§ [Relevant documents: The White Paper on Developments in the European Union July to December 1995 (Cm.3250), First Annual Report on Progress in Implementing the Action Plan for the Introduction of Advanced Television Services in Europe (8567/95), Commission's Recommendation for the Broad Guidelines of the Economic Policies of the Member States and the Community (11/207/96—EN REV 1), Draft for the Broad Economic Policy Guidelines for the Community and for Member States: Report to European Council (7949/96), unnumbered explanatory memorandum of 20th February 1996 submitted by the Department of Trade and Industry on the draft agreement for cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy between the European Atomic Energy Community and the Republic of Argentina, and Minutes of Evidence taken by the Foreign Affairs Committee on 12th June (House of Commons Paper No. 306-ii).]
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Bates.]4.37 pm
§ The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Malcolm Rifkind)
I welcome this opportunity to report to the House on matters concerning the forthcoming Florence summit and other matters affecting the European Union. However, I must begin with an apology to the House. As I must accompany the Prime Minister to Florence later this evening, I will have to leave the Chamber just after 6 pm. I hope that the House will understand. My hon. Friend the Minister of State, the Member for Boothferry (Mr. Davis) hopes to reply to the debate and to deal with the matters raised in it.
I also take this opportunity to congratulate the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) on his appointment to the Privy Council, which I believe to be a well-deserved recognition.
One of the advantages of this debate is that we can discuss the forthcoming Florence summit. I want to use part of my remarks to comment on the beef crisis and how the Government see the likely developments during the next few days. Before I do so, I shall refer to some of the other important matters likely to be discussed during the weekend. Clearly there are important issues and we hope that, if the beef problem can be resolved, the EU will be able to address more long-term problems that command attention. I shall highlight three issues briefly.
First, there is to be a report on the intergovernmental conference to the Heads of Government. The conference has now been proceeding for two or three months. As one would expect, the deliberations have been mainly general. It is unlikely that the Heads of Government will be expected to reach even provisional conclusions. We would certainly oppose that. It would clearly be premature, and I do not think that anyone else will take a different view.
However, the Heads of Government might wish to indicate priorities for the conference to look at in the next few months. When Foreign Ministers met in Rome earlier this week, we said that flexibility, defence, employment and third pillar issues might well be deserving of some form of priority.
Employment is another major issue that the conference is likely to consider. We are all conscious that unemployment in Europe is far too high. It is likely that there will be a lively debate based on a number of papers 1022 that have been prepared. Certain proposals from President Chirac, and Jacques Santer's own ideas, will determine the nature of the discussion. The United Kingdom will want to point to our experience as the country of western Europe that has relatively low and falling unemployment. We have a much better record in that respect than any other major European economy at the present time.
§ Sir Teddy Taylor
To get the facts absolutely straight, as I know that my right hon. and learned Friend always does, will he confirm that, while the European Union has a high rate of unemployment—11 per cent. or 20 million—those countries which voted not to join the European Union have low rates of unemployment and great prosperity?
§ Mr. Rifkind
I could point to countries both inside and outside the European Union that have either high or low rates of unemployment. I do not draw any general conclusion. The United Kingdom is a good example of how it is possible to have relatively low and falling unemployment, which is a great credit to the policies that have been pursued by the Government.
The great challenge facing Europe at the moment, as we know, is the increased competitiveness of countries in south-east Asia and Latin America. If they increasingly challenge our markets, it is not unreasonable to point out that their success is not as a result of an addiction to the social chapter or to putting treaty amendments on employment in the legislation that covers their affairs, but because those countries have increasingly adopted policies of deregulation, development of a market economy, privatisation, competition and more open trading. That has led to their being powerful challengers. I believe that the United Kingdom can, in a similar way, show the rest of Europe how unemployment can best be dealt with. I am sure that many of the discussions on employment will centre on those aspects.
The third main issue that is likely to be considered is European monetary union. Therefore, the Florence Council will consider reports by the Economic and Finance Council—ECOFIN—the European monetary union progress report on ins and outs, fiscal stability pacts, and the Commission's broad economic guidelines. A substantive report is expected to be presented at the Dublin European Council.
There will also be discussion on a number of other matters, with the possibility of declarations on the middle east, what is happening in Russia and other such issues.
§ Mr. Rifkind
In a moment, but not now.
I should like to report to the House on the situation affecting the beef industry and what I believe is the objective over the next few days, and comment on certain matters of current interest in that respect.
1023 As is well known, the British Government start from exactly the same basis as that of all other European Governments—that the first priority must be the health of the public, combined with the eradication of bovine spongiform encephalopathy. Those are the twin objectives, and we share the determination of all who are involved in the matter to ensure that they are achieved. We know that, against that background, some 160,000 animals have been found to be infected with BSE in the United Kingdom over a number of years. They have all been slaughtered and destroyed.
We know that, because the British Government are determined to deal with higher risk categories, they have implemented for some time a policy of ensuring that all animals over 30 months of age not only are slaughtered when they reach the end of their working life but that their carcases are destroyed to ensure that they do not enter the food chain. Those measures and, in addition to them, the much more sophisticated control mechanisms now in place in the United Kingdom—more than in any other part of Europe—explain the British Government's view that the ban should never have been introduced, that it continues to be unjustified and that British beef is safe to eat. That is not only our view, but the view that Commissioner Fischler, the Agriculture Commissioner, expressed some time ago.
§ Mr. Rifkind
In a few moments, if I may.
It is against that background that we have approached these matters, but we are realistic. We know that, even if we believe that the ban should never have been introduced, we need the agreement of the other member states and the Commission if the ban is to be lifted, so the Government have pursued a strategy since the ban was introduced that is designed to bring about the completion of its ending at the earliest possible date.
Our strategy has been straightforward and simple—to persuade the Commission of the desirability of lifting the ban and, through that means, to persuade other member states. As the House will recall, the first category was beef derivatives—the famous tallow, gelatine and bull semen. The Commission was persuaded. It unanimously recommended the removal of that ban. The House will recall that the proposal was blocked by a minority of member states. They went in—if one wishes to use the phrase—for a policy of non-co-operation. They refused to co-operate with the unanimous view reached by the Commission after it took scientific advice.
Against that background, on 21 May, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister told the House that we did not believe that it was reasonable to accept such an outcome and that the United Kingdom would pursue a policy of non-co-operation until two objectives were fulfilled. The first was the lifting of the ban on beef derivatives. That ban has now been lifted. The second was the agreement of a framework strategy that allowed for the phased lifting of the rest of the ban.
§ Mr. Robert Ainsworth (Coventry, North-East)
On the Government's strategy, did the Foreign Secretary hear 1024 the Deputy Prime Minister say that this was a battle between Britain and the rest of the world? If he did, and if he agrees with that statement, why are we not implementing a policy of non-co-operation with the entire world?
§ Mr. Rifkind
As the hon. Gentleman may not be aware of the full facts, let me enlighten him. It is true that the United States has a partial ban on British beef. It is also true that it has the same partial ban on France, Ireland and Portugal, as well as other countries outside the European Union. The EU ban is much wider than that of the United States and other countries, so it is logical and appropriate to deal first with it, and then we shall be able more effectively to deal with any remaining bans that apply against not only the United Kingdom, but France and other European countries.
§ Mr. Robin Cook (Livingston)
A moment ago, the Foreign Secretary said that the Government's objective was to obtain the completion of the lifting of the ban at the earliest possible date. Can he tell the House when, under the framework that he is recommending to the House, the completion of the lifting of the ban will be successfully reached?
§ Mr. Rifkind
The hon. Gentleman—the right hon. Gentleman, I apologise—knows perfectly well that it is impossible to give calendar dates. He and the Leader of the Opposition knew that perfectly well when, after a certain momentary hesitation, they decided to give their support to the Government's non-co-operation policy.
§ Mr. Rifkind
Let me complete the remark before I again give way.
In the past 48 hours, the right hon. Gentleman has gone through his customary procedure. He solemnly endorsed the Government's non-co-operation policy on the basis laid down by the Prime Minister a month ago to achieve a framework strategy and now, with a sudden presentation of amazement that there is no timetable in the framework document, conveniently forgets that the Government never said that they would propose a timetable. Indeed, the Government have made it clear in the past month that calendar dates would not be introduced. The right hon. Gentleman knows that as well as I do. Perhaps he will put aside his pious and unconvincing indignation before he comments further.
§ Mr. Cook
The Foreign Secretary can confirm that I wrote to him on 27 May to say that our support was for the lifting of the ban within a defined time scale. I appreciate that the Foreign Secretary cannot offer us a calendar date, but can he tell us which year he will agree to—this year, next year or the year after?
§ Mr. Rifkind
I will give the information to the right hon. Gentleman in the near future, if he will be patient for a moment longer.
§ Mr. Leigh
Surely the important answer to the point raised by the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) is that we cannot give calendar dates but—as farmers in my constituency and farmers' leaders said this 1025 morning—there must be an automatic phased lifting of the. ban as conditions are met, and that that should not be conditional on politicised committees meeting in Brussels. That is the important point that needs to be made. Now the 30-month cull is in place, any further cull must be based on scientific evidence for the purpose of eradication; it should not be just a mass slaughter of healthy cows.
§ Mr. Rifkind
I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. He has summed up the point correctly. Since the Prime Minister announced the policy of non-co-operation, we have pursued the adoption of a framework strategy, but such a strategy must, as my hon. Friend rightly says, be based on objective scientific criteria. We know that the Commission's beef derivatives proposal was blocked by a minority of member states, not on scientific grounds, but for a variety of reasons that related, in part, to the state of public opinion back home, in part to their perception of the constitutional difficulties that they would face in getting the lifting of ban through their parliaments, and in part to other, essentially irrelevant, reasons that had no direct relation to public health. We presented our framework document to the Commission, which has largely used our proposals to produce its document, and we are determined to ensure, as my hon. Friend rightly says, that scientific and objective criteria are applied.
We know that the Commissioners, as individuals, are not scientists, any more than Ministers are scientists. They need advice when scientific matters are being considered and I have no objection to the advisory—I stress advisory—scientific committees to which the Commission will refer such matters in order to be satisfied that the conditions that are laid down in the framework document have been met.
That is why the right hon. Member for Livingston was again talking nonsense when he said yesterday, and the day before, that the framework document required the approval of five scientific committees before anything could happen. He knows that, with the exception of the Standing Veterinary Committee, the other committees are purely advisory. He also knows that only two groups of people—scientists and politicians—can give advice on scientific matters. If I had to choose between the two groups on a scientific matter of fact, I know that one of the objectives of the United Kingdom's policy has been to ensure that the Commission bases its decisions on the scientific advice of those who are responsible to it, rather than relying on ministerial judgments in the other capitals of Europe.
§ Mr. Gapes
Can the Foreign Secretary confirm that, in addition to the 21 countries that have imposed a ban on British beef for a variety of reasons since 1990, 39 countries had imposed bans on British beef before the European Union decision? Can he give us a guarantee that, if the European Union ban is lifted, all the individual countries will abide by that lifting of the ban—or will they make national decisions?
§ Mr. Rifkind
For countries outside the European Union, the decisions are obviously national decisions. What is unique about the European Union ban is that we are part of a single market. That is what makes the ban qualitatively different from those of the United States, Canada or any other country. A national Government can, 1026 of course, come to a decision—and we can respond against that country by a reciprocal ban if we so choose. Every Government has that right, but we are part of a single market, and a ban imposed on health grounds by 14 countries on the exports of the 15th can be maintained only if those health grounds can be justified and if other considerations are not brought into play.
There is a deep sense of unfairness in the United Kingdom about the ban, because the Commissioner for Agriculture has said that, in his judgment—and he speaks for the Commission—British beef is safe to eat. That means that there is no justification for a breach of the single market principle for reasons not directly related to public health.
§ Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney)
We all want the phased lifting of the ban to happen quickly. I understand that the Commission will be influenced by, one hopes, objective scientific opinion, but when a proper proposal is made by the Commission to lift a segment of the ban, will that have to be approved by the Council of Agriculture Ministers first?
§ Mr. Rifkind
No, that should not be required. I shall tell the right hon. Gentleman and the House about the procedure that will be followed, because it is spelt out in the framework document. We told the Commission, and it has accepted the point, that it would be sensible to consider the ban not as a single ban, but as a ban on different categories of cattle, including those from BSE-free herds that have been only grass-fed, embryos, young cattle born recently, those under 30 months and those over 30 months. Those are the five categories that the Commission suggested. In each case, the procedure for lifting the ban—and this point relates to the timetable—will begin when the United Kingdom Government present a working paper to the Commission describing the ways in which the conditions for lifting that part of the ban have been met.
For example, in the case of BSE-free herds—those that have been fed only on grass and have no history of infection—we are working at the moment, as the House knows, on a system of certification, which is already advanced in Northern Ireland and will soon be available for the rest of the United Kingdom. When the Ministry of Agriculture is able to do so, it will present the documentation that shows that that system can produce reliable information that a herd is BSE-free. On receipt of that information, the Commission will ask the advisory committees, on an advisory basis, to advise whether the system is sound and working effectively. If the Commission is satisfied, it will adopt a formal proposal that will go to the Standing Veterinary Committee. If the proposal is approved by the Standing Veterinary Committee, the ban will be lifted. It does not need to go before any Ministers or any Government.
§ Mr. Leigh
Will we have a choice? We fear that the Standing Veterinary Committee is politicised and that it works under the orders of other Governments. It is not a pure scientific body, so we want to ensure that, once we have met the conditions and it is obvious that we have done our best to meet them, the committee will automatically accept the lifting of the ban.
§ Mr. Rifkind
I understand my hon. Friend's concerns—we have shared concerns because of 1027 experience—but he should not take that concern too far. Last night, for example, the Standing Veterinary Committee unanimously approved the United Kingdom eradication programme. That decision, frankly, was far better than we had expected. The committee, including representatives from Germany, Austria and other countries that have been difficult in the past, unanimously endorsed the programme. Even on beef derivatives, with which we have had serious problems, we had a good majority at the Standing Veterinary Committee, although we did not have a large enough majority.
