HC Deb 28 March 1994 vol 240 cc635-46 3.30 pm
Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland)

(by private notice): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the European Union Foreign Ministers' meeting over the past weekend in Greece.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Douglas Hurd)

I welcome the opportunity to answer the private notice question of the right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham). The new presidency proposal, which I brought back last night, is for a transitional arrangement for a root-and-branch review of qualified majority voting in the 1996 intergovernmental conference. In that transitional period, the presidency and all members of the Council will be legally bound to work for an agreement on the basis of a 23 vote minority. No specified time limit is set, although the Council will be required to do all in its power to reach a decision on the basis of a 23 vote blocking minority in a reasonable time.

Perhaps I can spell that out more fully. [Interruption.] With pleasure—with growing pleasure. There was a constructive discussion at that informal meeting of Foreign Ministers at Ioannina at the weekend. As a result of the discussion, the presidency has circulated the compromise proposal to which I referred and a copy of that text has been placed in the Library of the House. The presidency has asked all member states to tell it by tomorrow evening whether they can accept the proposal.

I am sometimes asked whether qualified majority voting is more or less important than the enlargement of the Union to include Austria, Finland, Sweden and Norway. The answer is that there are major British interests at stake in both areas. We want enlargement to go ahead, while adequately protecting our interests on qualified majority voting. The Cabinet will discuss the question at its meeting tomorrow morning. Let me explain not what the Cabinet will decide, because I cannot predict that, but the nature of the compromise which has been proposed and on which we shall have to take a decision tomorrow. The original—[Interruption.] I am sure that Opposition Members are following this answer with the care that it deserves.

The original presidency proposal was for a blocking minority of 27 to apply from 1 January next year and to last indefinitely, without any restriction or any qualification. After discussion, what the presidency now proposes—after, I must accept, some argument—is as follows. First, there will be a transitional arrangement between the date of accession of Austria, Finland, Norway and Sweden and the end of the 1996 intergovernmental conference. At that conference, there will be a root-and-branch review of the system of qualified majority voting, including not only the weighting of votes between countries, which had already been agreed at the Brussels summit last December, but—and this is new—the threshold for agreement; that is, the definition of majority and minority.

Secondly, the proposal is contained in a legally binding decision of the Council which requires the presidency, with the help of the Commission, to do all in its power to reach agreement on the basis of a 23 vote minority, taking "any initiative necessary" to achieve that objective. Thirdly, there is no time limit for that procedure, although, if all initiatives are exhausted, the Council will be able to take a decision on the basis of a blocking minority of 27.

There have been three misconceptions, which I should like to correct. First—because of the Opposition's policy, they would be well advised to listen to this next point—we are not talking here about any threat to the veto of the United Kingdom. The only threat to the veto of the United Kingdom comes from the Opposition. The most important decisions in the European Union can be taken only by unanimity. These include the powers of the Commission and the European Parliament, the amount of money available to the European Union, and foreign and security policy initiatives.

Mr. Giles Radice (Durham, North)

That has always been so.

Mr. Hurd

The hon. Gentleman says that that has always been so. It would not be so if the Leader of the Opposition carried out the policy that he has proclaimed. That is, as the hon. Gentleman said, and remains the position. Even where the treaty specifies qualified majority voting—for single market legislation, for example—the United Kingdom retains the right to continue discussions indefinitely when our vital national interests are at stake. That right—the so-called Luxembourg compromise—is not affected by the debate over QMV any more than is the British veto.

Secondly, the Community needs qualified majority voting to carry business forward. QMV has, for example, been important in achieving the decisions needed for the completion of the single market and pursuing reform of the common agricultural policy.

Thirdly, some have asked why the issue has been addressed only recently, and why the QMV issue could not have been left alone. I should like to answer that. The present treaty specifies the level of the qualified majority at 54 votes out of 76. If the question had been left on one side—left untackled—the qualified majority, under an unamended treaty, would have been 54 votes out of 90, which is a blocking minority of 37. I am not sure that many in the House would have supported that. That means that the question had to be tackled. [Interruption.] No, those are the facts.

