§ Mr. Bernard Jenkin (Colchester, North)
I am most grateful for this opportunity to have a final discussion on this most important topic. It is a great pleasure to welcome my hon. Friend the Minister of State to the Front Bench. He has been translated to the Foreign Office in the recent shuffle. He has had dealings with European matters before, but without saying anything in public, and it is great to see him back.
I noticed during the previous debate that he had already perfected the form of delivery expected from the Foreign Office, and we look forward to hearing more of it. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend's predecessor, who did much in his short tenure of that office to improve the atmosphere in which European issues are discussed in the House. He did much to develop policy towards the next major intergovernmental conference in 1996.
It is most important to recognise the nature of this debate. We are no longer two sides at loggerheads, pro and anti—indeed, we never were. The Maastricht phase of adversarial discussion of European issues is behind us. We are now in a phase of dynamic and positive argument. Rather as in a Greek drama, we play different roles. My hon. Friend the Minister and his colleagues in Government are heroes, to our role as chorus. We do our best to explain to the audience what is going on as the drama unfolds.
To that end, I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister for allowing my hon. Friends the Members for Stafford (Mr. Cash) and for Chingford (Mr. Duncan Smith) to take part in this debate. They will discuss, respectively, aspects of the Commission and the European Court, and I shall devote my comments to the European Parliament. We hope to give my hon. Friend the Minister plenty of time to catch up on his briefs, as he has been in the job for only 12 hours or thereabouts.
Much of our thinking on the future of those institutions has been set out in our pamphlet, "A Conservative Europe: 1994 and beyond", which was published earlier this year. It was based on the principle of support for the Prime Minister's stated position. He wants aEurope of sovereign independent nation states".In his article in The Economist in September last year, he said:It is for nations to build Europe, not for Europe to attempt to supersede nations.That is the basis of the broad consensus that is emerging in the United Kingdom. I notice that even the right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) on the Opposition Front Bench, which is empty at present, stated his opposition to a federal Europe and advocated a Europe of nation states.
We need to put flesh on those bones and to confront that position with the reality of the European Community today, which is that no other Governments have a concrete policy towards, or are acting towards, our vision of a Europe of nation states. The Community advocates and upholds an inviolate and ever-widening acquis communau- taire, and institutions that are devoted to promoting their European vision.
The central institutions of the European Community seem remote to most people. It is not simply a matter of attitude, which can be overcome by generating a sense of European esprit. The institutions' multinational nature will 596 always stand in the way of improving the Community's democratic legitimacy. A multilingual assembly will always look more like an international conference than a functioning Parliament, and a multilingual and multinational debate will never be seen to have the same relevance as national debates, regardless of the availability of translation services.
As the French, "No" campaigner Mr. Philippe Seguin said before the French referendum:Democracy is synonymous with the nation state.Many people have ambitions for the European Parliament to become supreme in the constitutional and legislative role in a European super-state. It will become the heart of a European super-state, and that is the most dangerous and preposterous of all of the federalist ambitions.
There is no example anywhere in the world of a true Parliament that spans nations, cultures and different languages, that does not also have a tendency towards disintegration, misunderstanding, antagonism and even bloodshed. That is not a vision that I share of the future of Europe.
The European Parliament already demonstrates how out of touch it is. Members of the European Parliament are notorious for their lofty detachment from the everyday lives of the citizens of this country. In the recent elections, the people demonstrated their contempt for the European Parliament and its processes. The turnout was the lowest ever in a European election. It was lower than in 1989, when the turnout was lower than in 1983, and that turnout was lower than in 1979. The election was characterised by reactive voting—voters reacted to national issues. People were not voting consciously for a particular type of Europe, or for certain policies in Europe, but reacting to national concerns.
The only constant theme throughout the European Community was a marked sceptical showing in all member states except Germany, which is always able more overtly to present the European project as a German project to its people.
The European Parliament has no more democratic legitimacy than a district council. Naturally, its credibility thus enhanced, it is entirely predictable that it should choose this moment to assert its authority by vetoing Mr. Jacques Santer—the consensus candidate for the presidency of the Commission.
European parliamentarians want to be treated as a 13th state—the European state—or perhaps not, for as we speak we do not yet have the result of the vote. Perhaps they will realise that their real authority is as thin as the paper on which the treaties are printed.