The procedure I have outlined is important, and we have considerably strengthened the system as a result of what has been achieved in the past four weeks. In the past, countries could maintain that questions of market confidence were relevant to perpetuation of the ban. The Commission's framework document clearly states that scientific considerations are relevant, and one of the objectives of the forthcoming foreign summit is that the Heads of Government should also commit themselves to scientific considerations as the basis for decision.
§ Mr. Bernard Jenkin (Colchester, North)
If the United Kingdom Government feel that they have fulfilled one of the conditions for the lifting of part of the ban, but are turned down by the Standing Veterinary Committee in Brussels, which imposed the ban originally, what will we do?
§ Mr. Rifkind
I have two points to make in reply to my hon. Friend. First, we would need to judge whether the decision was taken on bona fide scientific grounds. If it was, we would have to consider the committee's concerns carefully. Secondly, as we found in relation to beef derivatives, that is not the end of the matter. Even if the Commission does not achieve a sufficient majority on the Standing Veterinary Committee, it is still able to take the matter forward and, as we saw in the case of the beef derivatives, get the ban lifted. That has already happened. It is not just theory: we saw it happen with the beef derivatives, although it took longer than we had hoped.
§ Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle)
Is not the Commission right to insist on a belt-and-braces approach because the Government have been criminally negligent since 1988 in allowing contaminated feed into the system? Is not the root of the problem that the Government did not police the system? The Commission and our European partners recognise that, which is why they insist that everything that is done here should be double-checked by the European Union. Because everything has to be double-checked by our European partners, the Foreign Secretary—like the Prime Minister earlier this afternoon—is unable to tell the House when the ban will, ultimately, be lifted.
§ Mr. Rifkind
The hon. Gentleman is getting a bit carried away. He knows perfectly well that, throughout Europe, there are always imperfections in control mechanisms. If the hon. Gentleman believes ill only of his own country, and that there are no problems in any other country, he is either remarkably naive or extraordinarily short-sighted. Of course we recognise that there have been shortcomings in the United Kingdom's 1028 control system—that has been acknowledged for some time—but it is absurd to imply that they are unique to the United Kingdom. The hon. Gentleman knows—and should recognise—that the control mechanisms now in force in the United Kingdom go far further than those that exist in any other western European country.
§ Mr. Rifkind
I must make progress—I might give way later.
One matter that I know is of interest to the House is the culling of additional animals, about which there has recently been much publicity. I shall deal with some of the ways in which that subject has been misrepresented in some statements.
We have for some time been slaughtering and destroying all animals over the age of 30 months when they reach the end of their normal working life. Under that policy, 25,000 cattle a week are being slaughtered and destroyed. The Commission proposes that that policy should be accelerated in respect of cattle born in 1989–90—not all cattle, but those that came from herds or areas where they were likely to have been exposed to the same animal feed as animals subsequently found to be infected. We have agreed that that is an acceptable proposal, but that does not mean that there will be any slaughtering of cattle that would not otherwise have been slaughtered and destroyed.
The proposal is that the policy should be brought forward to help produce the earlier eradication of BSE. That factor is not as significant as is being made out in some quarters. We are talking about cattle born in 1989–90—seven-year-old cattle. I am advised that the average age of slaughtered dairy cattle is six years eight months—and it is mostly dairy cattle that we are talking about. A substantial number of the cattle in question would, in normal circumstances—even if it were not for BSE—be reaching the end of their life in the seventh year.
The figure of 67,000, which a number of people have highlighted, is notional. The actual figure is certain to be substantially lower. Of that 67,000, many are cattle that have already been slaughtered or would be coming up for slaughter and destruction during this year under the 30-month scheme. The best estimate that can be made of the additional cattle that might be affected is between 20,000 and 45,000—not 67,000, as previously suggested. Of course, compensation has to be made available to farmers to make up for their loss. It is important that that point is understood; otherwise there could be needless concern and alarm.
§ Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)
Can the Foreign Secretary illuminate that point? He spoke of animals with an average age of six years and seven, or 10, months, which would normally progress into the food chain. Surely the stipulation that, thankfully, is coming from Europe, is that they should not go into the food chain. If they did, pollution across species would occur again and we would greatly damage confidence in our beef.
§ Mr. Rifkind
The hon. Gentleman is mistaken. Those cattle were already going to be slaughtered and 1029 destroyed—but at the end of their normal working life; they would have continued as dairy cattle, producing milk for a longer period. That is perfectly safe and, rightly, no one has objected to that. The cattle would then have been slaughtered and destroyed. They are now going to be slaughtered and destroyed earlier, as that will help with the overall eradication programme. That is an additional factor resulting from the proposal. I am happy to have clarified that point.
§ Mr. Alan W. Williams
The general public find it puzzling that 40,000 became 80,000 and then 150,000, when the Government maintain at every juncture that they are basing their policy on scientific evidence. How can the science vary so much, especially as 99 per cent. of those cows do not carry the BSE prion? How can the Government claim that the policy is based on scientific evidence? Meanwhile, farmers do not even have a timetable for the lifting of the ban.
§ Mr. Rifkind
There are two reasons. First, the matter is not arbitrary; we are not talking about all cattle that happen to be born in a particular year. When a cow is found to be infected with BSE, one examines other cows in the cohort that carry a higher risk of potential infection—cattle that would have been born at the same time and, because they were born in the same place, are likely to have been exposed to the same animal feed.
Secondly, we were reluctant to include cattle born in 1989–90 because proper documentation of cattle began only in 1990; before that date, there is no documentation on the age of cattle. The current proposal, which involves taking that year into account, therefore requires the active co-operation of the farming community. Our reluctance sprang from legitimate reasons. In the light of the circumstances, we believe that if there is a proper compensation scheme, the farming community will wish to co-operate and we shall be able to meet the requirement.
I have one further point on the subject, although I do not want to devote my entire speech to beef. The House will have its own view on the necessity or otherwise of the non-co-operation policy. As one who has been very much involved in the policy, I can only give the House my candid judgment: I firmly believe that, without the adoption of the non-co-operation policy four weeks ago, there would not have been the slightest possibility of the Commission adopting a framework document providing for the phased lifting of the beef ban. Nor would there have been the slightest possibility that, at the Florence summit, the Heads of Government might adopt such a policy—as they might do over the next few days. Such is the political controversy surrounding these matters in other countries that they would have found reasons to defer consideration, and it would have taken many more months of uncertainty. Each hon. Member will come to his or her own view on the matter, but I have no doubt that that is the case.
§ Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East)
As the Foreign Secretary knows, I do not agree with the central thrust of what he has said, but if we were to assume that he was right, does he view the United Kingdom's action 1030 as a valuable precedent to be followed by this country and by other members of the European Union in similar circumstances in future?
§ Mr. Rifkind
The crucial aspect of what the hon. and learned Gentleman has just said relates to the phrase "in similar circumstances". The particular point about this sad series of events is that, to my knowledge, it is almost unique for 14 member states to impose a worldwide embargo on the exports of a 15th country. It is not just a matter of Britain disagreeing with the rest of Europe on an aspect of European policy. Of course it would be intolerable to introduce a policy of non-co-operation in such circumstances.
This was unique. We are talking about an important British industry, which had its exports banned by the other 14 countries. How would France, Germany or the other countries have reacted in similar circumstances? Is the hon. and learned Gentleman seriously suggesting that if the French Government, for example, had had their exports banned by the other 14, even though the Commission had said that their beef was safe to eat, would simply have said, "That's very sad. We'll wait until you all change your mind"?
§ Mr. Campbell
The issue is one of principle. Is the Foreign Secretary saying that it is legitimate to use duress in the current circumstances? If so, is he telling the House that, in other circumstances, he would regard it as legitimate for other countries in the European Union to use duress? Would not the United Kingdom resist any effort to make us negotiate under duress?
§ Mr. Rifkind
The hon. and learned Gentleman must remember what our objective has been: to get a framework agreed by everyone. We have not said, "You must accept our views as to the content of the policy," or, "You must agree that the ban is lifted on 2 July." That might have been unreasonable for the reasons that the hon. and learned Gentleman suggested. We have said that the non-co-operation policy will continue until a framework strategy is agreed by everyone. Our objective was to set a negotiation in train.
Although the Commission was very willing for that to happen, the sad fact, which the House cannot ignore, is that a minority of member states did not want, for reasons of domestic political problems, to start a negotiation, never mind reach an agreement. They wanted the issue to be put in the "too difficult" tray, and perhaps return six or nine months later when their own domestic opinion might have made it possible for them to start to negotiate. That was the problem that we had to address, and we make no apologies for the way in which we dealt with it.
§ Mr. Mark Robinson (Somerton and Frome)
Do not the Opposition, on any attempt to fight our corner in Europe, raise serious questions about what would happen if a Labour Government were elected in this country? Would they agree to everything that was put on the table by our partners in Brussels?
§ Mr. Rifkind
My hon. Friend raises an important point, because the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) and the Leader of the Opposition tried, I presume, to earn political capital—as they saw it at the time—by 1031 supporting our non-co-operation policy. Now, they attack us because we may be about to accept an agreement that they say falls short of what should be accepted.
Given that the right hon. Member for Livingston supports the non-co-operation policy, I look forward to hearing whether, if he were in our position, he would continue that policy until the various criticisms that he now makes were satisfied. If he is not saying that, he is slightly unconvincing in the strictures that he tries to present. He knows perfectly well the basis on which the non-co-operation policy was introduced: to achieve the lifting of the ban on beef derivatives—which we have achieved—and a framework strategy for the phased lifting of the rest of the ban, which may be achieved in the next couple of days.
§ Mr. Robin Cook
As the Foreign Secretary was kind enough to refer to me again, perhaps he will now answer the question that he promised earlier that he would: in what year will the completion of the phased lifting of the ban take place?
§ Mr. Rifkind
As was indicated earlier, we believe that the Ministry of Agriculture will be able to introduce proposals for the initial lifting of the ban in the autumn of this year. It may be earlier. We cannot be certain of the precise date. The lifting of the ban will be a priority for the Government. It will be based on when the Government are able to show the Commission that the conditions have been met. I believe that that process will accelerate over the next few months and that it is a perfectly realistic expectation.
§ Mr. MacShane
If the Foreign Secretary thinks that he has won on this matter, I imagine that the Dutch football manager went home the other night thinking that he had won.
Let us be clear. Is the Foreign Secretary saying that the Commission is batting for Britain but that member states are exercising an individual veto? As he is Mr. Veto on so many other issues, why does he object so strongly when other countries imitate him?
§ Mr. Rifkind
The hon. Gentleman thinks that he is making a clever point, but he makes a poor one. The United Kingdom believes that unanimity should often be the requirement. If there had been a need for unanimity in this area, there would not have been a ban in the first place. It was possible to introduce the ban only because of majority voting. Those who live by majority voting occasionally die by majority voting, so that principle should not alarm the hon. Gentleman too much.
I shall now deal with the wider issues. I am conscious of the fact that, recently, there has been heightened interest in the future of the European Union and the United Kingdom's role in it. The position was explained clearly by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in an important speech yesterday. Our commitment to the European Union is based on two fundamental considerations, the first being the political benefits to the United Kingdom, which were best explained by my noble Friend Baroness Thatcher in 1975.
What she said is as true now as it was then. She said that we must ensure that no effort is spared in telling people the basic reason why it is in Britain's interest to 1032 remain a member of the European Community, that the Community gives us peace and security in a free society, a peace and security denied to the past two generations, that the Community gives us a chance to influence world affairs, that Britain's instincts have never been isolationist, and that membership of the Community enables us to play a full part in the counsels of Europe and a continuing role in world affairs.
§ Sir Peter Tapsell (East Lindsey)
Is my right hon. and learned Friend absolutely sure that those are still the views of our noble Friend?
§ Mr. Rifkind
That is an entirely fair question. All I can say is that my noble Friend Baroness Thatcher has never been reluctant to let her views be known on any given matter. If those remarks now misrepresent her current opinion, I am sure that she will take the earliest opportunity to say so. Sadly, she has not done so in the past 20 years, so I am entitled to assume that she holds them as fervently and enthusiastically today as she did then.
The other reason why the European Union is crucial to this country is the single market, which we must not confuse with a free trade area, as occasionally is done. The whole point about the single market is the elimination not just of tariff barriers but of non-tariff barriers, and to deal with the inevitable protectionist tendencies in member states in the European Union. That is why we need the enforcement measures. That is why—despite the criticisms that we often hear about it—there needs to be a European Court—[Interruption.] There needs to be one. To ensure the enforcement of the single market, that is a requirement. That is well understood. It does not in any way diminish some of the criticisms that we make about certain aspects of the way in which the court is permitted to operate, but that is a separate matter.
§ Mr. Robinson
Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that 40 per cent. of all American investment that comes into Europe comes to the United Kingdom because we have the most favourable regulatory regime of any country in Europe, and that that is why we need to use the European Court in these circumstances to improve the single market?
§ Mr. Rifkind
That is indeed right. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said earlier today, when he quoted the head of the German confederation of industry, 10 times as much investment comes to the United Kingdom as comes to Germany—because of the economic circumstances in this country.
§ Mr. Bernard Jenkin
Although it is certain that we need a court to have a rules-based single market, and we need adjudications on those rules, is it necessary to have a legal system that is superior to our own, and which penetrates our legal system, giving rights and obligations to individuals and institutions within the member states, which is quite unlike any other free market agreement between nation states in any other part of the world, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement?
§ Mr. Rifkind
It is more than a free trade agreement. It goes back to the origins of the treaty of Rome. It is not some new, sinister development. It has nothing to do with 1033 the treaty of Maastricht. It was in the original treaty that we signed some 20 years ago. That point must be remembered.
§ Mr. Tim Renton (Mid-Sussex)
My right hon. and learned Friend rightly drew a distinction between a free trade area and a single market, but does he agree that there is a link between a European single market and European monetary union? Monetary union can be seen as a logical consequence of a single market, and it is very difficult for a single market to be achieved without a single currency.
