HC Deb 30 March 1994 vol 240 cc921-3
11. Mr. Spearing

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement concerning the nature and content of any provisional or draft text of any treaty for the enlargement of the European Community or Union, including details of the likely date of initial signature and the nature of the ratification process in the United Kingdom Parliament.

Mr. Hurd

The text of an accession treaty with Austria, Finland, Norway and Sweden is nearly ready. The applicant countries and member states will sign the treaty after the European Parliament has completed its assent procedure. A Bill giving effect to the treaty in United Kingdom law will be put to Parliament once the treaty has been signed.

Mr. Spearing

Does not the acceptability of the content of that treaty by Her Majesty's Government depend on various undertakings that the House heard specifically yesterday? Will the Foreign Secretary tell us which of those undertakings will be incorporated in the content of the treaty and, if they will not be so incorporated, where else they will be written down? Has not the right hon. Gentleman seen reports to the effect that when the undertaking said to have been given by the Commission was put to Mr. Delors yesterday, he said, "No, no, no"? How does the Foreign Secretary reconcile that answer from Mr. Delors with what we were told yesterday?

Mr. Hurd

On the hon. Member's first point, once the treaty has been signed, Parliament will be asked to consider a Bill giving effect to the accession treaty in United Kingdom law. The Bill will seek to add the accession treaty to the Community treaties listed in section 1(2) of the 1972 Act.

With regard to the hon. Gentleman's second point, the Commission has confirmed that its legislative programme does not envisage the use of the health and safety articles of the treaty, other than for measures directly and demonstrably relevant to health and safety at work.

The Commission has also confirmed that proposals brought forward under the social chapter will not apply to the United Kingdom. For the purposes of the agreement, the United Kingdom will be considered as a third country. These assurances were given by the Commission, with the full authority of Mr. Delors, and have been reconfirmed this morning.

Mr. David Howell

Will my right hon. Friend acknowledge that there have been some rather confused and mixed reports about what the Commission has agreed to in the way of relinquishing health and safety and social provisions? Can he confirm that firm undertakings have been given that those functions will be relinquished back to national level? I refer to very important regulations and controls over important health and safety and social legislation of the kind that we have always backed, but have always argued are best worked out at national rather than Community level.

Mr. Hurd

The assurances given are the ones to which the Prime Minister referred yesterday and which I have again detailed today. As I have said, they were given by the Commission, with the full authority of Mr. Delors, and have been reconfirmed this morning.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

On the question of minority and majority voting, was the issue of the threshold specifically excluded from the 1996 agenda prior to the agreement into which the right hon. Gentleman entered last weekend?

Mr. Hurd

No, but it is now specifically included.

Mr. Churchill

While warmly welcoming the enlargement of the Community, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he is aware that an overwhelming majority of people in the United Kingdom and a significant element of opinion among our European Union partners do not wish to see us end up in a centralised federal Europe? Will he undertake to fight all the way to ensure that, when this matter comes up again for decision, in 1996, we shall have as many allies as possible to ensure that national rights and national sovereignty are not ridden over roughshod?

Mr. Hurd

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Right across Europe, a growing number of people reject the idea of a centralised super-state. There was a time when people felt that in order to be a good European one had to believe that executive power should be moved gradually, step by step, to the centre. That is no longer the belief of sensible people—for example, Chancellor Kohl. However, we shall not have to wait until 1996; this will be a principal issue in the forthcoming European elections in the United Kingdom, as it is a point which separates Conservatives very clearly and plainly from both the main Opposition parties.

Mr. John Cunningham

Before the right hon. Gentleman continues to do what he did on Monday—misrepresent the position of the Labour party and, for that matter, I believe, the Liberal party, although that is a matter for its members—may I ask whether he recognises that there is no question of the Labour party's supporting a federal Europe? No part of our policy commits us to abandoning the so-called Luxembourg compromise. Nor is there any part of our policy that would abandon our position on the need for unanimity on the issues of economic, foreign and defence policies. It is quite dishonest of the right hon. Gentleman to suggest otherwise.

Mr. Hurd

It is nice to have the right hon. Gentleman so clearly on the back foot and on the defensive. What I did on Monday—or whatever day it was; I am happy to do again today—was remind the right hon. Gentleman what the Leader of the Opposition put his fist to in the Euro-socialist manifesto. I do not know whether he read it before he signed it, but what he said was that majority voting should be the norm. [HON. MEMBERS: "It is now."] It is not the norm now. I do not see how one can possibly make any sense of that sentence without supposing that it will at least dilute the unanimity rule, to which the Government hold firmly.

Mr. Paice

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the accession of the four countries will bring a shift in the voting balance from the south to the north of the continent of Europe, and from the recipients to the contributors?

Will he confirm also that, by 1996, we will have a good idea whether there has been a perceptible shift in the direction of Europe, which we believe could come from the accession of the four countries? Will not that be the time when we will rightly be able to address the questions of majority voting, the threshold and the weighting? If that shift has not taken place at that time, will not the Government stand up for Britain?

Mr. Hurd

My hon. Friend is exactly right. The three Scandinavian countries and Austria—for whose entry we have worked for a long time, particularly my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister—will be net contributors. It is certainly true that, when they take a full part in the discussions in 1996, they will be clearly equipped to make judwoments of their own.

I should take the point further than my hon. Friend. In 1996, I believe that we will be looking forward to a Community not of 16 countries, but considerably larger. The arguments that have been tossed about in the House during recent months and, indeed, years will be well out of date by then. I cannot think that the European Union will be able to accommodate more than 16 members without a radical look at many aspects, both of its institutions and of its policies, such as the common agricultural policy.

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