country in the Community. They are based on tackling problems of public borrowing and laying the foundations for an economic recovery that will last. That is the policy of Her Majesty's Government and it is the policy set out in the Birmingham declaration.

Mr. Winnick

Is the Foreign Secretary fully aware that, in the past few months, opposition to the treaty has grown substantially in the country at large? Why should Tory Members be coerced into voting for the Government's motion next week simply because the Prime Minister wishes to boast at the summit meeting in December that some progress has been made on the European Communities (Amendment) Bill? As the Prime Minister is no longer holding out the threat of an early election, which was always an empty threat—I only wish that there would be such an election—why should Tory Members be intimidated in any way into voting against their principles next Wednesday?

Mr. Hurd

I do not think that my right hon. and hon. Friends have any intention of being intimidated. They know the basis of the treaty. They know the background. They know the discussions and debates that have taken place in the House over the past year and they know the results of those debates and discussions. They know that my right hon. Friend will go to the summit in Edinburgh holding the presidency of the Community; that 10 member states are clearly on the road to early ratification; and that the Government of the eleventh, Denmark, have today produced a plan that would enable them to put again to their people the possibility of the recommendation for ratification.

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, and particular responsibility in this matter rests on—among others—the Labour party leadership.

Mr. Dykes

I thank my right hon. Friend for once again re-affirming the Government's determination on a treaty which does not need renegotiating but merely needs supporting. Is that not in contrast to the pathetic loss of courage at the eleventh hour by the Labour Opposition?

Mr. Hurd

I do not know about loss of courage. None of this has so far been confirmed. I read about it in newspapers. The Labour leadership have a choice. Either they stick to the position that the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) announced on television on 27 September and the assurances that they have given to like-minded parties on the continent, or they revert to the traditional Labour policy which the hon. Gentleman inherited—that is, negative, opportunistic, and changing their minds 180 degrees on Europe at regular intervals.

Sir Peter Tapsell

Would it be possible for the document on subsidiarity that the President of the Commission submitted to the Birmingham summit, to which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister referred in encouraging terms in reply to a question from me last Tuesday, be made available to use, as it seems to be available to a number of parliamentarians in other EEC countries? It would be very helpful if it could be placed in the Library so that we could see what the proposal was and what conclusion is finally reached on this important subject.

Mr. Hurd

I will certainly look into that matter. I think that my hon. Friend is referring to the proposals that Mr. Delors put to the Commission for reorganising the way in which the Commission transacts its business so that it complies with subsidiarity from now on without waiting for the treaty to be ratified. As I understand it, that paper has not yet been published or, indeed, formally confirmed by the Commission, but I will look into its status and what is to be done.

Mr. Milligan

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the request put forward by the Danish Government last night can be accommodated by the Community without renegotiating the Maastricht treaty? As Opposition Front-Bench Members have been using a Danish figleaf to disguise the naked nature of party politics, now that the Danish position is clear and eight out of nine parties in the Danish Parliament support it, there is no reason why the Opposition should not support the Government in Wednesday's vote unless they are more interested in party politics than in the future of this country in Europe.

Mr. Hurd

Like my hon. Friend, I believe that the Danish move is strongly positive. Their Folketing Committee has to ratify it and the Danish Minister has to present it to us as the presidency and to other member states. We then have to carry it forward with the aim of reaching agreement on it among the partners in Edinburgh. There is still work to be done. What is clear now but was not clear before, and I hope that the Labour leadership will welcome it, is that the Danish Government, with the support of the great majority of Danish political parties, now have the clear intention, without reopening the text of the treaty—my hon. Friend's point—to seek clarifications which will enable them to put the matter again to the Danish people. That is a step forward.

Sir Russell Johnston

On that point, one of the main criticisms which particularly emanated from the Labour Front Bench was that the Government were unwilling to bring the Bill back into Committee until the Danish question had been "resolved", whatever that meant. However, so far as I remember, at the Council of Ministers on 4 June in Oslo—I believe that the Foreign Secretary was there—immediately after the referendum the other

Eleven agreed unanimously to proceed with ratification forthwith. How were the Government able to promise to delay and then promise not to delay?