I cannot prejudge the view that the Cabinet will take tomorrow, because there are still matters under this heading that deeply concern us, particularly in the social area. They do not concern Opposition Members, because they seem careless of the effect on jobs of some of the measures proposed. It deeply concerns us that measures have been tabled against our interests, sometimes on a questionable legal basis. That is a different issue from the one that was discussed yesterday, but it is crucial under this same heading. The presidency proposal, which I have sketched to the House, is a compromise and one which the Cabinet will need to weigh—and will weigh—carefully tomorrow.

Dr. Cunningham

The House has rarely, if ever, heard such a squalid and dubious statement from the right hon. Gentleman. Is not the reality that it was always the case that the intergovernmental conference in 1996 would review the whole question of qualified majority voting? The answer is yes. For the right hon. Gentleman to say that he has won some concession on that point in the past three weeks is, frankly, just not true.

Is not it clear to all except the anti-European bigots on the Conservative Benches that Britain's overriding priority and the best interests of our country will be served by the accession of Austria, Finland, Norway and Sweden to the European Union, bringing net contributions to the Union budget and assisting British taxpayers in so doing?

Does not the right hon. Gentleman recognise that it would have been difficult to devise a sequence of events that did more damage to Britain's interests and reputation in Europe than the confused and contradictory behaviour of the Government in the past three weeks? Is not it the truth that the Foreign Secretary's negotiating stance has been one of weakness and vacillation masquerading as strength? If this issue is so important, why was it that on every previous enlargement of the Community under the Government not a single voice was raised when the appropriate adjustment to qualified majority voting took place? Why is it so important now? Is not the honest answer that this is all to do with the deep and irreconcilable divisions in the Conservative party and nothing to do with Britain's best interests?

How can Conservative Members feel pleased with the performance of the Government, which has angered our existing European Union partners and infuriated our friends in Austria, Finland, Norway and Sweden? Will the right hon. Gentleman explain what his position will be if, tomorrow, the Cabinet does not accept his recommendation—whatever it is; he has not made that clear to the House? If the Cabinet throws out this dubious mish-mash and sleight of hand tomorrow, will not Britain's position in Europe be deeply damaged and will not the right hon. Gentleman's position in the Cabinet be untenable?

Mr. Hurd

The right hon. Gentleman has been hard at work, as I have, over the weekend, but perhaps not to such good effect. He was repetitive in his adjectives, and there was not a great deal of heat and certainly no light in what he said. He was wrong and inaccurate on his first point. The difference between what was proposed by the presidency yesterday and what was there previously on the question of 1996 is that the threshold, as well as the weighting, is to be examined. That means that contrary—

Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda)

Big deal.

Mr. Hurd

It is a big deal, because it means that what we are talking about now is not a change that will last for ever, but a change to a system that will be examined root and branch, as I said, from the beginning in 1996. That is a very important point.

The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that in previous enlargements there has been, as it were, a mechanical uprating preserving the 70:30 proportion. The differences this time are, first, that there is more qualified majority voting than there used to be and, secondly, and perhaps more important, that the proportion of the peoples of Europe whose representatives could be outvoted in qualified majority voting has increased from something like 30 per cent. to 40 per cent. That means that the issue is more important than before. That is why we and other countries have felt bound to raise it. If we had not raised it—if we had followed the advice of the right hon. Gentleman—we would not have gained the two proposals that I have sketched today. I do not know whether the Cabinet will consider those to be adequate and I will certainly keep my counsel on the recommendation that I shall make to the Cabinet tomorrow, but I have tried to sketch the proposal on which the Cabinet will reach a conclusion.

The right hon. Gentleman represents a party which has very recently pledged itself, through the mouth of its leader, to a change of policy by which majority voting in the Council would be the norm. Which bits of the British veto and the unanimity rule would be sacrificed by the Labour party in order to make majority voting the norm?