§ Mr. Rifkind
I am afraid that I must part company with my right hon. Friend. In a recent speech, the Governor of the Bank of England also indicated that he was unconvinced of the existence of a necessary connection between the two elements.
The Government's position on our commitment is clear, but the Leader of the Opposition is in danger of confusing—to say the least—people both here and abroad about what his actual beliefs are. I read with interest a speech that he made recently to the German confederation of industry in Hamburg. Some time ago, he said proudly that, under his leadership, he would never allow this country to be isolated or left behind in Europe. In Germany earlier this week, he said:I shall defend the interests of the British people as stubbornly and fiercely as I expect the German government to defend the German interests.We shall all wait with considerable scepticism to discover how it is possible to reconcile never being isolated with stubbornly and fiercely defending British interests.
Some time ago, we heard the Leader of the Opposition say that, under his leadership, Britain would abandon the veto in regional, industrial, social and employment policy. In Germany, he said that the Conservative party would portray Labour as wanting to end the British veto. Why can we not have a straight line from the Leader of the Opposition? He said in Germany:We will be part of the European Social Chapter".In the very same speech, however, he said:The impact of non-wage costs on total employment costs cannot be ignored, nor can the way some regulations prevent the kind of workforce flexibility needed by modern manufacturing processes and the new service industries.As in so many other areas of policy, the Leader of the Opposition says all things to all people in a desperate attempt to promote his own position.
I believe that the situation in the Labour party is beginning to resist that approach. Only this week, in the European Parliament, 52 Labour MEPs rejected the Labour policy of support for non-co-operation. In doing so, they attacked not just the Government but their own leadership. Very recently, a document was published, signed by 50 Labour Members of Parliament who were attacking their own Front Bench on the single currency, and who say that they are going to launch a campaign to persuade their own party leadership to change its current policy of being sympathetic to the idea.
Those inconsistencies, with Labour MEPs attacking their Front Bench and 50 Members of Parliament criticising official policy—well, it all looks quite familiar. The hon. Member for Livingston is going to begin to experience what some of us have been experiencing for a little longer. We have always known that these divisions 1034 exist in the Labour party, but until recently Labour Members have been slightly better than us at concealing them. It is now evident that that deception cannot be sustained. The extraordinary, unprecedented self-discipline is breaking down, and I have no doubt that that will add to the gaiety of mankind.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)
Order. I must announce that Madam Speaker has decided that, from 7 pm, speeches shall be restricted to 10 minutes.
§ Mr. Robin Cook (Livingston)
I shall follow the Foreign Secretary in addressing the bulk of my remarks to the beef dispute and its resolution, but before I do so, let me also follow his example in referring to another matter that will arise at the Florence summit. I hope that it will prompt concern on both sides of the House, and possibly on all sides of the Tory party.
In the past two weeks, the Foreign Secretary has twice attended Council meetings at which the peace process in Bosnia has been discussed, and he will know that that is also on the Florence agenda. This may well be the House's last opportunity to raise concerns about the peace process before the House rises for the recess, and it is likely that Bosnia will proceed to elections while it is in recess. I suspect that the Minister of State will have a lot on his plate when he replies to the debate, but when he does so, will he give us the Government's current views on whether it will be feasible to hold fair and free elections in Bosnia by 14 September, and tell us what view the Prime Minister will express at the Florence summit when the matter is discussed?
The Minister will be aware that there are serious doubts about whether the elections can be free and fair. For instance, are the Government satisfied that candidates outside the governing parties will have access to independent media? What happened to the television station, promised during the Dayton peace process, that would give access to people outside the state apparatus? Are the Government satisfied with progress on the return of refugees? I understand that 1,950,000 out of a total of 2 million have still not returned. Can they realistically take part in the elections in September?
Finally, and perhaps most important, what more can the Government offer to bring Mr. Karadzic and General Mladic to justice before the international war tribunal? Even if they do not stand in the elections, their continuing presence intimidates others, and there can be no reconciliation after the atrocities of the war if no justice is brought to bear on those responsible for those atrocities. I would be grateful if the Minister could tell us what view the Government will express in Florence; and I thank the House for its patience in allowing me to refer to the peace process that is intended to resolve the war in Bosnia.
On the more absorbing issue of the resolution of our beef war with Brussels, I am quite confident—more confident than the Prime Minister sounded at Question Time—that the issue will be resolved in Florence. It is evident that the Government will now accept anything that is on offer to get themselves off the hook on which they have impaled themselves. We can see that if we examine the deal that is now on offer from Brussels, and compare it with the deal sought by Britain.
1035 First, there is the matter of the extra cull to which the Foreign Secretary referred, and to which he put a figure of between 20,000 and 45,000—or, as the Deputy Prime Minister described it this morning on the "Today" programme, a "handful" of cattle. The Foreign Secretary tried to explain that this was not an extra cull at all, because the cows were going to be killed anyway.
Perhaps the House will allow me a reminiscence. I once took an English companion to the scene of the battle of Flodden, and waxed woeful over the number of members of the Scottish nobility who had died in that battle. My English companion, who was obviously losing patience with my tale of woe, broke in to say, "Well, they would all be dead now anyway." The Foreign Secretary seems to be following the same logic.
The fact is that the Government have no commitment to cull cows aged over 30 months. As the Foreign Secretary rightly said, they have a commitment not to allow cows aged over 30 months to enter the food chain. They have now conceded that cows born in 1989 will be culled before the farmers necessarily conclude that they have reached the end of their working lives. If the Foreign Secretary is really confident that all those cows are at the end of their working lives anyway, he should try explaining to the House why the National Farmers Union is so concerned about the fact that cows on many farms which are not regarded as being at the end of their working lives will have to be culled earlier.
There is also the awkward matter of what the Government said at the time when they embarked on the beef war. On 21 May, the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food said:I have seen no evidence to justify going beyond the proposal that we have advanced."—[Official Report, 12 May 1996; Vol.278, c.113.]Yesterday, the Minister said that it was quite untrue that the Government were contemplating an extra cull.
I must tell the Foreign Secretary that there may be a case for the additional culls that are proposed. That is a matter for the House to resolve when it debates the Statutory Instrument which will, of course, be required, although this is not actually an extra cull. But as this Foreign Office debate is focusing on the negotiation of a package, let us at least not pretend that the Government have not shifted their position. Let us at least treat the House as adults and admit that there has been a climb-down, or possibly a climb up. Originally, the Government were willing to cull 40,000. That rose to 80,000 and it is now, according to the Foreign Secretary, about 125,000. That may have been necessary to reach agreement, but let us not pretend that it was not a shift in the Government's position.
I advise the Foreign Secretary not to pretend that the Commission's framework is what the Government wanted. We know that it is not, because it opens by criticising the Government and expressingconsiderable misgiving about the effectiveness of past actions taken by the UK in relation to BSE.It is not the first time that a Foreign Secretary has come to the House and claimed success in his negotiating policy, having secured a document that criticises the effectiveness of his own Government.
1036 We also know that this is not the document that the Government wanted, because we have a copy of the draft framework that the Government were arguing for only last week. There are three major gulfs between the Commission document and the Government paper. The first is that the Government paper sets out at great length the link between the steps that we can take to tackle BSE and the action that the Commission can take to phase out the ban on British beef. There is sheet after sheet on that—five pages in the annexe. Britain's action is in the left-hand column and the Commission's action is in the right-hand column, but none of that is in the Commission document.
§ Mr. Rifkind
I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman clearly has not read the Commission's paper, page 3 of which is about the procedure for lifting the ban. It says:A working paper must be presented by the UK, elaborating the specific criteria and indicators as exemplified in the UK framework document",which the right hon. Gentleman quotes. Page 1 of the Commission paper says:The Standing Veterinary Committee has examined the UK framework document … giving many of the principles a favourable reaction",so the right hon. Gentleman could at least do the House the courtesy of reading the document before commenting on it.
§ Mr. Cook
I have read the document repeatedly. As the Foreign Secretary says, it states that the committee has givenmany of the principles a favourable reaction"—not the five pages of the annexe. The Commission has covered itself by rolling together what is in the annexe into a single paragraph, and by rolling into a separate paragraph what action it might take in lifting the ban. There is no explicit link or parallel there.
§ Mr. Rifkind
The right hon. Gentleman must read the document a fourth time if he has read it three times, because he has not understood it. It states clearly the procedure for lifting the ban and says explicitly what the first step is:A working paper must be presented by the UK, elaborating the specific criteria and indicators exemplified in the UK framework document.That is precisely the link that the right hon. Gentleman says does not exist.
§ Mr. Cook
As the Foreign Secretary says, the document states:as exemplified in the UK framework document.If he regards that as the binding link, I would not go to him for legal advice, even though he may be a Queen's Counsel.
As the Foreign Secretary has turned to the page on procedure, let us deal with his comments. He said that I was wrong in saying that this matter had to go before five committees. [Interruption.] I am sorry if I misunderstood him. Obviously I was right in saying that it had to go before five committees. Is that what he is saying?
§ Mr. Rifkind
The right hon. Gentleman can check the record. I said explicitly that all these committees bar one 1037 were merely advisory committees. They could not block or decide anything. They merely advise the Commission. Only the Standing Veterinary Committee takes a decision.
§ Mr. Cook
Indeed. I intend to read it all, if the Foreign Secretary will relax and let me do so. The paper states:This working paper will be submitted for consultation to the Scientific Veterinary Committee, the newly created Multi-disciplinary Scientific Committee and, where appropriate, to other relevant Scientific Committees. At the same time, it will be discussed by the Standing Veterinary Committee.In the light of these discussions the Commission will take a decision".Is the Foreign Secretary saying that if, after those discussions, the committees say, "This is not sufficient", and if the Committee expresses the view that the indicators or criteria are not adequate, the Commission will take a favourable decision? Does any Back-Bench Conservative Member believe that that will happen?
§ Mr. Rifkind
The right hon. Gentleman must not get into a bogus lather about these matters. He knows that the Commissioners are not scientists. He would be the first to criticise Ministers or the Commission if they took scientific decisions without consulting scientific advisers. That is what they are required to do and that is what we insisted on, because if decisions are not based on scientific advice, the only alternative is to base them on political considerations, which is exactly what we are trying to get away from.
§ Mr. Cook
The Foreign Secretary's intervention was revealing. He said that the Commissioners are not scientists—which we accept entirely—that they will take advice from scientific committees, and that these are the scientific committees. Having listened to that, it is unlikely that the Commission will then say, if the scientific advice is negative, that it will go ahead with the decision.
The next stage is that the Commission will present its draft decision to the Standing Veterinary Committee. As the hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) rightly reminded the Foreign Secretary, the Committee refused to lift the ban on derivatives—it divided on it. That is how we got into the dispute and into the non-co-operation policy in the first place.
It is not entirely honest of the Foreign Secretary to say to the House that this will be a matter simply for scientific and not political judgment. The next paragraph says:
Fortnightly reports by the UK … and monthly reports by the Commission to the Council and Parliament will continue as long as necessary and are an integral part of this procedure.If we assume that the Council is going merely to note the reports with which it feels unhappiest, the Foreign Secretary is not being frank with the House about the nature of the discussions that he has had in the past month.
There is another gulf that the Foreign Secretary cannot wriggle out of. In the document that he submitted last week, the Government made considerable play of the importance of exports to third countries. The Government 1038 proposed that exports to third countries that were not authorised to re-export beef to the European Union should recommence immediately. The Government also proposed that exports to other third countries should recommence subject only to safeguards on re-exports to the European Union, not subject to anything that we were going to do to tackle BSE. The Foreign Secretary cannot deny that that is knocked firmly on the head by the Commission, which dismisses the proposal in one line. It says:Exports to third countries will be permitted in parallel to phased exports to other Member States".In other words, until we fulfil all the steps set out by the Commission, and until all the committees give their scientific advice, there will be no exports to third countries.
When he was asked yesterday when exports to third countries could recommence, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, with the characteristic honesty that has undermined his interventions in this affair, said:I am not trying to avoid it. I just don't know the answer".Perhaps the Foreign Secretary will give us the answer.
§ Mr. Rifkind
On exports to third countries, the matter will no doubt be discussed this weekend in Florence. Yesterday, my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General put to the European Court of Justice the UK case—which was extremely well received—with regard to this part of the ban. We are likely to have a decision within the next week or 10 days on whether there should be an interim decision by the court which could lift that part of the ban immediately. Obviously, we cannot be certain until we hear that judgment, but the Attorney-General believes that he had a good hearing on the inequity of that aspect of the ban. We will wish to see the outcome of that hearing and take that into account.
§ Mr. Cook
I commend the Foreign Secretary on his confidence in the European Court of Justice. I presume that he will now defend it against the criticism that it frequently receives from Conservative Back Benchers. In case hon. Members did not notice it, may I point out that they are being asked to accept the framework agreement without any commitment on exports to third countries, and on the assumption that the European Court will ride to the rescue, which many Conservative Members will find uncomfortable.
Apart from the gulf between the papers of last week and this week, the Foreign Secretary is unable to answer the question that I repeatedly asked him: when will the phased lifting of the beef ban be completed? He said that it was never his intention to have a timetable. On 27 May, the right hon. and learned Gentleman said that he was seeking an agreed strategy to provide for the lifting of the rest of the ban and that the question of a timetable would obviously be part of those discussions—so presumably he discussed a timetable with our partners in the European Union. What did they say?
§ Mr. Cook
I will just finish with the Foreign Secretary.
What did our European partners say when the right hon. and learned Gentleman raised the timetable? Are we to infer from his inability to offer any timetable that he does not wish to share with us the answer that he received? 1039 Farmers need to know when they can export beef again— will it be this year, next year or the year after? It must be dawning on Conservative Members, including the hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle, that they will be fighting the next general election with most of the beef ban still in place.
§ Mr. Rifkind
The right hon. Gentleman quoted from the British document that was put to the Commission, in which we made no suggestion of determining calendar dates now, as to when various parts of the ban should be lifted. Picking an arbitrary date of 31 July or 2 August would be nonsense. The Commission's document as well as our own reflects that the approach should be to agree the conditions that must be satisfied for the lifting of each phase of the ban, and for the UK to initiate that process when it can demonstrate that those conditions have been met. Then the ban will be lifted.