Earlier this week, however, the European Parliament obstructed the liberalisation of telecommunications in Europe. It is absurd that the principal institution devoted to the integration of Europe should want to stop us talking more freely and cheaply to each other. In truth, the Parliament has become an expensive, ridiculous, undemocratic, power hungry, unaccountable, obstructive encumbrance on the efficient working of the Union. It is a Parliament without a state, and unless Europe becomes a state it must remain so—
§ Mr. Jenkin
In 1996, we shall need practical proposals on how to reform the working of the Parliament. The role of national 597 Parliaments needs to be enhanced, and the European Parliament needs to be smaller, more efficient and primarily devoted to auditing, accounting and reporting. Its potentially obstructive legislative role should be curbed. It should become more accountable to national Parliaments: a counterbalance to the Council of Ministers, which is accountable to national Governments.
I ask my hon. Friend for only one assurance on a subject likely to be on the agenda before 1996. It concerns the method of electing European parliamentarians. In the spirit of subsidiarity I would urge my hon. Friend to give us an assurance that the United Kingdom Parliament will continue to decide how our representatives to the European Parliament are elected. Will he undertake to continue to use the veto against a uniform system of elections?
§ Mr. William Cash (Stafford)
This is a much more important debate than the half hour or so allocated to it suggests. At this very moment—as the clock strikes 12.30 pm—the European Parliament is exercising a power conferred on it to decide whether it wishes to veto the appointment of the president of the Commission. We do not yet know the result, but I hope that it will be known in the course of these proceedings.
§ Mr. Duncan Smith
Is my hon. Friend aware that, in the course of yesterday's rather fraught proceedings in the European Parliament, the British Labour group decided —typically, the meeting was attended by only 16 people —to veto this particular gentleman? The Parliament has now called for a permanent place for a representative of the European Parliament alongside the Heads of Government. There is thus more to the matter than just vetoing an individual; these people are calling for a complete change in the structure of what my hon. Friend is about to discuss.
§ Mr. Cash
Yes, indeed. It is precisely this usurpation of power, accompanied by an abuse of power, that has characterised what has been done under articles 100A and 180A. These are the powers conferred by Governments on the European Parliament and the Commission—yet the latter always deny it. The Commission claims that a decentralising process is under way, yet anyone with any competence knows that the reverse is true. Certainly no one in Europe believes it. The Commission continually refers to an increase in the powers that are needed. The word "integration" by definition means more centralisation. Those are exactly the views of Mr. Santer, who apparently agrees with Mr. Dehaene. Europe will continue along these lines until we say no to the increases in the powers being demanded by Europe.
The intergovernmental conference is to be preceded by the so-called reflection group, set up at the Corfu summit. According to the Minister's predecessor at the Foreign Office, informal papers are already being put about to deal with the issue. The fact is that the IGC offers the Government a golden opportunity to put into effect what they say they want from time to time but never seem to implement—decreasing the powers of the European Commission.
In April 1990 I published a Bow Group pamphlet which I circulated to the House of Commons and in which I argued that we should reduce the powers of the Commission to those of the secretariat, at the same time increasing the scrutiny process both in our national 598 Parliament and in the Parliaments of the rest of Europe. The pamphlet was written when we had a different Prime Minister. Four years later, we are no further forward with these ideas—although only yesterday I heard another former Foreign Office Minister of State propounding my idea as if it were one of his own.
The necessity to do so is increased because of the amount of power that is being arrogated by the European Commission. The power to initiate legislation can be reduced only by taking the measures that I have described and by allowing the Council of Ministers the power to initiate legislation and to bring the veto back into play, not in the intermediate stages, when one is trying to arrive at an agreement, but when a national Parliament says, "Up with this we will not put." One could then secure the necessary consent.
The key point that completely escapes the Euro establishment, the Foreign Office, other Departments of State and the highest levels of Government, is that one cannot make the changes that are proposed unless one secures the people's consent. People are being taken down a route that, in their view, does not make any sense. That is why they reacted as they did in the European elections recently. They knew that they were being taken for a ride and they did not like it.
Germany was the only country that saw an increase in support for the pursuit of the European policy. That was because Mr. Kohl played the German national card. Elsewhere, results were different. In the United Kingdom, only 36 per cent. of the electorate turned out. Even in Holland, a mere 36 per cent. turned out. In his excellent remarks, my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin) said that we should reduce the European Parliament's powers so that it is more accountable to the people who are supposed to elect it, few as they are. The other key point is that, at the same time, we should ensure that such bureaucracy without responsibility and without accountability is brought to heel.