Mr. David Howell (Guildford)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the compromise, with its emphasis on the arrangements being of a transitional nature and putting off crucial decisions until 1996–which is when many of us have argued they should be taken—is a compromise worth fighting for? Does he also agree that it will be even better if he can set before us some of the areas where there will cease to be majority voting and where the powers of the Commission and the Community will be unwound so that the QMV issue becomes less important, rather than more central, as it would under the policies of the Labour party? Does he agree that if we can set out our strategy for 1996–

Madam Speaker

Order. On occasions such as this, it is important that one or two brisk questions are put to the Minister so that the many hon. Members who wish to speak have a chance of being called.

Mr. Howell

If we can set out our strategy for 1996, we shall be greatly reassured about the way that we are going towards a looser and non-federal European Union.

Mr. Hurd

Certainly it is now clear that in 1996 we shall have a fundamental review of the relationship between the weighting of votes and the threshold—that is the new point—

Dr. John Cunningham

It is not a new point.

Mr. Hurd

No, the right hon. Gentleman is mistaken about that. It will be important to get it exactly right, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) said. We also hope to see continuously, throughout the period, subsidiarity working in practice and the reduction in the load of legislation from the Community, which has already halved in the past 18 months. As the trends develop, they will counter the centralising trend that has worried so many of us in the past and is the rallying call of the Labour party.

Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Cromarty and Skye)

Given that, in the run-up to the meeting in Greece, the Foreign Secretary and, in the House last week, the Prime Minister were insistent that fundamental and vital national interests were at stake, is it not utterly incomprehensible and beyond belief that a British Foreign Secretary should come to the Dispatch Box of the House of Commons and say that on a matter of vital national interest—as he defined it—he will keep his own counsel about the deal that he brokered over the weekend? Who is in charge of foreign policy in the Government? It is clearly not the Foreign Secretary.

Mr. Hurd

I am puzzled by the hon. Gentleman. He grins, but he knows that he is well astray. The right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham), using his undoubted powers of prerogative, has tabled a private notice question, which I welcome. The hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy) and the House know perfectly well that the Cabinet will consider the matter tomorrow—[Interruption.] I do not know whether he will ever know one day, but we live under a system of collective decision taking. When the Cabinet has reflected on and analysed the matters, it will take a decision. I shall certainly not prejudge that decision today. I will prejudge the view of the leader of the Liberal Democrat party who wants Ministers to make decisions in public—there, at least, he is in line with the hon. Gentleman—without single national vetoes.

Mr. Ray Whitney (Wycombe)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the sour and embittered reaction from the Opposition spokesman on foreign affairs, the right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham), to the proposal on the agreement for qualified majority voting that my right hon. Friend has brought back from Greece—which demonstrates that the proposition based on a 23 vote is legally binding and transitional—shows that the right hon. Gentleman and the Labour party have no interest in promoting Britain's interest in Europe?

Mr. Hurd

They do not. The Labour and the Liberal Democrat parties propose, in their European manifestos, to make concessions and give away British rights that no one is asking us to give away. I am baffled by their attitude.

We have two British objectives: enlargement and the protection of the legitimate rights of minorities. We have had to work hard and, I must say, painfully to achieve a reconciliation between them. The Cabinet will decide tomorrow whether this set of proposals is adequate for that purpose. I would add an area of concern that was not covered yesterday—concern over social policy and our belief that the proposals on that front go beyond the base of the existing treaty.

Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney)

While the roots of the problem are the transfer of powers from this country to Europe and the extension of qualified majority voting on the Council of Ministers, surely it is absurd for our continental friends to insist on a final solution now and on the adoption of a formula of 27 when they do not even know whether four, three, two or one of the applicant countries will be allowed by their people to join, following a referendum. Is not it equally absurd that they should insist on that when they know perfectly well that, under the Maastricht treaty, there will be a further intergovernmental conference in 1996?

Mr. Hurd

Precisely. We are talking about the regime during the transition and whether the voting structure should be mechanically uprated, as it has been, or there should be restrictions and qualifications on uprating, which is what we and the Spaniards have proposed.

Mr. Tim Renton (Mid-Sussex)

Without prejudicing Cabinet discussions and the decision tomorrow, may I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the difficult compromise—the transitional arrangements—that he brought back? In developing the single market, will not it be in British interests, from time to time, to ensure that legislation is passed after enlargement with a 70 per cent. majority, rather than requiring a 75 per cent. majority?