§ Mr. Cook
The Foreign Secretary confirms the extent to which the Government are shifting their position. The Minister of Agriculture told the House:I made it clear that, in order to be acceptable to us, any Council conclusions must include either agreement to lift the ban forthwith, or a procedure and timetable to that end."—[Official Report, 3 April 1996; Vol. 275, c. 407.]I ask not for a calendar date but to be told in which year the ban will be lifted—or to extend the point, in which century.
§ Mr. Leigh
There is no use the right hon. Gentleman answering a question from my right hon. and learned Friend with another question. How can the UK insist in Florence this weekend on any date for the phased lifting of the ban when we have no idea whether the conditions will have been met by that time?
§ Mr. Cook
I do not know where the hon. Gentleman has been for the past 17 years, or for the past 10 years of the BSE crisis, but a Conservative Government have been in charge all that time. Ten years after BSE appeared in the herd, the Government still cannot say when the conditions for eradicating BSE will be in place. That is why the Commission started its statement by criticising the effectiveness of the UK measures.
The Foreign Secretary asked whether I believe that the non-co-operation policy should continue beyond Florence. I recognise that the job of Foreign Secretary may occasionally involve telling the House with weary resignation, "This is the best deal that I can get, it's the best deal you're going to get, and you'd better take it." There is nothing dishonourable about doing that. I suspect that the Foreign Secretary ought to be saying that to the House.
However, he cannot get away with pretending that this deal is the one that he wanted. Still less can he get away with pretending that the deal is a triumph for the policy of non-co-operation. I am rather more impressed by the results of the freelance policy of non-co-operation pursued by the hon. Members for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) and for Hendon, North (Sir J. Gorst)—who at least succeeded in getting the ban on their hospital lifted. Possibly the Foreign Secretary should have copied their framework strategy.
1040 The Foreign Secretary has been able to secure an agreement because the Government have at last come up with a plan to eradicate BSE from the herd. The right hon. and learned Gentleman carried around that document in his briefcase to all the chancelleries of Europe—an onerous task, and it would be churlish not to congratulate him on the energy that he expended on it. However, why did the Government wait three months after the ban before the Foreign Secretary took that action?
Instead, the Government announced to the House three months ago the possible link between BSE and Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease. There was no warning to Brussels of the thunderbolt coming out of the sky, no plans for the extra measures necessary to tackle BSE or contain the inevitable blow to consumer confidence, and apparently no foreign strategy to contain the entirely predictable reaction of nations that import British beef. If the Government had not made those elementary errors, we might have got the deal that the Foreign Secretary is commending to the House today without three months' delay and the need to disrupt the business of the European Union.
The Foreign Secretary was good enough to refer to our support for the policy of non-co-operation, although not with the generosity appropriate to my attempt to develop a bipartisan line. We argued that that policy should not be applied in a mindless, routine way as a blanket ban, but that there should be sensible exemptions. We said that Britain should not block measures that we wanted more than our partners, or those that affected third countries that are not even members of the EU or parties to the dispute.
The Government blocked both types of measures. They blocked a measure to cut red tape although Britain had proposed it. The Government blocked tougher powers of inspection against fraud although Britain had lobbied for them. I discovered at the weekend that the Government also blocked a letter to Iran about Salman Rushdie, although the only beneficiary would be a resident of Britain and of nowhere else.
One consequence of the non-co-operation policy that the Euro-sceptics could not possibly have anticipated is that it has focused on how many sensible things Europe does and how often they are helpful to Britain. The Government also blocked measures that are more important to the inhabitants of third countries outside Europe than to any resident of Europe. Most spectacularly, the Government blocked a declaration condemning the detention of pro-democracy activists in Burma. I cannot conceive what possible leverage the Foreign Secretary could imagine he was obtaining in respect of the beef ban by offering comfort to the repressive military regime in charge in Burma.
It is now possible to draw up a score sheet on the beef crisis. On the one hand, we have the three-page offer from the Commission that falls far short of the offer that the Government were seeking only last week. On the other hand, we have the casualties. The Government have sacrificed their credibility by blocking measures for which they have long lobbied in Brussels. The Government have left the rest of the world perplexed, having negotiated agreements with
Britain's support only to find them blocked by Britain. Most perversely of all for Back Benchers, the Government have left other EU member states more determined than ever before to cut the areas in which the veto applies. The 1041 Government's position at the forthcoming intergovernmental conference is to oppose any shift from the use of the veto in European Union decision-making. Their policy of non-co-operation has sharply undermined the credibility with which Britain can argue for that at the IGC.
Another consequence of the Government's behaviour of the past month is potentially damaging to our long-term interests.
§ Mr. Cook
I am tempted to rely on the Speaker's ruling that an hon. Member who is not present for the start of a debate is not allowed to participate half-way through. However, the hon. Gentleman has only a few months left in which to intervene in the House, so I shall not deny him this opportunity.
§ Mr. Arnold
The right hon. Gentleman is rubbishing the policy of non-co-operation. Was it not the leader of the Labour party who said that he supported precisely that policy?
§ Mr. Cook
I really should have known better than to let the hon. Gentleman intervene. We have been dealing with this issue for the past 45 minutes, and our position was made perfectly plain at the outset—that we were not going to undermine the Government's activities. We have made very sensible criticisms as to how they should carry out their policy, but the entire thrust of my speech—which I invite the hon. Gentleman to read tomorrow when he gets Hansard—is to point out that the tatty deal that the Government have secured can in no way be represented as a triumph for that policy.
§ Mr. Cook
The hon. Gentleman never asks a question that is worthy of answer, to be perfectly frank.
In his remarks, the Foreign Secretary stressed that Britain's future lies in Europe, and ended by praising the achievements of the European Union. If that is his position, the Foreign Secretary must take account of the wave of jingoism and offensive hostility to our European partners that has been released by the Government's activities over the past month, particularly from those newspapers that told us that the Government had declared war in Europe and that told us—presumably with some spinning—that the Foreign Secretary was presiding over a war Cabinet.
The problem is that wars require an enemy. Inevitably those newspapers that announced that we are at war started to write about the other countries of Europe as our enemies. The Sun offered helpful advice to its readers on how best to insult German tourists. Last week, the Foreign Secretary made a speech in which he declared that the Government are not anti-European. I welcome that statement, although I am bound to say that I find it revealing that the Foreign Secretary should feel obliged 1042 to have to announce that. I also find it revealing that broadcasting authorities should regard the announcement as sufficiently newsworthy to include in their bulletins.
If the Government are not anti-European, perhaps the Foreign Secretary should tell the Secretary of State for Education and Employment, who—of all people—said it was unbelievable that the BBC had adopted Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" as a theme, because it was a German tune. Perhaps he should also tell the chairman of the Tory party, who—in a pithy statement of his cultural tastes—said that he would have preferred the BBC to choose a "bit of British music". Perhaps the Foreign Secretary should also tell the editor of The Sun.
The Foreign Secretary wrote an article on the beef war for The Sun, which was carried under a cartoon of a German U-boat sinking British ships. In the line immediately above the photograph of the Foreign Secretary, the German U-boat commander says:Mein Gott, it's good to be torpedoing British ships again!The Foreign Secretary will be aware that I wrote to him to invite him to join me in a joint appeal against that type of offensive xenophobia. He will know that he refused. There is no point in assuring our partners that the Government are not anti-European if they see that that is the type of company that he keeps. It is a short-sighted diplomacy that says one thing to our partners and then sends out a different signal to the editor of The Sun, because the other members of the European Union can see through that.
§ Mr. Rifkind
I seem to remember that the Leader of the Opposition had an article in his name published in The Sun recently. Will the right hon. Gentleman dissociate himself from that?
§ Mr. Rifkind
I have no difficulty whatsoever in condemning unreservedly the xenophobic nonsense that appears in the tabloid newspapers. But the idea that the Leader of the Opposition can have articles published in The Sun and that I am not allowed to do so without being associated with other headlines in that newspaper is one of the more absurd propositions made by the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Cook
The Foreign Secretary cannot wriggle out that way. The reason why The Sun ran that type of cartoon and others like it is that the right hon. and learned Gentleman and the Government led them—through the spinning on this beef war—to talk about it as a war, to talk about a war Cabinet and to regard the other countries of Europe as our enemies. The Foreign Secretary knows perfectly well that the reason why he did not agree to make that joint declaration against xenophobia is that he did not want to offend the editor of The Sun.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
Is my right hon. Friend at all surprised at the Tories' indifference to what has been printed in The Sun, bearing in mind the disgraceful speech by the Secretary of State for Defence 1043 at the most recent Tory party conference? Should we not also bear in mind when considering this offensive, anti-German hatred that the first victims of the Nazis were Germans? We should always remember that fact when people try to start with their anti-German propaganda.
§ Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East)
As we have a free press and a free democracy, obviously we should not go over the top on such matters. However, bearing in mind that some hon. Members of all parties, including Labour Members, have been researching and comparing the use of words in Nazi newspapers in the early 1930s, when they were Jew-baiting, and bearing in mind what The Sun said in its attacks on Germans, does the right hon. Gentleman feel that there might be—I put it no higher— a case for the Attorney-General to consider prosecutions against The Sun for incitement to racial hatred?
§ Mr. Cook
I am not legally qualified to express a view on whether such a case could be brought on prima facie grounds. I am, however, politically qualified to know that that type of damaging xenophobia and jingoism deeply undermines Britain's political future—which is inside Europe and in co-operation with Germany and the other European states, not in confrontation with them.
§ Mr. Jenkin
I join the right hon. Gentleman in condemning that type of xenophobia. But as he continues to advocate more qualified majority voting, will he reflect on the fact that that he is advocating a policy that is likely to give rise to more frustration, more headlines and more misuse of language of that type? We want nations in co-operation, and not to be coerced.
§ Mr. Cook
The hon. Gentleman—if I understood him rightly—accuses me of hypocrisy. But there is no worse hypocrisy than pretending that the decisions of the European Union—in which the Foreign Secretary participates and in which the Government often take an initiating part—can be characterised by that cartoon and those like it. That is the greatest hypocrisy of all.
§ Mr. Cook
I must make progress, if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me. I have been generous in giving way.
If anyone doubts the harm that is done to Britain's interests by that type of jingoism and offensive hostility, they should listen to the chorus of dismay from business leaders, including the retiring chairman of the Confederation of British Industry, who asked whether, among all this xenophobia, some people had actually noticed that the last war was over. The reality is that millions of jobs depend on exports to the European Union. Withdrawal, as the CBI warned, would leave us with exports that were subject to "regulation without representation".
1044 Hundreds of thousands of jobs in Britain are dependent on inward investment, which comes here only because we have access to Europe—the largest market in the world. Last week, yet another senior business man in the CBI reported that his Japanese company has called several times from Tokyo to ask about Britain's commitment to Europe. The doubts spread by Conservative Members about our commitment to Europe are potentially deeply damaging to the jobs in those companies.
We now have the opportunity to turn the page and to start a new chapter in our relations with Europe. It looks as if we are at the closing stages of the beef war; it will not need the skills of Richard Holbrooke or Henry Kissinger to bridge the outstanding points of difference before the weekend. The Foreign Secretary and his Ministers are quite up to that task—[Interruption.] I am giving the Foreign Secretary the benefit of the doubt for once. He should accept it in the spirit in which it is offered.
It is important that we resolve this dispute, but it is equally important to draw a line under this episode and look to the future. Britain must have a fresh start in Europe, and I do not believe for one minute that the Government are now capable of offering that fresh start. First, the other leaders of Europe will not find it credible when a Government who have pursued confrontation for the past month turn up next week asking for co-operation. Secondly, I see no sign that the Tory Back Benchers will allow them to replace an approach of conflict with an approach based on co-operation.
As I have turned on my television set over the past month, I have never seen the hon. Members for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) or for Stafford (Mr. Cash) looking more fulfilled than when they were at war with Europe. Living in peace with Europe will be the problem for them. The Foreign Secretary's problem is that it is impossible for him to offer a fresh start for Britain in Europe, because too many of his party want a fresh start out of Europe. If in dark moments, when the lights are out, the Foreign Secretary thinks that he has problems with his existing Back Benchers, he should look over his shoulder at the candidates who have been selected for the plum seats in the next election.
The Prime Minister's speech is always an accurate weather vane as to which way the latest wind is blowing in the Tory party. In the speech to which the Foreign Secretary referred yesterday, the Prime Minister said:I have consistently said that we will not accept the pressure to develop Europe as a single train, with all the carriages moving at the same speed.In claiming consistency for that, the Prime Minister is guilty of a touch of amnesia. Four years ago, after presiding over the Birmingham summit, the Prime Minister reported on a discussion, saying that there would beno fast track, no slow track, no one left behind, that was a consistent theme.Four years ago, no one was to be left behind. Now, Britain can be left behind. What has changed in those four years is not Europe but the Tory party, under a leader who, instead of resisting that change, is drifting with it.
It is the Government's duty to tell the country and the Conservative party about the world as it really is. Tory Members have totally abdicated that duty. [Interruption.] I am talking about those on the Government Front Bench. 1045 I exclude the hon. Member for South Derbyshire (Mrs. Currie) from my strictures, although I do not know if it will do her any good with her colleagues. [Interruption.] If any hon. Members feel that it would be helpful, I would be happy to give them an exclusion policy to be included in their next electoral address.
There is only one way in which the Government's abdication of duty can be fittingly punished and that is by being forced to abdicate from their office of government. Last week, one third of Tory Members—perhaps one third of those present today—voted for a referendum on Europe. There is only one referendum that would offer Britain a real fresh start in Europe, and it is called a general election. I can assure Tory Members that there is no other referendum for which their constituents hunger half as much.
A general election could sweep out of office this historic anachronism masquerading as a Government, with their embarrassing world view dating from the last century, and replace them with a Government who understand that Britain's future is in Europe and who would be prepared to work in co-operation, not confrontation. That is the fresh start in Europe that Britain needs, that is the fresh start that only a change of Government can deliver.