§ Mr. Jenkin
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. The way in which European Standing Committees work is good in part, but we have only one shot at lengthy European proposals. The Government are then allowed to go off, negotiate, decide and conclude matters. We never get a Third Reading or a final look at the final document, and we are never able to express a final opinion on what the Government decide to accept in Brussels. Such accountability is not nearly strong enough, particularly if one considers the huge volume of European legislation with which we are likely to deal once the new Commission is established and starts to implement the Maastricht treaty in full.
§ Mr. Cash
I agree with every word that my hon. Friend says. I issue a word of friendly advice to my hon. Friend the Minister, who has just taken up his new job. His predecessors have moved in an extremely dangerous zone in relation to the Select Committee on European Legislation. Such a Committee should be replicated throughout the European Community. France and many other member states operate by decree. We have a scrutiny process, but it does no good if Ministers in the Foreign Office or other Departments seek to bypass, in a most outrageous manner, proposals from the European 599 Commission. Proposals need to be scrutinised by us, because they will not be properly scrutinised by the European Parliament.
I should like to refer to the matter that is before the European Parliament: the allegedly proposed veto of Mr. Santer by the socialists in the European Parliament. In the past few weeks, we have witnessed an example of comedy —Greek or otherwise—turning into burlesque followed by farce. The way in which the matter has been handled is reprehensible to all hon. Members, as elected representatives of our constituents.
As I said in my comments on the Prime Minister's statement, we were told that we vetoed Mr. Dehaene as the unelected president of the Commission because it appeared that Germany and France were running the European Community, but Mr. Santer is fundamentally no different from Mr. Dehaene, and it was with some wry amusement that I heard him say that he is indistinguishable from Mr. Dehaene.
§ Mr. Cash
Perhaps he is, but I wonder whether he is fatter.
Mr. Santer may now be vetoed by the European Parliament, which shows that we, through our Government, have given more power to the European institutions than has been warranted. That will be remedied only by taking the steps that I have suggested.
The Minister of State is seeking advice. I hope that his search will be fruitful and that he will give a responsible reply to our points. I strongly urge him to answer a question that I put at the end of my most recent book on the subject, "Europe: The Crunch"—is anyone listening?
It may interest those who read our proceedings in Hansard to know that, despite the timing of the debate, a significant number of my hon. Friends are present to register their interest in the subject. If the Government are prepared to listen, changes will be made with some enthusiasm and co-operation, reflecting the fact that those who last year were regarded as heretics are now, according to general consent, backed forcefully by 70 per cent. of public opinion not only in the United Kingdom but elsewhere in Europe.
If we are to secure the necessary consent, it is equally important for the Euro-elites—the Governments of the European Community—to respond to the views of the Euro-realists and to bear in mind that we carry a potent message: that if they do not listen to us, and I sincerely hope that I can convey this as advice rather than a threat, things will get worse. The powers of the European Commission must be considered with the powers of the other institutions.
§ Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)
Bearing in mind what my hon. Friend said about the need to achieve consent for the European process, does he think that the Euro-sceptics are misnamed, and that they should be called Euro-democrats?
§ Mr. Walter Sweeney (Vale of Glamorgan)
Does my hon. Friend read any significance into the fact that not one 600 of the Euro-realists, who, based on their voting records last year, might be characterised as Euro-sceptics, was included in the reshuffle yesterday?
§ Mr. Cash
That has certainly proved that being right does not necessarily lead to one's views being accepted. That is the point that I am trying to make.
Far too much is at stake. We are living in historic times. President Clinton has said that he thinks that Germany should lead Europe and he and his colleagues have said that we should have a single currency. I heard expressed at the very highest level of American diplomatic circles only two days ago the view that we are bound to accept the concept of a single currency, a concept that this Parliament will reject, or should reject.