Would he not like legislation on more freedom and competition in telecommunications throughout Europe? We would not want that to be blocked by three countries.

Mr. Hurd

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, but congratulations are a shade premature. I am grateful for his having grasped the essence of the problem. He is right in his second question. A great deal needs to be done on some matters—those connected with liberalisation, of which he gave an example, and with the common agricultural policy, before we can say that that makes common sense. On both those issues we need, and will continue to need, qualified majority voting.

We may find ourselves in the minority on other issues and it is those on which the dispute centres. I would home in on our concern about social issues, which is why my right hon. Friend's congratulations are a little premature.

Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley)

Given that the British and Irish Governments are bound together in what they like to call an absolutely unique relationship, deriving from various treaties, agreements and declarations, does the Foreign Secretary feel that he is now entitled to the whole-hearted support of Irish Government representatives in the remaining negotiations?

Mr. Hurd

I have kept in close touch with Mr. Spring on this. A week ago I was in Dublin and we discussed those matters. Expectation is putting it a bit high, but I think that we can expect friendly understanding.

Sir Peter Hordern (Horsham)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that, after the successful conclusion of the GATT round, the greatest threat to the European Union comes from increased competition from the United States and the far east? It would be folly to burden industry throughout the Union with the extra costs that would be imposed by social legislation. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that France and Germany were originally in favour of a 23 blocking vote? Will he further confirm that the transitional arrangement will last until 1996, when all the voting procedures can be reviewed?

Mr. Hurd

My right hon. Friend is correct on both points. Countries are entirely entitled to take a view and then alter it. That is what has happened.

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)

If it is only a transitional arrangement to last two years, what on earth is all the turmoil in which the Government have got themselves involved about? As, in 1996, the Government are liable to be in a minority of 15 to one rather than 11 to one, is it not a fact that the humiliating antics that the right hon. Gentleman has been required to perform have nothing to do with European union and everything to do with Conservative disunion?

Mr. Hurd

I rather miss the right hon. Gentleman's style and that question was a little souvenir of happy times in the past. He has not grasped the essential point, because when we started on the discussion it was by no means clear that we were talking about a transitional arrangement. It is clear now. It is clear in the presidency document that was issued yesterday that not only the weighting, but the thresholds—that is the definition of majority and minority—will be up for discussion in 1996. That was not clear before and it would not have been made clear unless I had done a bit of arguing meanwhile.

Mr. William Cash (Stafford)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that a mere examination of the issue of the blocking minority at the intergovernmental conference in 1996 would be inadequate, because what should be done is to include those arrangements in the accession treaty so that when we come to 1996 we can guarantee that we would be able to unravel any decision arrived at in the meantime?

Mr. Hurd

My hon. Friend makes a perfectly reasonable point, but I do not think that it would have been sensible in the context of the enlargement negotiations to reopen the question and try to reach a definitive conclusion on it. That would simply have meant that there was no enlargement for many years to come. It is now agreed that the basic issue—my hon. Friend is quite right about its importance—will have to be examined, root and branch, from the beginning, in 1996. We are therefore talking about a transitional regime to allow four countries, for whose entry we have worked under different Prime Ministers for many years, to come in and take part in the negotiations and discussions in 1996.

Mr. Giles Radice (Durham, North)

Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that, under the proposals on offer, the blocking minority on qualified majority issues will be 27?

Mr. Hurd

It will be 27, constrained, as I have explained to the House, by the fact that we are talking about a transitional period and by the legal obligation that all concerned will enter into to reach an agreement that is satisfactory to the minority in cases where there is a minority of 23 to 27.

Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland and Lonsdale)

Will the Foreign Secretary be careful to emphasise to the Cabinet tomorrow that qualified majority voting is basically to do with minor issues? Will he also remind his colleagues that when the blocking minority went up from 18 to 23, there was virtually no dissent? Is not it true that his Spanish colleague yesterday regarded the compromise that my right hon. Friend has announced today as a major triumph?