Mr. Hurd

At the meeting in Oslo, instead of saying that they could not ratify the treaty, the Danish Government asked for time—and they have used that time. We have also used that time. Next week the House will have an opportunity to express its views on how the Government and the House should proceed. I return to the point that I made earlier. I hope that in its deliberations, perhaps even this afternoon, the Labour leadership will take comfort from the courage of the Danish Government in announcing their plans.

Sir Michael Marshall

Does my right hon. Friend accept that it is important that the suggestion in the original question asked by the hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. Byers) should be firmly rejected? I am sure that there is economic linkage between ratification of the Maastricht treaty and the present state of the economy. My right hon. Friend referred to inward investment. Surely current intentions to invest in British industry depend on removing uncertainty.

Mr. Hurd

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The Maastricht treaty is a compromise treaty. The way in which it was negotiated at Maastricht by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister safeguarded this country from the two parts of it which might otherwise have caused us real difficulty; the social chapter, which the Labour party embraced, and a commitment to a single bank and a single currency. The Government were not willing to make that commitment and, clearly, the Danes are not willing to do so. So we protected ourselves from those two effects. The treaty which remains is the treaty to which we have put our hand and which we ask the House to enable us to ratify. It is the only possible agreed framework for the success of the Community in the next few years. That is the fact of the matter. If we are interested in enlarging the Community, making a success of the single market, and achieving other objectives of the Community, with Britain in it, in the next few years, it should be on the basis of a ratified Maastricht treaty. I do not see another foundation on which we can make that progress.

Dr. John Cunningham

Does the Foreign Secretary recall that in the Chamber on 24 September the Prime Minister said that two matters needed to be clarified and agreed before we could proceed to consider the Bill to ratify the Maastricht treaty? First, a Danish accommodation would have to be agreed not only by the Danish Parliament but by the other 11 states. Secondly, the Prime Minister offered the opinion that there would have to be clear and agreed definitions of subsidiarity before we could proceed to consider the Bill. As neither of those conditions has been met, and neither can be met until the Edinburgh summit at the earliest, why has the Prime Minister changed his mind? Why has he done a U-turn on this, as on other matters?

When the Foreign Secretary said that the House would have to decide next week whether the Prime Minister should lead Britain's representations in Edinburgh, was he not implying that the House would be asked to vote next week on a vote of confidence in the Prime Minister? If so, how does he expect us to support that?

Mr. Hurd

The House will have an opportunity for debate on 4 November, and it will be slightly surprising if that debate does not end in a vote of some kind. The hon. Gentleman, who has some experience in these matters, knows that the motion will be decided, discussed and communicated in exactly the usual way. We are seven days ahead of the debate. It would be unusual for matters of drafting and tactics to have been decided by this date. The debate is therefore being handled in exactly the same way as others.

As for the hon. Gentleman's first point, there is clarity now about the Danish plans. It is bad luck for the Opposition that the Danes happen to have come clear at this particular time, but it does not let the Opposition off the hook of their decision.

Sir Teddy Taylor

As the Prime Minister stated clearly and without ambiguity that we could not get on with the Committee stage until a detailed and settled system of subsidiarity had been worked out and put in place, will the Foreign Secretary advise us whether that may be worked out in Edinburgh so that those of us who want to get on with discussing the treaty will know? Is that likely to be resolved so that we can at least start discussing the treaty immediately after the Edinburgh summit?

Mr. Hurd

I have good news for my hon. Friend in the light of his concern that we should be able to proceed as soon as possible. On 16 October in Birmingham we made substantial progress. He will have looked at the Birmingham declaration, which shows how that work is being carried forward. First, there is the article on the Maastricht treaty; then there is the Lisbon decision, which is now being carried forward in Birmingham. The detailed work has been set in hand, so the situation is advancing quite fast in the direction that my hon. Friend favours.

Forward to