The matters with which we are dealing extend into the realms of foreign policy, defence and the whole of our Westminster democracy. Some time ago a motion before the House dealt with the power of the Crown. The power of the European Commission has increased, is increasing and ought to be diminished.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
The hon. Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin) has taken a dramatic initiative in giving us the opportunity for this debate. We await the result of a vote in another place that is a little further away than the other place to which we usually refer. The hon. Gentleman spoke about the alleged veto. Article 158 of the European Union treaty as amended states:The President and the other members of the Commission thus nominated shall be subject as a body to a vote of approval by the European Parliament.As the other members of the body of the Commission have not, as far as I know, been appointed, any vote in the European Parliament today—which may have already taken place although we do not know the result—would be an opinion. It is within the rights of that Parliament to express an opinion; but, as I understand it, it is not a substantive vote for which article 158 allows.
I suggest to the hon. Member for Colchester, North and to the Minister, who may not wish to comment, because this is all at very short notice, that the fundamental constitution of the European Union/Community will get into a bit of a tangle. While it may be true that any vote being taken at this moment or already taken, whatever the result, is not substantive, it will certainly have influence and people will talk about it.
Any young Parliament that wishes to flex its muscles will use opportunities to show that it has political relevance, although as I say, technically, the vote may just be a reflection of opinion. We have not sufficiently appreciated that the European Parliament, like this Parliament, gained power by increasing its power over legislation, expenditure and administration.
Although I am in favour of European co-operation in an international sense, from the year dot I have regarded the constitution of the European Community as incorporating three institutions of government—the Commission, the Parliament and the Council. They are engaged in what might be called a triangular tug of war and the vote today, whatever its outcome, is part of that contest, which is a political as much as a constitutional contest. If there is to 601 be a referee in that triangular tug of war, which might be a new sport, then of course it is the European Commission Court of Justice.
§ Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford)
I welcome my hon. Friend the Minister and I know that he would shortly like to reply to the debate. At last we can listen to him rather than just watch him in his place, as we did throughout the Maastricht process. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin) that it is sad that the Minister's predecessor has moved on, because he did much to articulate many of our concerns.
Today, in line with my other hon. Friends, I want briefly to raise the issue of the European Court of Justice.
§ Mr. Duncan Smith
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I must admit that it seems rather strange for us to be taken to the brink by a Parliament which is distant and not altogether welcomed, necessarily, by the people in this country, judging by their voting record.
However, I shall continue on the issue of the European Court of Justice. Before Maastricht, that court, which was so critical to the formation and function of the Community, was completely unknown. If we have done one thing, it is to raise its profile. It is my belief and that of many others that that court is at the crux of many of the problems in the European Community. It is an innovative and interpretative court, as my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin) said on a recent ten-minute Bill.
As I have said before, as has been published in an excellent pamphlet, "Game, Set and Match?", which contains selected speeches from the Maastricht process, which I recommend to my hon. Friend the Minister, and as others have said since, the court was based on the Conseil d'Etat. It is worth looking at the structure of the Conseil d'Etat in France, because one then fully understands how close it is to the European Court of Justice in seeing its role in an almost executive style of Government. For example, in its annual report, the Conseil d'Etat in France publishes all the legislative reforms which it deems necessary and acts, at the same time, as the legal adviser and supreme administrative court to the French Government.
If we are in any doubt about the ethos of the European Court of Justice, I shall cite two quotations from the pamphlet to which I referred. Some time ago, Advocate-General Lagrange said:the Court must not be defeated by obscurities or contradictions in the wording of the text for the real meaning can be deduced from the context or the spirit of the text.At a later stage, Advocate-General Roemer said:the European treaties are nothing but a partial implementation of a grand general programme, dominated by the idea of a complete integration of the European States.That, of course, sets the whole scene for the European Court of Justice and the way in which it has proceeded and been made competent by constant reference to the spirit of the treaty and has filled gaps with teleological interpretation.
I raise that point with my hon. Friend as he starts his new duties as Minister today, so that he may take a long look at the European Court of Justice. The Minister's 602 predecessor but one, our right hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones), tried to reassure us during the debates on Maastricht that the court was no longer centralising, but decentralising, even though I had put forward a number of cases to demonstrate that it had been centralising over a very long period.
My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, North, in his ten-minute Bill the other day, demonstrated that the then Minister's view was hope over experience because my hon. Friend quoted a number of cases since the Maastricht debates that have demonstrated quite the opposite and which are infecting our own court process. The European Court of Justice is critical, as it demonstrates the ratchet effect which has been talked of so often.