Mr. Hurd

Yes, the Spaniards argued very long and hard, as we did, and the Spanish Minister came to the conclusion yesterday that the result was satisfactory. I was not in a position to do that and I am not in a position to do so today, because there are concerns that the Spaniards do not share, which are not common to them, which are of considerable concern to us.

My right hon. Friend spoke about QMV relating to minor issues, but there is no doubt that some of those issues are important. They are not, however, the really big issues such as the amount of resources available to the Community, the powers of the Commission or the Parliament or foreign policy initiatives, which, under the present system, which we intend to maintain, require unanimity. Some of the issues relating to QMV are important, however, which is why we spent so much time discussing the matter.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that one thing is certain—he is a well-groomed poodle at least? I suppose that the Duke of York was the same; when he was up he was up, and when he was down he was down., and when he was halfway up the hill he was neither up nor down. Thank God that the Foreign Secretary, the Prime Minister and this Cabinet rabble were not around in 1940.

Mr. Hurd

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for his usual courtesy.

Dr. Michael Clark (Rochford)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, during the past half hour or so, he has, on a number of occasions, referred to a decision that will be taken in Cabinet tomorrow? Will the House have any say on what the blocking minority might be for affairs in Europe that will affect this country?

Mr. Hurd

The House will be asked to approve legislation later to enable the Government to ratify the treaty of accession.

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)

As the Foreign Secretary knows better than any of his Cabinet colleagues the pros and cons of the compromise as it affects the United Kingdom, why is he not prepared to tell this elected House of Commons what recommendation he will make to the Cabinet?

Mr. Hurd

Because we operate a system of collective decision taking and responsibility.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

When my right hon. Friend meets the members of the Cabinet tomorrow, will he remind them, as he has reminded the House, that we still retain the veto, and that experience under General de Gaulle demonstrated very clearly that when he used the veto in the best interests of France he was never accused of being disloyal to Europe and France was never accused of being disloyal to Europe? It is important that, when members of the Cabinet make their decision, they remember that it is not only being at the centre of Europe that is important and that the outcome is vital to Britain's best interests.

Mr. Hurd

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. That is why it is important to make it clear in this discussion that the veto—the unanimity rule—is not at stake, is not in jeopardy, except to the extent that the Opposition parties propose to give it away.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

What, for the Foreign Secretary, is the single most important element in what he sees as the British national interest?

Mr. Hurd

We need to preserve the role of national states and national Parliaments in making a success of the European Union. It was much easier in the old days, when to be a good European one was almost automatically a centraliser; when one believed that gradually power should be moved step by step to the centre. We now know—

Dr. John Cunningham

Answer the question.

Mr. Hurd

I am answering the hon. Gentleman's thoughtful question in what I hope is a thoughtful way.

Now we have to devise a new model, because the centralising model has run aground. It obviously does not correspond to what most people in Europe want. The new model is a more difficult one to construct because it is unique. It will not be like the United States, Canada or Australia. That is what Conservative Members are trying to do—to construct and make persuasive a distinctive, positive, European model of the type of Europe with which this country can feel at home.

Sir Giles Shaw (Pudsey)

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that, in pursuit of that objective, his stance, in trying to secure that the larger populations do not suffer a disbenefit in relation to small populations coming into the Community in relatively large numbers, is an absolutely key factor in determining proper equality in the European democracies? Should not he be congratulated on standing on that issue?

Mr. Hurd

We have ensured, I think, that in 1996 there will be, as I have said, a root-and-branch examination of that point. I think that there is a general feeling that the present structure needs to be examined fundamentally, and that will happen.

Mr. Geoffrey Hoon (Ashfield)

The Foreign Secretary stated that the Luxembourg compromise was not affected by this scheme. Most people assumed that the Luxembourg compromise had been abandoned at the signing of the Single European Act. If that is not the case and the Luxembourg compromise remains in force, why is the latest scheme necessary?

Mr. Hurd

We certainly believe that the Luxembourg compromise remains in place, but the hon. Gentleman knows that it concerns only the vital interests of the country. The importance of this provision is that it extends to all matters that could be covered by qualified majority voting.

Sir Peter Tapsell (East Lindsey)

Will my right hon. Friend clarify the meaning of the words in the declaration: within a reasonable time and without prejudicing obligatory time limits"? What do those words mean in practice?