§ 6.2 pm
§ Sir Edward Heath (Old Bexley and Sidcup)
As I abandoned the struggle for power in this Chamber some time ago and as I want to make a helpful contribution to the debate, perhaps I might say a few things that the House will feel are constructive, although it may not like all of them. I also abandoned the screaming between the two Front Benches—in fact, I never had it. We witnessed a great deal of that this afternoon between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.
I was rather sad to hear the Prime Minister reproducing, not for the first time, the chant that Harold Wilson had against me of lying on my back exposing my belly to the Europeans. That statement lost him a great deal of respect among those who were concerned about our international relations. I think that three times from the Prime Minister is probably enough in modern circumstances.
The Foreign Secretary emphasised the importance of the meeting in Florence and I agree with him entirely. He also mentioned one or two subjects that are likely to come up. There was the question of various economic matters, which must not be rushed. We must take our time over them.
§ The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. David Davis)
§ Sir Edward Heath
I see the Minister nodding vigorously.
There is complete condemnation of Britain's approach to these matters. Our approach is entirely unacceptable to other members of the European Union who have, for the past 40 years or so, gone ahead with great leaps, after a fixed time, and reached their conclusions.
I realised the difference acutely when, 10 days ago, I was returning from Lille on the cross-channel train. We roared across the fields of France at between 175 and 180 mph. We came through the tunnel and then roared through 1046 the fields of Kent at between 35 and 40 mph. I consoled myself by saying, "Of course, we are going to have a fast link," but then I reminded myself that we decided that eight years ago and so far it has not started. That is one reason why the other member states are so suspicious of us. They do not believe that we want to make a success of our membership of the European Union.
The Foreign Secretary mentioned employment, which is vital. However, I hope that the Government will not spend all their time on the social chapter saying that their view is the answer to everything. It is not. British firms with factories, institutions and services inside other members of the Union are observing the full social chapter with great success. They are not complaining about it.
We had our own arrangements from 1909 onwards when Churchill introduced them as Minister of Labour. I celebrated their 50th anniversary. They contributed greatly to social harmony and did not prevent our economic development or our prosperity; yet those arrangements were abandoned three years ago, and that is claimed to be the secret of our success. It is nothing of the sort. The Foreign Secretary said that we have to compete with the products of the far east. If we are to do that by that method, we will have to go down to the level of the wages in the far east. [Interruption.] That is the logical conclusion. There is no other conclusion. The real conclusion should be that we have to persuade our industrialists to carry on with greater technical efficiency so that they can be competitive while paying their men properly.
I see examples round the country where people have been sacked and kids have been taken on. One knows full well that, when those kids reach the age of 20, they will be sacked and more kids will be taken on. That is not the sort of society for which Conservatives have always worked. I hope that there will not be lectures to the other European Governments about what they should do about the social chapter.
We now come to the main question. I think that the conference is of the utmost importance. I suggest to the Prime Minister that his top priority must be to re-create confidence in this country, not only in the European Union but in the rest of the world. That is his job now. Confidence has been lost over this episode. I have a list of 35 different countries, not just those in the European Union, which will not have anything to do with British beef. The Americans have not touched it since 1988. What was the reason for that? They did not believe that we had taken the measures necessary to prevent the disease from occurring. Canada will not take British beef and nor will Australia. New Zealand has taken it on and off, but Japan will not take it and nor will Singapore. The list goes on and on.
What the Prime Minister has to do—it is a formidable task—is to restore confidence in our country. To look at this from a local point of view, the Prime Minister has also to restore the confidence of the people of this country. All the polls show that it is not the European Union or the outsiders who are being blamed for the beef problem, it is the Government. The task is to restore confidence through the action being taken.
We should remind ourselves how this problem occurred—it was on 20 March, exactly three months ago, when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health announced to all the media that it was now thought 1047 that there was a danger of a connection between the animal disease and the human disease. That statement was given enormous prominence throughout the world. It is one reason why confidence must be restored.
What happened next? On 25 March, my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food said that a large number of animals—up to 4.5 million—would have to be culled. That went around the world and everybody said it was a real crisis. However, in the following week others in the Government said that there was nothing to be afraid of, which produced the reaction, "What are those people doing, then? They are trying to cover up everything—or perhaps they don't realise there is a problem and so are not doing anything to deal with it positively." That is the background.
Like other hon. Members, I do not believe that the blockade policy pursued by the Government has had any effect other than bad. People everywhere cannot understand why we are blocking the very initiatives that we have been trying to bring about ourselves. They say, "If you are going to do it, surely you should be a bit more subtle than that." The British people do not understand it, either.
We have heard a great deal from my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh)— still my friend, I am told—about the necessity to depend purely on scientific advice. We heard from him this afternoon about what the farmers are saying, what the people involved in agricultural machinery are saying, what everybody concerned with agriculture is saying. That is not science, that is politics—understandable politics, because their livelihoods and the future of their children are affected.
What about the political feeling in the other countries in the Union? The demand for beef in Germany has dropped by 40 per cent., in France by 37 per cent., and likewise in the other countries of the Union. That is political, yet we are told that the only answer must be scientific. It just does not add up. What we must do— what I hope my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will do—is try to understand the jam in which the political leaders of the other countries in the Union find themselves. We cannot get away with simply saying, "We will ask the scientists and that will put an end to it all." It will not.
It is not all bad; there is some good. We heard from my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary that he and his colleagues—and, I think, the Prime Minister—now have complete and absolute trust in the Commission and the President of the Commission. [Interruption.] It is a welcome development— [Interruption.] Yes, we are delighted, absolutely delighted. What is more, the Government are now so enthusiastic about the European Court of Justice that they are putting the whole matter before it with complete confidence. I congratulate the Government on their intellectual appreciation of the machinery of the European Union.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister must make a settlement that will restore confidence in this country. He need not worry about the Euro-sceptics—he should forget about them—because they will have to accept any 1048 settlement that he makes if the vast majority of hon. Members, the observers and the Union itself says, "This is right; now you are dealing with the situation and producing the necessary answers."
I also suggest to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that he stop reading newspapers—this is a good opportunity, as he is out of the country—because they have descended to a sordid level hitherto unknown in Britain. They are squalid. Of course, they are largely owned by foreigners who have no interest in our welfare. They want only to make money and to break up the European Union if they can. Let us all give up reading newspapers. Stanley Baldwin never read newspapers, and he was Prime Minister for eight or more years. He overcame every difficulty.
§ Sir Edward Heath
Yes, Baldwin was a great European. He talked about the River Rhine in a dramatic speech.
I want to spend a few minutes dealing with the wider issues of Europe. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister must restore confidence in those areas as well. Every ambassador in London knows—as we know and as the press is already reporting—about people in meetings in the wealthier part of Westminster, all discussing how they can get out of the European Union. Everybody knows about that. The only question is, will they be successful? We also know that many of them think that, if we lost the election, that would be to their advantage, as they would then capture the party and make it another anti-European party. That will not happen. We will make sure that it does not happen.
That attitude is weakening this country abroad, which means that it is also weakening investment coming into Britain. Overseas companies say, "If that is going to happen, what long-term future is there? Why should be continue putting investment into Britain in the way we have done for so long?" That is an immense danger.
We have to consider the European Union from the double point of view—political and economic. Its first purpose was political—it always has been and it always will be—and any attempts, as suggested in the White Paper, to turn it into a European free trade area are bound to fail. We do not want it, the other countries will not have it and, if necessary, the other 14 will go off on their own saying, "Right, you look after yourselves."
They are of that mind at this moment because they are so angry about the way in which they think the British are treating them. That is especially true of the French. President Chirac has a terrible job trying to handle this awful problem where France has suddenly found that all the stuff that was vetoed here was promptly exported by British businesses to France, where it was used without anyone knowing about it. That is a horrible situation for President Chirac.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary quoted somebody who had described what she thought the purposes of the EU should be. Those purposes were clearly set out when I signed the treaty that took this country into the Community. They are governed by the fact—which I cited first in a speech opening the negotiations in 1961 and finished with in the debates in 1049 the House in October 1972—that we sought an ever closer union. People who now say or write, "We never knew anything about that," are only displaying their ignorance. That fact was constantly emphasised throughout that period. Some hon. Members who were not even born then have the nerve to come here and say, "We never knew anything about that." [Interruption.] I do not dispute that one, but others should be old enough to remember everything that was said at the time. An ever closer union remains the purpose of the European Union.
People say, "Let's get out," but what future is there for this country outside the European Union? What future is there for us politically, internationally or for defence— leaving aside trade and everything else? What future is there in trade? We will not be able to influence the Union. We will have no influence at all.
§ Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent)
My right hon. Friend is underestimating our capacity to stand alone on defence matters. We shall actually have both wings of the European fighter aircraft.
§ Sir Edward Heath
I see; how ingenious.
We must look at the modern world instead of retreating back into orgies of nation states, which is now fashionable in some quarters. In a modern world, with the size of the five major powers, we would have absolutely no influence if we were outside the European Union.
Our task is to use our influence inside the Union. We shall not have influence if we insult our European partners, as was done by two members of the Cabinet at party conference. We shall not influence them by blocking everything or using similar tactics. We shall not influence them by refusing to make constructive proposals or by trying all the time to limit what the Union can do. There is no future for us there. The Prime Minister was absolutely right at the beginning when he said that Britain must be at the heart of Europe, but one cannot be at the heart of Europe if one spends all one's time blocking its arteries. That just does not produce the answer.
§ Sir Jim Lester (Broxtowe)
The Prime Minister has just said that he wants us to be the grit inside the oyster of Europe. One of the good things about grit inside oysters is that it eventually turns into a pearl.
§ Sir Edward Heath
Yes. I have never found a pearl, but I am told that that is true.
I hope that the Prime Minister will recognise the enormous job he now has in Florence. I hope that he will ignore all the nasty things going on and most of what has been said today—except this speech. I hope that he will aim at restoring confidence in our country and, in that way, in our party.
§ Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney)
I will certainly not follow the latter part of the remarks by the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) because he erected an Aunt Sally to attack. He has taken on those who want to withdraw totally from the European connection out of hostility towards Europe itself. I suggest that that is a very small part of opinion in this country and that it does not represent the main thrust 1050 of those who, like myself, are Euro-realists and who have a different view of the future of Europe from the one that the right hon. Gentleman has always espoused.
One of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks, however, was a very useful contribution to the debate; he may be surprised that I agree with him on this matter. He was surely right to remind the House of the immediate occasion for the great worry that afflicted not only this country but Europe and the world generally about British beef. Very properly, he turned back to the statements made on 20 March. They were clumsy, poor statements which relied wholly on some badly expressed scientific views. There was no attempt to put the matter into the context and understanding that only a politician is able to give.
There was a tremendous scare following the statements by the Secretary of State for Health and the Minister of Agriculture, who did not help either. The Secretary of State for Health told people for the first time that scientists could no longer deny that there was a possible connection between CJD and BSE. What on earth did the Government expect would happen immediately after that?
Beef is bound to dominate this debate, as it will dominate the Florence summit. It is a pity really, because, although I do not deny the immediate relevance and great importance of the beef issue, there are other major matters—I suspect in the long term much more serious matters—to be taken up in Europe relating to the intergovernmental conference and the unfinished business of the Maastricht treaty, as the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup rightly reminded us. It would be a great shame if those matters were not addressed. I hope to say something about them later, because it would be a great mistake if we allowed them to be crowded out.
I will now make my contribution to the beef debate. Like everyone in the House, I hope that there will be agreement in Florence tomorrow on the phased lifting of the European Union ban on British beef. BSE and the export ban are a huge disaster for British farming, and those problems must be removed at the earliest opportunity. But if agreement is reached tomorrow—I am sorry that the Foreign Secretary is not now with us—the Government will have no cause to congratulate themselves. Agreement will not be due to the petulant policy of non-co-operation and vetoing Council business announced by the Prime Minister on 21 May. It will be due, if anything, to the truly remarkable concessions that the Government have been prepared to make to win European acceptance.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), the shadow Foreign Secretary, pointed out, in a few short weeks, the Government have been moved from their original offer to cull 42,000 cattle, conditional on the lifting of the ban, to an unconditional offer of a cull of 80,000 cattle and now to the acceptance of a slaughter programme involving no fewer than 160,000 cattle. It is no good the Foreign Secretary trying to spirit away those figures on the ground that cows are, after all, mortal creatures who eventually die from natural causes.
Furthermore, each stage of the relaxation in the Commission's programme will need to be separately agreed by the Commission and its Standing Veterinary Committee. At all stages of processing, our industry will be invigilated by Commission inspectors. All this despite the Government's insistence, which I accept, that British 1051 beef is now safe, in the judgment of our medical and scientific experts, provided only that the health regulations are scrupulously enforced.
Clearly, the European Union has imposed its will on us; I take no pleasure in saying that. However, in this case it would not be right or honest to put the main blame on the European Community. I say that for two reasons. First, I do not forget—who can?—the clumsy, badly presented and ill-thought-out statements of 20 March, to which I have already referred. They were the trigger to the whole series of unhappy events that has followed. The announcements, which were made without any attempt to assess the degree of risk, that a link between BSE and CJD could no longer be ruled out, had an immediate and immense impact on our own people, who cut their consumption of beef by 50 per cent. If there was panic here, one can hardly be surprised that there was panic abroad.
Secondly, it would be wrong to argue that the initial imposition of the ban was due to any special malignancy on the part of our continental neighbours and other hon. Members have referred to this point already. The United States, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Canada are all well disposed towards this country, yet they have found it right to impose a similar ban on British beef.
Following their statements on 20 March, the Government have now found it difficult to restore the confidence that was destroyed, not surprisingly. Beef consumption here has now recovered substantially, but the beef crisis has had two additional effects on public opinion in Britain which need to be addressed. The first, which I deplore, has been an outpouring of frustrated hostility, whipped up by much of the tabloid press, against Germany in particular and the European Community in general. It has been a pretty squalid performance by a large part of the British press.
The second consequence, which I welcome, has been a new alertness in the public—almost an education—about what is involved in our membership of the European Union, which is an ever-increasing dominance of the Brussels authorities.