To end my speech, I should like to make some simple recommendations, which my hon. Friend may think about, and not necessarily answer today, but put in the round for 1996. First, we should recommend that new rules for the European Court of Justice's mandating of all deliberations be held in public and, rather than the unitary judgments now given, dissenting opinion should be expressed simultaneously with the majority position and the opinions of the advocates-general. Secondly, we should bring forward legislation that specifies that new justices and advocates-general have at least three years' direct judicial experience on the bench in national courts, thus barring political appointees and legal professionals without judicial experience from appointment.
Thirdly, we should establish the practice of seconding European Community judges from national legal systems and, fourthly, we should require a new procedure in the ECJ to allow the misuse of treaty powers to be rectified immediately, similar to an action for a declaration in the British courts.
I urge my hon. Friend to please take note that the ECJ is the most dangerous and the most centralising institution in the Community. I hope that we look to do something in 1996 to repair that damage.
§ The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. David Davis)
With the leave of the House, I shall reply to the debate.
It is with some sense of deja vu that I stand at the Dispatch Box. I think that I have been free and easy in accepting oral interventions and speeches. That is partly because this might be a sort of celebration of our reunion on these matters.
We have had many robust discussions in the past, although not publicly, on issues relating to the institutional structures to which we are directing our attention this afternoon. I hope and trust that we shall continue to have robust discussions while adopting a constructive and creative attitude to the development of our ideas as we run into 1996.
With that theme, I thank hon. Members who have paid proper credit to my predecessor for the excellent job that he did over the past year in developing our policy and presenting it with his ministerial colleagues. I refer, of course, to my hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory). Perhaps the best thing that I could hope for would be successfully to continue with my hon. Friend's successful work.
I note, too, that the Opposition Front Bench is completely empty. It strikes me that its emptiness is a 603 suitable comment on their policies on these matters. I do not expect that that policy will change as a result of the other election that took place in an interesting representative institution elsewhere at the same time today as the election of the new leader of the Labour party.
The future institutional structure of the European Union is of fundamental importance to the United Kingdom. Our approach to institutional issues in Europe is guided by the same principles that determine our approach to all European Union matters. We believe that the Union must be competitive, not least so that it can cope with the huge challenge that is posed by unemployment throughout the 12 member states.
The European Union must be open. It must be open for trade and open to other European countries that can meet the criteria for joining it. It must be flexible and capable of adapting to the needs of member states while maintaining the core disciplines that are essential to the successful functioning of the Union as a whole.
Part of the flexibility is the operation of the so-called pillar structure. There are clear advantages in acting together, when possible, in foreign and security policy as well as in justice and home affairs matters. That can be done successfully only on an intergovernmental basis and under a different set of rules from those that apply to Community business.
Vigorous application of subsidiarity is vital. We must act at European Community level only when it is absolutely necessary to do so.
The institutions of the European Union must be able to cope with the requirements that are placed on them by the demanding agenda that is before us. At the centre of the institutional structure will remain the Council of Ministers, which is formed by the representatives of the elected Governments of the member states.
The Council will continue to work under the direction of the European Council of Heads of Government, which provides general political guidelines for the Union as a whole.
604 The Commission and the European Court of Justice have a crucial role in ensuring compliance with treaties and with Community legislation. The European Parliament has significant powers to hold the Commission to account, and we know that it has exercised them in one respect today. The Parliament has a growing role in shaping legislation. The Court of Auditors monitors and investigates all expenditure.
I have given the briefest of overviews of our general approach to the institutional structure of the Union. I shall now respond in a more detailed fashion to more specific issues.
The Commission has an important role to play as the Union's executive, as its referee—we have heard about the three-way tug of war—and as the initiator of legislation. We disagree from time to time with the Commission, but we must remember that it often acts in our interests by enforcing competition and single market rules.
The recent case of landing rights at Orly airport is a good example of that. Another good example is the BSE case. The Commission needs powers to police effectively. For our part, we need to ensure that the Commission is efficient, accountable and remains committed to the goals set by successive European Councils.
With regard to the European Court of Justice, a strong rule of law in the Community is essential to British interests. We abide by our Community obligations and we must be sure that other member states are equally scrupulous. We therefore fully support the ECJ in its judicial role.
However, I recognise concerns that have been expressed in the House about certain decisions taken by the ECJ and the way in which it—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse)
Order. We now come to the debate on the route of the channel tunnel through Barking. I call the hon. Member for Barking (Ms Hodge).