Mr. Hurd

There will be an obligation on all members of the Council, whether they are in a majority or a minority in the situation envisaged, to work for an acceptable agreement within a reasonable time. I resisted efforts by some delegations to define that in terms of two or three months because it seemed to be unnecessarily restrictive. The obligation set out under paragraph c) of the proposed decision is not defined in time, so the obligation to seek a satisfactory agreement is unlimited.

On the second part of my hon. Friend's question, the words "obligatory time limits" refer to those parts of the treaty which, once the Council has taken a decision, go to the Parliament and the Parliament comes back with amendments which the Council must discuss within specified time limits. What is not time limited is the time within which the Council takes its initial view. That is the crucial point from our point of view.

Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin)

Has not the Foreign Secretary set a constitutional precedent in telling the House that there will be a Cabinet meeting tomorrow on a crucial foreign policy issue, giving us the details of the agenda and saying that there will be a vote? Should he not take us a little further on such a crucial matter and say which way he will vote? As the whole argument is not about Europe but about the Tory leadership election, will he report to the House on how each of the Tory leadership contenders voted?

Mr. Hurd

Would the hon. Gentleman really have been content if I had taken the line, "No, I can't answer a PNQ today" and had given the House no indication of what had happened? Of course not. I have answered the private notice question of the right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham). Obviously, as I have said before several times, decisions are taken in this country collectively by the Cabinet, and the Cabinet is accountable to the House.

Sir Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

Is my right hon. Friend giving us this assurance: that by this compromise, and provided that all four of those countries join in the next year or so, Britain will concede no power or control over any item of European legislation, which it does not already have, between now and the conference in 1996?

Mr. Hurd

There is no proposal to extend the range of qualified majority voting. I cannot be certain what proposals coming forward in the next two or three years will fall within the QMV. If—and it is still an "if'—this compromise were thought to be acceptable, I would know that we were talking about a transitional period and that we had a legally binding protection. It is for the Cabinet to decide, on our behalf, whether that is thought to be adequate. Those were the terms of my remit, so I cannot give my hon. and learned Friend an assurance covering all kinds of legislation that there may be in the future.

The volume of legislation is falling rather fast. We are gradually and increasingly applying subsidiarity and we are confident that, in many of those matters, including the areas that I have outlined, we shall be in the majority and not the minority.

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

As the negotiations on enlargement have been going on for many months and as the Government agreed to the accession of the four countries, when did the Foreign Secretary suddenly discover that the Prime Minister had signed away such vital British interests as to cause great offence to those countries, which we have been trying to get into the European Union?

Mr. Hurd

I am not following the hon. Member. We have been taking this stance consistently since the enlargement negotiations began.

Sir Trevor Skeet (Bedfordshire, North)

Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that if a vital interest of the United Kingdom should arise in the interim period, he will use what is known as the Luxembourg compromise to safeguard our interests? Bearing in mind the fact that my right hon. Friend wants a root-and-branch review by 1996, would it not be a good idea to argue that the review should be brought forward, and discussed now?

Mr. Hurd

Yes, I can give my hon. Friend the first assurance that he seeks. We believe, as I have already made clear, that the Luxembourg compromise continues and is an important safeguard for member states.

To answer my hon. Friend's second question, we have just had a long and, I would say, bruising discussion across Europe about the treaty of Maastricht. It has just entered into force, with its different pillars, its intergovernmental co-operation and its powers for the Community. We thought—indeed, everybody agreed—that it would not be sensible at this stage to try to define for ever the relationship between votes and population. We therefore did not want to hold up the enlargement to include Finland, Austria, Norway and Sweden while that was done; but it is now clear that it has to be done, and it has to be tackled in 1996.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

Is not the root of the problem the fact that the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary have consistently tried to be pretend that we can be a community of nation states while the treaties, especially the last one, expressly forbid that? Why does the Foreign Secretary keep on talking about the Luxembourg compromise when he knows it is not in the treaty? Surely the Community is authoritarian, centralist and barely democratic—and more people in the country and in the Conservative party are beginning to learn that. It is when the Government try to do something about it that they run into trouble.