What left many people thunderstruck by the response from the Commission and from European countries was not the alarmed reactions of the Governments of Germany, France, Italy and others on public health grounds about our beef exports, or even the unwelcome decision of the European Commission, backed by the Agriculture Council, to ban our exports to all European countries. What shocked British opinion was the European decision to ban our exports worldwide, and the realisation that European institutions had the power to make such decisions and that the elected Government and Parliament of Britain were obliged to obey them, with recourse only to the European Court of Justice. It alerted British opinion as never before to the massive transfers of power that have already taken place from Britain to Europe and the greater transfers of power envisaged in the Maastricht treaty.
Our people are massively opposed to membership of a European federal state. That is the main argument. They have come to realise just how major a step towards that federal goal would be taken were we to adopt a single European currency and to subject ourselves to an European central bank.
1052 The latest survey of public opinion in Britain on the single currency was the Harris poll published in The Independent yesterday. In reply to the question:Should there be a single European currency with key decisions on interest rates and monetary policy decided by a new European Central Bank?78 per cent. of respondents said no and only 18 per cent. said yes. It is equally interesting that 70 per cent. of the Germans polled and 55 per cent. of the French also said no to a single currency.
The distance between the classe politique in European countries and the opinions and wishes of their people has never been wider than on the issue of the single European currency and final stages of economic and monetary union. However, it is not only the federal and constitutional issues involved that should disturb people here and elsewhere in Europe; it is the baneful economic consequences on unemployment that a single currency and an European central bank would involve.
One of the documents listed in the usual clutch of documents that always attends such general debates is the Community guidelines on economic policies—a document that is published regularly under article 103(2) of the Maastricht treaty. Europe is now an area of disgracefully high unemployment. Nearly 20 million people—more than 11 per cent. of the labour force—are out of work.
The most interesting and disturbing part of the document is the section dealing with economic forecasts for 1996 and 1997. Those who might hope and expect some amelioration of unemployment in Europe will get no encouragement from the document. It reads as follows:Given the anticipated weak expansion of economic activity in early 1996, employment trends are expected to remain weak in the months ahead …In Germany and Austria, employment is expected to fall considerably.If that prediction holds true, 1996 will be the fifth consecutive year of job losses in Germany. The document continues:In Belgium, Denmark, France and Portugal employment is now expected to stagnate or fall this year.That is not a very happy outlook.
What advice does the Commission offer the European nation states—the European Union? Incredibly, its principal recommendation calls for "sound public finances". By that it means further cuts in public expenditure in member states and further reductions in their borrowing requirements. In short, it recommends measures that must certainly increase unemployment in the European Union.
Why has the Commission made recommendations against all common sense and instinct, at a time when Governments should be thinking of maintaining public expenditure and Government borrowing, if not increasing it? At such a time, why has the European Commission made a recommendation above all for sound public finances—in order to achieve the convergence guidelines laid down in the Maastricht treaty to enable Europe to move towards a single currency in 1998.
Last weekend, Bonn saw its biggest demonstration since the second world war against planned German Government policy. We all remember vividly the widespread disruption in Paris and other French cities just before Christmas, when President Chirac announced a similar programme of retrenchment and contraction in France. Those are the policies of the madhouse.
1053 Of course the Commission will table another package of so-called job creation measures at Florence, using the regular technique that has been employed during the past two or three years, first by Mr. Delors in his so-called White Paper and by others. They will be tiny measures of a wholly trans-European nature that might engage an insignificant fraction of the unemployed populations of Europe in those great European projects, but it is basically a policy of subterfuge and camouflage to disguise the truth—that the central impact of Commission and European policy should be deflation in order to achieve a single currency.
What would happen if we achieved a single currency? We must all have seen references to the proposal by Dr. Waigel, the German Finance Minister, that, once a single currency had been achieved, there should be a further discipline—not that we should be allowed to borrow 3 per cent. of GDP, but that it should be reduced to 1 per cent. of GDP in the overriding search for price stability.
We have plenty of price stability in Europe. Inflation is virtually non-existent in most European countries. That is not the problem. Inflation was yesterday's problem. Today, the problem is deflation. We should be taking the lead—as I hope the Government will—in trying to get our European neighbours and partners to co-operate in policies designed to stimulate our economies in a sensible and responsible way in the pursuit of the greater prosperity and the higher employment of all our peoples.
§ Sir Peter Hordern (Horsham)
So far, the debate has been almost entirely confined to the beef crisis. That is no great surprise, because it has been the greatest shock that has befallen the United Kingdom this year and I am quite sure that it ought to be taken seriously.
What has come out perhaps worst of all are the atavistic tendencies of papers such as The Daily Telegraph and The Times—both, incidentally, under foreign ownership—and of course The Sun, and the way in which they have regarded the affair as a war against our European partners. That has been a most disgraceful performance, and I greatly regret it if any of my hon. Friends or any Opposition Members take the view that progress can be achieved by being bloody to the Europeans on any long-term basis.
I accepted that a policy of non-co-operation was necessary, but I did so with great sadness, because I could see that the European leaders were not concentrating sufficiently on the proposals that we had brought before them. Happily, however, it now seems that progress can be made at Florence, and I very much hope that that will be the case.
The lesson, especially for those who think that we can play our part outside the European Union, is that, in the first place, the United States, Canada and most other countries have refused to take our beef for many years. That was nothing whatever to do with the European Union. In order to get the thing straight and to recover the situation, we appealed to that much maligned institution. the European Court of Justice, and it was the European Commission that managed to save the situation with regard to tallow and those other substances.
It is worth remembering that, if we were outside the European Union, we would not have been able to persuade any country to lift the ban on our beef—certainly 1054 not any country in the EU. As is so often the case, the importance of our membership of the EU is emphasised by what has happened during the beef crisis.
It is not hard to criticise the institutions of the European Union. They can all be at fault, as can any human institution. It is not hard to criticise the direction in which the EU is going sometimes. But it is essential that we always remember that we are members of some 20 years' standing, and that our trade and business is now knitted in to the EU. Europe is where we do the largest proportion of our trade, and it brings us substantial benefits.
The single market is not perfect; of course there is room for improvement. But can anybody believe that we would secure such improvement if we were outside the European Union, bashing against the walls, rather than as a full committed member?
There are some who say that we would do better to forget our trade with the EU and concentrate instead on our trade with the far east. I do not deny that our trade with the far east is of great promise and potential, and I see no reason why we should not develop it as much as possible, but I cannot see why that should in any way detract from the importance of our trade within the EU. In fact, it supports that trade, because there is also no question but that this country attracts enormous inward investment precisely because we are a member of the EU. We would be less likely to attract that inward investment if we were outside it.
To claim, as some do, that we would nevertheless be able to function perfectly well in some sort of free trade area, and that the EU would be happy to grant us that status, seems to me to fly in the face of reality. After all, we would then be in the position of a supplicant, not that of a full member of the EU, negotiating constantly for improvements.
Of course the single market stands in need of improvement. In my opinion we need to extend it to the eastern European countries. We need to broaden its scope, extend its borders, and remove some of the restrictive practices. The House will recall that, about nine months ago, British Airways had a problem with landing at Orly airport. Does anybody believe that the French would have taken the smallest notice of our position if we had been outside the European Union? It was only because we were a member that Air France was made to alter its policy on landing rights. That seems to me to be a practical argument.
I know that some people use arguments that rest on sovereignty—especially, as the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) has just said, those about the single currency. Those arguments need to be taken seriously, but, as the House knows, we have secured an opt-out from the single currency, and will not be bound by it whatever may happen.
We have now reached the point where there would be a referendum if the Cabinet—and, I suggest, Parliament too, because it is inconceivable that a referendum would be held unless Parliament had first given its view—came to a decision on a single currency, after consultation on the subject. So it can hardly be said that the Government are hell bent on a single currency. I can tell some of my hon. Friends, as well as some Opposition Members such as the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney, that there is no prospect of any hell bent progress towards a single currency.
1055 However, it is the question of sovereignty that so alarms some of my hon. Friends, for all sorts of good and no doubt traditional historic reasons.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
Surely the issue is not just a matter of sovereignty in the broad sense, but of legislative authority for domestic purposes. Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that, had the arrangements for Europe stopped at the treaty of Rome, or perhaps even at the Single European Act, there would not be those difficulties for the Conservative party? What some Conservative Members, as well as other people, are worried about is exactly what the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) talked about—the obligation to move towards an ever closer union. For some of us that means a union with a unitary state, and the virtual elimination of the national option in the end.
§ Sir Peter Hordern
So far as I am aware, the movement towards an ever closer union was part of the preamble to the treaty of Rome, so the House knew what it was doing when it signed up to that, and we must accept the consequences of having done so.
The other important point about sovereignty is the fact that we have been happy to share our sovereignty as a member of NATO for many years. The idea that we could defend ourselves entirely alone, without being a member of NATO, is ridiculous.
Of course, we have had the sovereign right to devalue our currency for a significant time—and a fat lot of good it has done us. Because of that sovereign right, we have seen our currency greatly devalued. When I first entered the House, there were 12 deutschmarks to the pound; I cannot remember the relative values of all the other currencies. We have seen an incessant fall in the value of the pound against the currencies of our major competitors.
All Governments depend on the ability to borrow money, and as a result of that devaluation there is no market prepared to lend money to this country other than at a higher rate of interest than that obtainable for stronger currencies, because the lenders know that our currency is likely to depreciate rather than to appreciate. Our sovereign right to devalue has meant in effect that we have had consistently higher interest rates than our competitor countries. All that has imposed a certain charge on industry and business.
There is something else that I must mention in connection with the single currency. As I shall go on to explain, I do not think that it would be practical, and for that reason I do not favour it. But are some people really saying that we should have no regard to the strength of sterling, despite our historic experience of being connected to the gold standard for 300 years, and also of being tied to the United States dollar for 25 years after the war, through the Bretton Woods agreement? Nobody accused Winston Churchill of surrendering our sovereignty in those years; it would have been absurd to do so.
We in the House must recognise the fact that it is quite likely that there will be a strong European currency among the core countries within the European Union, whether we like it or not. We must therefore concern ourselves with how that will affect our business and trade.
1056 At the very least, the euro will be a formidable competitor for sterling, because it is bound to circulate freely within the countries. Some 40 per cent. of our trade is with Germany, France and the Netherlands, and it is likely that business will be contracted and settled in the currency.
I do not know how long it will take, but the euro will act first as a common currency in this country. After a long period, we may well find that it is preferred to sterling, partly because of pressure upon sterling and partly because it is likely that the currency will have lower interest rates than sterling if the criteria of the Maastricht treaty are abided by.
Whether we like it or not, it is likely that there will be a strong euro used by a core of strong countries. No matter how many referendums we have, the issue will be decided by consumer preference. Who can tell what will happen? Some people believe that the euro will never be used in this country, but I am not so sure. France, Germany and the Benelux countries will decide to introduce such a currency. We may think that that is not in their economic interests, but there is a strong political will for such a currency in those countries. We may not like it, but that political will has been there for many years. It is unlikely to desist just because we tell the countries that it is not in their economic interests to continue.
France and Germany are no less sovereign countries than the UK. If their Governments, Parliaments and people decide for political reasons that they want a single currency, there is—whatever treaties may say—not much that we or anybody else can do about it. We must look at reality and at what will happen in the future, and that makes it all the more necessary that we remain a full member of the EU. We must influence events as best we can in the form of a Europe of sovereign nations that recognises all the time the direction in which the most powerful nations wish to go.
I am not in favour of an all-powerful European Parliament, as it would be a great mistake for democracy ever to depart too far from its natural roots. So far ahead as one can see, these roots lie in national Parliaments rather than the European Parliament. In my view, the sovereign test of a sovereign Parliament is its power to tax and spend, and that power must remain with national Parliaments and must not be ceded to the EU or the European Parliament.
In the long run, neither Governments nor Parliaments can affect the livelihoods and welfare of the people of Europe as much as the movements of capital and technology. As a full member of the EU, we must see to it that those movements proceed in the most efficient way within the enormous single market. After all—we have learnt our lessons on this—markets dictate interest rates. We must play our full part in what is now a loose confederation of nations within the EU which may, in due course, become something closer. It is no good us retiring to our tent in a sulk. There is a strong core of European countries determined to draw ever closer, and we must recognise that. I wish my right hon. and hon. Friends every success in the negotiations that lie before them in Florence, and we should negotiate in the fullest sense as a full member of the European Union.
§ Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Cromarty and Skye)
I very much welcome the tone and the constructive contribution to the debate of the right hon. Member for 1057 Horsham (Sir P. Hordern). Those of us who are aficionados of these European debates have notched up something of a first tonight, in that the first two speeches from Conservative Back Benchers have been positively pro-European and constructive in tone and approach. That is welcome on an all-party basis, because if a criticism can he made of those of us in the pro-European camp, it is that, in recent years, we have been frankly too complacent in allowing the critics and those who wish to deconstruct the European Union too much time and space to make mischief and thoroughly to misrepresent what is going on.
The Father of the House, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath), gave some friendly advice to the Prime Minister, advising him not to read the newspapers. If one looks at the verdict of the newspapers on what is on offer ahead of the weekend summit, one will see that the Prime Minister might be tempted to take the advice of his distinguished predecessor. The Government, who prepared the way so well for the Scott report recently, have not done a good job in advance briefing on the likely outcome to the beef fiasco, and they have persuaded no one.
Prime Minister's Question Time today was a classic example of the weakness of the case that the Government have advanced as some kind of victory. Not one Conservative Back Bencher asked a question on that issue. They were more intent on talking about the Leader of the Opposition's recent excursion to Bonn than about the apparent victory that the Government have secured as a result of their non-co-operation policy.
That attitude has been reflected in the press. Let us be fair and take a number of newspapers that are normally, if not completely loyal to the Conservative party, more to the right of centre in their editorial stance than to the left. The Daily Mail said:John Major has sounded the retreat in the beef battle with Europe.The verdict of The Daily Telegraph was:Surrender by Britain on beef ban".The Financial Times was rather more generous in its editorial today and described the proposals as "tough but fair", but added that the Prime Ministershould abandon his silly policy of disrupting EU procedures and move the BSE problem from politics into the realm of veterinary science where it belongs".That was perhaps one of the kinder remarks made about the Government.
