HC Deb 10 March 1993 vol 220 cc929-31
9. Sir Teddy Taylor

To ask the Secretary fo State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will publish a list of the areas of policy which remain within the exclusive competence of national parliaments in the EC.

Mr. Garel-Jones

The Community exercises only such powers as are delegated to it by the member states. Any powers not so delegated remain with the member states. It is not possible to draw up an exhaustive list.

Sir Teddy Taylor

Is not it an outrage that the Minister has not even tried to answer the question? Does he accept that if we go for the Maastricht treaty, almost every single remaining area of exclusive competence will disappear apart from, in my calculation, grammar schools, the council tax and the level of income tax in so far as it is part of an overall level of taxation approved by central Community institutions? Does not the Minister think that he has a duty to tell people the facts before they vote?

Mr. Garel-Jones

I do not agree with my hon. Friend's calculation. Indeed, I believe the opposite to be the case. I think that in a number of areas where we have found deficiencies in the Single European Act the Maastricht treaty moves to restrain those deficiencies and to take the Community in the direction in which we wish to see it going. I will not detain the House with a whole list of examples. Let me give just one. In health, while we have recognised the need to co-ordinate research and public information on health protection concerning things like AIDS, the Maastricht treaty provides specifically for the Community not to involve itself in health care because there is no reason why it should do so. The Maastricht treaty specifically constrains Community action in that area, whereas, under the existing treaty, we were under some danger of what my hon. Friend would call creeping competence. There are many such examples littered across the treaty.

Mr. Skinner

Does not the Minister understand that while he and Ministers like him on the Front Bench, as well as other members of the chattering classes and other politicians, talk about the glories of Maastricht and the Common Market in particular, 70 per cent. of the masses outside do not want the Maastricht treaty, because they can see what is happening on the ground floor, with neo-fascist parties being set up in Germany, Italy and France, and with a former SS leader getting massive support in the German elections at the weekend? Together with mass unemployment, that is the truth about the Common Market of today. The halcyon days are over.

Mr. Garel-Jones

So far as the House is concerned at any rate, the hon. Gentleman certainly belongs to the chattering classes. The only time recently that I saw a substantial, albeit paltry, turnout of the National Front in this country—I am sure that my hon. Friends who were there were as shocked as I was—was at the so-called referendum rally in Trafalgar square. I gather that that was well attended, not least by such people.

Mr. Churchill

Given the strong attachment of the EFTA nations to their national sovereignty, is not it clear that once the enlargement of the Community becomes a reality, the dreams of those who would create federal palaces in the air will slam against the buffers of reality?

Mr. Garel-Jones

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. The accession of EFTA countries will do two things. First, it will produce a number of countries that are net contributors to the budget and therefore likely to take the realistic attitude that this Government take. Secondly, my hon. Friend is right; it will reinforce the position of those of us who believe that we are building in the European Community not a unitary structure and a unitary state but a union of co-operation between member states.

Equally, I do not think that we should be naive. These countries are independent foreign states. They will fight for their own interests. Of course, we do not expect their interests to coincide with ours in every particular, but, on the fundamentals that my hon. Friend the Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) mentions, he is absolutely right.

Mr. George Robertson

While we are talking about the rights of national parliaments, what about the right of this House to make a decision about the Government's opt-out from the social chapter of the Maastricht treaty? Does the Minister not recognise that the stinging humiliation suffered by the Government on Monday this week should tell Ministers at least one thing—that if they attempt to use legal trickery or sleight of hand to ignore or override the carrying of amendment No. 27 on the social protocol, it will be seen at home and abroad as a betrayal of this House, this Parliament and parliamentary democracy

Mr. Garel-Jones

Her Majesty's Government intend to ratify the treaty that we agreed with our 11 partners in the European Community. If the hon. Gentleman had wished to have the treaty altered, the Labour party should have won the election. The Labour party did not win the election and this Government's mandate to ratify the treaty that we agreed with our partners is supported by not only a vote in the House but an overwhelming vote in favour of the Conservative party at the last general election.

Mr. Ian Taylor

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the applicant parliaments in the European Free Trade Association which wish to join the Community know only too well that they already have for their people the economic benefits of the Community through the European economic area? Their precise reason for applying to join the Community is that they want to be part of and influence its political structure, just as we left the European Free Trade Association in 1973 to join the political structure of the European Community.

Is it not therefore absolutely vital that the United Kingdom ratifies the Maastricht treaty, which is the basis on which the other countries are applying, and then plays a leading part in influencing the intergovernmental conference in 1996?

Mr. Garel-Jones

My hon. Friend is right. The European economic area gives EFTA countries the benefits of the single market. Those countries, like us, see in the Community an ability to enhance their influence as sovereign states. That is why they are as anxious as we are for the Maastricht treaty to be ratified as soon as possible and for their negotiations to proceed so that they may become full members of the Community.

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