Mr. Hurd

I do not want to make this point again, but I have to when such criticism is levelled at me. The hon. Gentleman must sort this out with his own Front-Bench spokesmen. If a Labour Government were elected, this sort of discussion would become wholly secondary to the great, extra concessions, out of the unanimity rule, which the Labour party proposes.

The hon. Gentleman and I have crossed swords on the issue over and over again. He should look at what is happening—look at the sort of proposal that the Home Secretary made last week on fraud, not intergovernmentally but under the treaty. He should look at how we are tackling questions such as South Africa, the middle east and Bosnia. He will see that it is not right to say that these matters are being sucked into a centralising machine. On the contrary, for the first time they are being tackled under the new treaty, on the basis of co-operation between Governments.

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)

Is it not typically honest, courageous and responsible of my right hon. Friend to have brought this difficult matter to the forefront of the negotiations in Brussels before the four countries that have applied to join have joined? Has he not, in his negotiations, enhanced Britain's and every country's powers to safeguard itself against unwelcome decisions taken under qualified majority voting?

Mr. Hurd

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's epithets. I find that I lurch from being the subject of excessive praise to being the subject of excessive criticism—I am in the middle of such a lurch now.

Once my hon. Friend got his compliments, for which I am grateful, out of the way, his underlying point was right. The issue could not be left entirely on one side in the enlargement negotiations, because the result would have been a blocking minority of 37; it therefore had to be tackled. On the other hand, we did not feel—nobody felt—that this was the occasion to try to tackle it outright, because that would have meant, and will mean eventually, a discussion lasting a long time. But the issue is now quite clearly and fundamentally on the agenda for 1996.

Dr. John Cunningham

Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that he looks increasingly ridiculous presenting a climbdown as a success? Do not he and his right hon. Friends recall that the last time there was an extension of qualified majority voting in Europe the Bill in question was guillotined through the House by him and his right hon. Friends? The Single European Act was guillotined, and he and all his right hon. Friends voted for that extension of QMV without a murmur.

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that in December of last year he and the Prime Minister signed a declaration in Brussels, as follows: As well as examining the legislative role of the European Parliament and the other matters envisaged in the Treaty of European Union, the intergovernmental conference to be convened in 1996 will consider the questions relating to the number of members of the Commission and the weighting of the votes of the Member States in the Council. It will also consider any measures deemed necessary to facilitate the work of the institutions and guarantee their effective operation. The right hon. Gentleman agreed to that statement in December last year. Why does he pretend to the House that he is saying something different and new now? Will he also make clear that the question of Britain's so-called veto, the need for unanimity on those decisions that require it is not, and has never been, in question during the discussions? Will he withdraw the false accusation that the Labour party has agreed to give up its power of veto in those matters? It is completely dishonest for the right hon. Gentleman to say that. Is not it also clear—[Interruption.]—as this fiasco behind him continues, that the Conservative party—

Madam Speaker

Order. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman knows that it is at my discretion whether he has a couple of minutes for a winding-up speech. I hope that he will now use those two minutes briskly.

Dr. Cunningham

If Conservative Members stop shouting, I will be able to do that.

Is not it clear that the divisions in the Conservative party and the Cabinet divide not only the Tory Government but Britain from Europe and from our best interests in the European Union?

Mr. Hurd

Thanks in part to the right hon. Gentleman, as sometimes happens in the House, an occasion that is certainly important and difficult and might have been more difficult has become rather a pleasure. The right hon. Gentleman is so busy polishing his questions that he does not listen to the answers that they receive. He correctly quotes last December's declaration in Brussels, but was not listening to the answer that I gave to an identical question by one of his hon. Friends: the proposal coming back from the presidency also refers to the crucial question of the threshold—the definition of the majority and minority. If, even on the second time, the right hon. Gentleman cannot understand the importance of that addition, he should go back to his homework. The right hon. Gentleman's leader signed a paper on 6 November which stated: For the first time we are fighting the European elections as the party of European Socialists …We want … majority voting within the Council to be the norm. What on earth does that mean if it does not mean giving up unanimity?