The Evening Standard—a paper that normally takes a robust, Conservative and right-wing view of the world—began its editorial today by saying:Mr. John Major's beef war with Europe has always been ludicrous. Since it was founded upon a wanton deceit—that the mad cow crisis is somehow Europe's fault, rather than the consequence of a catastrophic failure of government regulation—it can only end in one way, with a British government climbdown".A fairly unanimous cross-media consensus has developed, and it is a fair reflection of the sorry outcome to the entire affair.
The shadow Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), told me a few moments ago that he could not be in the Chamber at this stage of the evening, and I accept that. But I want to make a straightforward criticism of Labour's approach, as it 1058 should not be allowed to get off scot-free for its activities during the past two or three weeks. Labour Front Benchers have tried to run with the hounds and the hare on this issue. It seems to me that one could either back the Government or not—the Liberal Democrats did not, and we have been consistent in our opposition to the entire non-co-operation approach. But Labour has sent out confusing and conflicting smoke signals to appease more than one audience, and it has not come out with any great credit.
In the run-up to Florence, the potential deal on the table seems to depend on who blinks first, although neither the Foreign Secretary nor the Prime Minister referred to that aspect this afternoon. We can have progress of the type that is on offer if we agree in advance to lift non-co-operation. The Government's position has been that we will certainly not lift non-co-operation until we have a satisfactory deal in place.
I suspect that the one-hour time difference between here and Florence will provide a suitable diplomatic stand-off that will allow a fudge to take place, and that non-co-operation will be lifted miraculously at much the same time as a deal is concluded. If that is the case, let us be clear that what has been agreed and accepted now by the Government is a good way short of the objectives that they set out on 21 and 22 May.
Let us never forget what the Press Association reported Downing street as having said on the record the day after the Prime Minister made his opening statement in the House. Downing street has never sought to contradict it. It said:Nothing short of a full timetable for the phased lifting of the entire ban will be sufficient.It is clear from listening to the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister this afternoon that what is on offer here is not a full timetable for the phased lifting of the entire ban.
The Government now adduce arguments as to why that may not be deliverable or desirable. One of those arguments, with which I have considerable sympathy, is that, rather than following a rigid timetable that pays no attention to the veterinary or scientific evidence, it is better to set targets, meet them and then progress beyond that. But the fact of the matter is that that ain't what they said on day one. It may be what they are saying now, but it is a retreat from their opening position, and it should be seen as such.
The second aspect, which has already been touched on, is that a greater slaughter is now envisaged than previously. My right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) handed me a fax earlier in the debate from the National Farmers Union south-west regional advisory board, which met today and discussed the Government's proposals for a greater selective slaughter. Its position is probably typical of NFU opinion throughout the United Kingdom. It said:We do not accept the principle of a selective cull, as it would add nothing to public safety, would involve the slaughter of a disproportionately large number of cattle which would never have developed BSE, and would cause great distress to the many farmers and their families who would lose a significant proportion of their herds.It went on to detail five conditions for its acquiescence in a selective cull.
The point is surely that the Government have not only had to back-track—that is one thing—but, in back-tracking, have stored up problems for the future in Europe. The 1059 European consumer is hardly likely to believe any Government when they say that veterinary or scientific opinion requires X, Y or Z in years to come. We have rather undercut that principle by saying, "We know that this is not necessary, but we are going to do it anyway." That is hardly the way to send a signal of confidence to consumers. It may be necessary to break the logjam at Florence, but we should be under no illusion but that we might be storing up problems for ourselves in years to come.
A third aspect of the potential deal before us is the missed opportunity caused by what we have vetoed en route to the juncture at which we now find ourselves. We have used the veto more than 70 times in the past two or three weeks. We have blocked measures that would have countered terrorism, fraud, drug smuggling and corruption—all things that were high on the British list of desires. We have blocked various economic measures. One was a 10 billion scheme designed to help put 8 million unemployed people back to work. On social policy, we have vetoed an anti-racism directive. We have blocked practical help for travellers who need emergency passports. We have blocked various laudable aims to provide international aid. The damage to a set of schemes and objectives to which we adhere and aspire, as well as the diplomatic damage, has made the price not at all one worth paying.
Earlier today I was in Bonn, where I had the opportunity to meet the Minister of State's opposite number—the European Union Minister in the German Administration, Werner Hoyer—and I asked him straight, "Do you think that the tactics that the British Government have pursued in the past two or three weeks have brought forward the achievement of any of the aims that they set themselves—the earlier breakthrough in having the derivatives ban partially lifted or the deal that is now on the table?" I wished to know from the Minister's opposite number, whom he knows well, with whom he personally gets on well and has a good relationship, whether in his view the non-co-operation policy had advanced the British cause one iota. The Minister replied, "Absolutely not." He went on to describe the Government's approach as "disastrous". That was the view of the Minister's opposite number, a member of the Free Democratic party, but serving within Chancellor Kohl's coalition Administration.
In his speech yesterday on the attitude of our partners, when I was relieved to hear him describe other European countries as our partners, the Prime Minister came out with a splendid analysis of the attitude of other member states, of which the German attitude that I encountered this morning was only too typical. The Prime Minister said yesterday:It was the unwillingness of our partners to enter discussions and reach agreements in this way which led us to suspend normal dealings.He went on to acknowledge:I understand their difficulties with their hostile public opinion. We've often faced that difficulty ourselves.Well, my goodness me. His audience must have been greatly taken by surprise at the frank admission from the British Prime Minister that the Government have occasionally faced hostile public opinion. He continued:But there is no sensible alternative—for them or for us—to reaching conclusions based on evidence and science.1060 That goes to the heart of the matter. Suspicion took root at European level because the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in particular handled the matter in an utterly ham-fisted way at the outset. It seemed that Britain was more concerned about getting the ban lifted than about eradicating BSE. That was the political poison in the system, which did for us in the past few weeks.
So we now have some ironies as we look at what will be the likely conclusion to all this. First, at intergovernmental conference level, Britain is pushing to rein in the powers of the European Commission and scale down the competencies and powers of the European Court of Justice. Yet, as the Prime Minister pointed out in his speech, which two sets of institutions at European level have been of most value to us? Why, the European Commission and the European Court of Justice. The irony of that is not lost on those who listen to the arguments advanced by the Minister and his colleagues in the context of the IGC.
Secondly, we should remember that the Commission paper expressedconsiderable misgiving about the effectiveness of past actions taken by the UK".We should not overlook the conclusion in the paper thatmore of the British monitoring and control will now have to be submitted for consultation and approval at Brussels level.It is a high irony that the Euro-sceptics, particularly among the Conservatives, who have been so full-throated and vocal in their gung-ho support for the Government, have helped to engender an outcome that has handed more power to Brussels. Little wonder that, with two honourable exceptions, they are rather noticeable by their absence from the debate this afternoon.
The third and sad irony is the damage that has been done to our diplomatic and political standing within the EU, and therefore to our longer-term national interest. The conclusion from this sad and sorry episode for the Government and the Conservative party is that there is no point in trying to appease their sceptics in the hope of suing for peace within their party or at European level. It will not work.
For example, a few weeks ago the House approved the Government's White Paper, which set out their objectives for the IGC. Yet in the few weeks since then, almost a third of parliamentary Tory party, on separate occasions, has voted for two ten-minute Bills—one that was euphemistically described as being about the reform of the European Court of Justice and the other for a referendum—both of which would blow apart the carefully constructed compromises in the White Paper and the subsequent Cabinet compromise over the party's attitude to the eventual referendum.
The Government have fed the insatiable appetite of the Euro-sceptics, and we are beginning to discover, as they become more emboldened, the real terminus of their argument. It is not reform of the ECJ, the reining-in of the Commission or a curb on the powers of the Parliament: it is withdrawal. That is what the Euro-sceptics want, and that is the logical conclusion to which they would lead this country, by unstitching Maastricht and withdrawing the competencies of the ECJ.
1061 I welcome the Confederation of British Industry to the debate on Europe. The CBI, and in particular Mr. Niall Fitzgerald, was right to say that loose talk at European level costs British jobs. It does, and we should be clear about that as the debate unfolds.
I have not yet mentioned proportional representation and voting reform for European elections in debates on Europe. I hope that the Minister will consider that issue in the context of the IGC. My colleague in the European Parliament, Graham Watson, has persistently questioned successive presidencies of the European Union about their attitude. I also wish to pay tribute to the Europewide European Movement, which last week published a paper on the issue, which was written by Mr. Andrew Duff, the director of the Federal Trust.
I shall not go into the merits of the different systems, but it is clear that the case for this country's European elections to be based on the same principle of proportionality as those in the rest of the European Union, including Northern Ireland, is overwhelming. By electing our Euro-seats in England, Scotland and Wales under the first-past-the-post system, we are exporting our domestic political distortions to the Brussels Parliament. That should be of concern to people across the political spectrum because of its negative effect.
I hope that, if the beef crisis ends—at least in the immediate diplomatic sense, because it will not end in the longer-term agricultural sense—the Government will learn the error and folly of their ways of the past few weeks. The Government cannot appease their Back Benchers, whose one objective is the ultimate disengagement of this country from the rest of Europe. They want to railroad the entire momentum of the European Union. The Government should take a more robust and constructive stance and, if they are not prepared to do so, they should make way for an Administration who would.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)
Order. Before I call the next hon. Member to speak, I remind the House that speeches will be limited to 10 minutes from now on.
§ Mr. Tim Renton (Mid-Sussex)
I shall disappoint the hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy) because my speech will be the third consecutive speech from a Conservative Back Bencher in favour of Europe and of our remaining at the heart of Europe. I have no doubt that that fact, despite the ten-minute Bills and the vocal noises made by the Euro-sceptics to whom the hon. Gentleman referred, reflects the true opinion of the majority of Conservative Members.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary has left on his plane for Florence, and I am sure that he goes with all our good wishes for a solution to the beef crisis in the IGC that starts tomorrow morning. In the minutes allotted to me, I shall make only one comment about the beef crisis, which is that I feel deeply sorry for all my right hon. Friends who have been involved in trying to solve it. It is a classic case, in which both 1062 scientists and politicians are involved. Scientists do not know enough about politics and politicians do not know enough about science. The world public distrust both.
I stress the word "world". We have got used to the concept of the globalisation of interest rates and the fact that what happens in Tokyo tonight will affect London tomorrow morning and New York tomorrow afternoon. The beef crisis has taught us about the globalisation, or world worry about health problems. Thanks to CNN, Sky and BBC Worldwide, from the moment that the Secretary of State for Health spoke in the House three months ago, fewer Russians went to McDonald's in Moscow and Japanese housewives switched from beef back to traditional diets of fish. The origin of the beef did not matter.
In the sad beef affair, one headline in one of the tabloids made me laugh. The headline was in the Evening Standard early in the crisis and it said simply "Britain cuts off continent". What a marvellous, out-of-date, totally antediluvian thought. It is impossible now, of course, for Britain to cut itself off from the continent. As Russia found in eastern Europe, walls and barriers no longer work. I shall spend the next few minutes on that theme.
In recent months, I have met business men and politicians from France, Sweden, Germany and Italy. I have noticed that every one of them expects economic and monetary union to happen. Without exception, they look forward to it and they are not worried about the effects on their national Parliament or on national sovereignty. The likely scenario for the next three years—from now to the millennium—is an unchangeable process towards a single currency.
The single currency will start in 1999 and—I am even more positive about this than my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Sir P. Hordern)—when it starts, Benelux, France, Germany, Austria, Ireland, Spain and Portugal will all join and Italy will be in the wings waiting. From the moment that that happens, the relations between those in the single currency and those outside it are bound to be somewhat strained. For that reason, people such as Mr. Lamfalussy of the European Monetary Institute are now talking about a second exchange rate mechanism or stability pacts to govern the relations between those in and out of economic and monetary union.
I believe also that we shall have a referendum on the single currency in 1998, which will turn into a referendum on the principle of our membership of the European Union. If the result of the vote is no to joining EMU, which will be assumed to be binding on us for 10 to 20 years—as the Norwegian no was—our Euro-partners will lose patience with us, and they will cease trying to accommodate us.
The net result will be that, whatever the official treaties say, the directives that are important to us, such as the investment services directive, will start to be tweaked to our disadvantage. Those at the heart of the European Union and EMU, using phrases such as, "provided that it is in the long-term interest of the European Union" or, "subject to the public interest" will find ways to use those directives to our disadvantage. Those ways will probably be like the Poitiers solution, which was, as the House will remember, the French way of allowing Japanese videos 1063 into their country. They sent all the videos to Poitiers, which has no customs officials, so the videos languished there in a warehouse for a long time.
The disadvantages will grow and the effects on us as an international exporter will become increasingly severe. Sterling long-term interest rates will be subject to devaluation and fluctuation and will be 2 per cent. higher than Euro-interest rates. My right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham made that point earlier and he will know, as I do, that French long-term interest rates are now already lower than British long-term interest rates, simply because it is expected that the franc will join the euro.
The non-social costs and the non-productive costs for manufacturing industry in the United Kingdom will be about 3 to 4 per cent. higher than those for comparable industry in the economic and monetary union. Those figures were given to me just yesterday by a leading business man with factories throughout the European Union, who was deeply worried that companies such as his would, in a few years' time, be centring their activities on countries that they know are, and will remain, at the heart of Europe. That is something to which those who do not believe in our membership of the European Union—the Euro-sceptics—will have to face up. At that stage, the withdrawal of Britain from the European Union could become a possibility. That would be disastrous for investment, employment and economic growth in the United Kingdom.
Meanwhile, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary said, our partners in the European Union are going ahead and preparing the modalities for making the single currency happen—a report on that will be presented to the IGC. They believe that the euro will allow maximisation of advantages in the European Union. Although, as it has been put to me, we now have the free movement of people and services, there still remains the barrier of exchange rates, which is costly. Within EMU, there will be better control of non-productive costs and Europe will be more competitive in world markets.
The link between the European single market and monetary union is a logical consequence of the single market. With the free circulation of capital that we and our European partners now insist upon, monetary policies cannot remain independent of each other. That reasoning lies at the heart of the adoption of Maastricht treaty. The single market is not compatible with monetary instability, and it is to avoid monetary instability that monetary union will come into place. As we have seen in recent years, exchange rate depreciation by some inevitably leads to protectionist measures by others.
Therefore, the challenge for those on both sides of the House who believe in Europe is now to consider the possibility of EMU with an open mind and to believe in an even more successful and complete single market, in which we in Britain can prosper to an even greater extent than we do at present.
I shall end by reminding the House of the words of John Donne. He said:
No man is an Island, entire of it self; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less".We should not approach the future of the European Union, and economic and monetary union within it, with pessimism or despair; we should not be driven back into 1064 insularity and nationalism. We should approach the future of the EU with vision, hope and passion, believing that that is where our economic success lies.
§ Mr. Giles Radice (North Durham)
The right hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Renton) will not be surprised to learn that I very much agreed with what he said. However, I do not want to follow him on this occasion, but wish to say some words about the beef crisis and what we have learnt from it.
I, like other hon. Members, hope that the Government will be able to take away from Florence a framework for taking the measures necessary to ensure the safety of British beef, to restore consumer confidence across Europe and, eventually, to remove the ban on British beef. I entirely understand and sympathise with the position of my right hon. and hon. Friends on the policy of non-co-operation. During the crisis, they did not wish to be accused of undermining the Government's position, as they certainly would have been had they adopted the policy suggested by the hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy). There is an argument for saying that the policy helped to concentrate minds—I suspect that it concentrated the minds of British Ministers as much as the minds of the continentals.
The Government's handling of the beef crisis, especially the policy of non-co-operation, could do lasting damage to our relations with our European partners. As hon. Members have reminded us, it is a British problem and not a predominantly European problem. There have been 150,000 cases of BSE in this country and, as I understand it, there have been about 400 cases in all the other member states combined, which illustrates that it is a British problem. Given that fact, given the single market and given the impact on consumers across Europe and on the European beef industry, it is not surprising that other countries feel entitled to hold a view on what we are doing to eradicate BSE. That fact must be clear to all hon. Members.
I fear that, as the Commission said, the Government did too little, too late to deal with the problem of BSE. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) said, the Government mishandled the announcement of the news that BSE might be linked to CJD. The first that the Europeans heard of it was when it was announced to the House by the Secretary of State for Health, so it is not surprising that they reacted as they did.
If the framework is agreed at Florence, will it be because of the non-co-operation policy? That is what the Foreign Secretary claims, but I am sceptical. Curiously enough, there has been some impact on our own policy. As has already been said, we have now produced a policy to eradicate BSE that we have explained to our partners. Most important, the Foreign Secretary, the Minister of Agriculture and others have been visiting the European capitals in the past month in the way they should have been doing in the previous two months. That is why we are now heading towards a solution. Those visits have been much more important than the non-co-operation policy.
As some hon. Members have said, the irony is that we have been relying on the much-hated Commission to pull irons out of the fire. It has been the European Court of 1065 Justice to which we have appealed when we have been in trouble. It is the qualified majority vote in the Council of Ministers on which we shall rely when we want to win our case. Some countries may vote against us, but we shall need a majority. It will be European compensation that will help our farmers. For those reasons, the framework of the European Union is helping us to solve the crisis in a way that would not happen if we were dealing with the 14 different nations individually.
Of course, the policy comes at a cost. I understand the position of the Labour Front-Bench team, but there has been a cost. That cost has involved the 73 measures that have been vetoed in the Council of Ministers. Those measures include many policies dear to many hon. Members: anti-fraud measures; cutting red tape in Europe, which hon. Members say is so important; and agreement on the Europol drugs unit and action against terrorists. The list of measures that we have vetoed looks pretty ludicrous when one starts to examine it.
The cost to us is also that we are now isolated. As I travel round the capitals of Europe, I cannot remember a time when the United Kingdom's reputation has been so low. I sometimes feel ashamed of our position and of being a Briton in these circumstances. The Prime Minister talks about flexibility on the European issue and flexibility inside the European Union, but the problem is that the others are thinking of inserting a flexible clause into the treaty that they will use to go ahead without us. That is the great problem and the danger—the French and Germans have already been talking about it. It is a reaction to us and to the fact that we are seen as negative and carping. There is a major problem in terms of our long-term relationship with the EU, and the question is whether we have damaged it even further by what has happened with beef.
One good thing, however, has come out of the crisis. Hon. Members have rightly talked about the appalling way in which the press, particularly the tabloid press, has behaved; but more important is the fact that many of the Euro-sceptics have shown their true colours and admitted that coming out of the EU is on their agenda. Some hon. Members will shake their heads. The right hon. Member for Kingston upon Thames (Mr. Lamont) and the hon. Members for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) and for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) are honest, but others called for such things as repatriating many policies to Westminster, reasserting the primacy of British law in all cases, eliminating or emasculating the Court of Justice, abolishing direct elections to the European Parliament, opting out of the British fisheries policies. Those policies are not compatible with membership of the EU.
At least the Euro-sceptics have shown their true colours during this crisis. Indeed, one or two of them said privately to me that they hoped that the beef crisis would enable them to develop their true policy of leaving the EU. It is interesting that they are not in the Chamber this evening. One or two are present, but not many, which is unusual. I think that they are right to hang their heads in shame. They have, however, done us all a service: they have made clear their position and awakened the rest of us to the dangers of what is happening. I welcome what the chairman of the Confederation of British Industry, Mr. Fitzgerald, said about how dangerous to British interest is all the loose talk about leaving the EU.
1066 I welcome the debate. It is about not just the single currency but British membership. I am certain that the supporters of British membership of the EU, which is so much in our national interest, will win that debate.
§ Sir Peter Tapsell (East Lindsey)
The hon. Member for North Durham (Mr. Radice) chided us because some of my hon. Friends who are Euro-sceptics are not here in sufficient number. The reason for that, of course, is that they are supporting a great British national institution called Ascot. They have left me behind as their representative.
I shall start in the same way as the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) by briefly summarising my personal attitude—as a Euro-sceptic who voted against every stage of the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1993—towards the European Union. Contrary to what the hon. Member for North Durham said, I do not wish Britain to leave the EU, and few of my hon. Friends who share my Euro-sceptic views have that wish. I want Britain to remain within the EU, but as an independent sovereign nation state governed by Ministers answerable to a Westminster Parliament, whose decisions cannot be overridden by any European institution or court.
In so far as we have already been pushed from that position, I wish to see the key abdicated powers repatriated to this Parliament and our courts.
§ Sir Peter Tapsell
I would be delighted to give way, but I cannot because of the ten-minute rule. That is why I so disapprove of these ten-minute rule debates. I would like to speak for an hour.
If the federalists here, such as the hon. Member for North Durham, and those overseas say that my position is incompatible with the treaty of Rome as it has been developed by subsequent legislation and practice, let them try to drive Britain out of the EU. So far as I know—[Interruption.] I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) is not going to snigger throughout my speech. We all know his views. Perhaps he will allow me to put mine.
So far as I know, there is no legal machinery by which a parliamentary democracy can be expelled or suspended from membership of the EU. If some other states want to tear up the existing treaties and start again with a new European political and monetary union, as has been suggested by one or two hon. Members today, a Union from which Britain would be excluded, let them try, and let us use our best endeavours to frustrate them. I certainly have no secret agenda in mind to try to bring Britain out of the EU, and I shall fight tooth and nail in this Parliament and the next, if I am elected to it, to see that we are not driven out by the federalists. If anybody has a secret agenda, it may be them.
Talk about British isolation in all this is greatly exaggerated. How many Frenchmen would be happy for long in a German-dominated EU in which there was no British counter-balance? For France, culturally and politically, it would be a form of national suicide. They know that. Of course Britain could survive and thrive outside the EU. I do not have time to develop the detail 1067 of that argument, but it is worth bearing it in mind that only 9 per cent. of the total profits of British business as a whole is earned in the EU, which means that 91 per cent. is earned outside it. It would be much better for Britain and far better for Europe that we should be in that union of nation states, which our Prime Minister has often described as his aim, as recently as yesterday, and which De Gaulle defined as a "Europe des Patries". There is overwhelming support for that concept among the British people, but for no other form of European Union.
The French language and intellect lends itself to penetrating political statements. Lytton Strachey wrote that, between the collapse of the Roman empire and the start of the industrial revolution, only three men became the intellectual masters of Europe—Bernard of Clairvaux, Erasmus and Voltaire. Voltaire argued that the British political classes were the only ones in Europe capable of understanding the feelings of the masses. That is still true today. It is probably truer today than at any time since 1789.
As the Harris poll, quoted by the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney, in yesterday's edition of The Independent makes clear, despite the fact that the classe politique in continental Europe is so committed to the idea of a single currency, the Germans oppose it by 70 per cent. to 29 per cent. and the French by 55 per cent. to 43 per cent. In Britain, there is a huge 4:1 majority against joining a single currency. The Euro-sceptics, of course, represent that 4:1 majority in this country.
Another great Frenchman, Poincaré—
§ Sir Peter Tapsell
If my hon. Friend has not heard of Poincaré, he had better start studying European history, as he is so keen on Europe.
Poincaré summarised the situation for his own time and for ours when he said:
The trouble with the Germans is that there are 30 million too many of them.The existence of the iron curtain and the menacing threat of Russian communism masked that reality for 45 years after the second world war. But with the reunification of Germany, that ethnic, geographic and historic fact has again inevitably moved back centre stage, as it did for Voltaire and Poincaré—who, for the benefit of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith), whom I greatly congratulate on his well-deserved honour, was the French Prime Minister and leader after the Versailles treaty. I am sorry that my Lincolnshire French accent is not as good as my hon. Friend's Kentish accent.
Chancellor Kohl is a good man, but he is also a good German. He is about to unveil a statue of Bismarck, whom he greatly admires—as I would if I were German. Kohl does not believe in blood and iron, but he does believe in the international aims of Bismarckism. Bismarck wanted Germany to enjoy in peace what it had won by war; Kohl wants Germany to enjoy in peace what it lost by war. They have the same ambition for Germany to be the senior partner in the European business, as my friends in central Europe all tell me when I visit them on my business travels.
1068 After 1871, Bismarckism worked well until the Germans, or the Kaiser, "dropped the pilot". One day, Germany—or God—will drop Kohl. He, good man that he is, is fearful of the deluge that may come after him. He, if not my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East, is unsure of German moderation in the future. The whole European debate now really centres on the choice of the umbrella most suitable to keep us dry against that possible future deluge.
Chancellor Kohl argues quite openly that German moderation, and European peace and prosperity, can be assured in the coming century only by the inextricable involvement of German political institutions and German business interests with those of adjoining European countries, and most particularly with France, in order to avoid, especially, a fourth terrible Franco-German war.[Interruption.] If Chancellor Kohl talks openly about those matters, as he does, there is no reason for my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East to go on sniggering at that particular point in my speech.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
The House may be relieved to learn that I do not intend to refight the last two world wars, although I am sure that Chancellor Kohl will be pleased to learn that the hon. Member for East Lindsey (Sir P. Tapsell) described him as a good German.
To a large extent—understandably—the debate has been dominated by the beef issue. I want, however, to concentrate on some aspects of our relationships with the European Union. There has been a good deal of media comment in the past few months that the number of Labour critics of Maastricht exceeds the number of Conservative critics, and that may have led to a growing feeling that there are more anti-Europeans—if that is the right description—among Labour Members than among Conservatives. It is confusing and misleading, however, to lump together all Labour critics of Maastricht as anti-EU.
I personally have considerable reservations about moves towards too much further integration. I have said that on other occasions, and no doubt I shall express my views in future debates, but a number of my hon. Friends who voted against Maastricht on every occasion are by no means of the same opinion. Indeed, some of those who went into the No Lobby to vote against Maastricht would describe themselves as federalists, going much further. My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) is one of them. It is nonsense to say that Labour critics of Maastricht are all in the anti-European camp.
Although, as I have said, I am critical of substantial moves towards more European integration that certainly would not have the support of the British electorate—all the indications at this stage are that they would not—I have nothing in common with some of the Tory critics of the European Union. I am not necessarily referring to the hon. Member for East Lindsey, or to the hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Sir R. Body), who I believe wishes to speak and for whom I have considerable respect, when I listen to some of the Tory critics of Maastricht and the European Union, I see in them all that I dislike in politics. I see in them and their supporters little Englanders, 1069 backward-looking petty nationalists with an intense dislike of foreigners—although no doubt they will tell us that they go abroad for their holidays.
I know that my views are very different indeed from those of the people I have just described. Those Tory critics are the strongest opponents of the social chapter, viewing it as though it were the plague. I am in favour of the social chapter, and I hope that one of the first actions of a Labour Government will be to see that it is implemented in Britain.
They are also the strongest opponents of a minimum wage. I am not necessarily saying that Conservative Euro-enthusiasts are all in favour of it—I do not know— but certainly the Tory critics of the European Union seem to be the most determined opponents of any form of minimum wage, and time and again show indifference to poverty and deprivation both in Britain and abroad. Since I entered politics so many years ago, I have always been suspicious of people who wrap themselves in the Union Jack and give the impression that they are super-patriotic, while repeatedly showing indifference to those in greater social need.
As I said in an intervention on my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), I thought that the speech made by the Secretary of State for Defence at the Tory party conference was vulgar and deeply offensive. It reinforced my feeling that I do not agree with Tory critics of the EU on so many issues. My immediate reaction was shame: I was ashamed that a Tory Cabinet Minister could make such a speech and be applauded at the Tory party conference—and the Prime Minister was on the platform, more or less nodding in agreement. I did not think that that time would ever come. Can we imagine a Labour Minister making such a speech? Even when we had a different policy on the European Union, which some of my hon. Friends disliked intensely—it was very different from our current policy—I do not remember any such vulgar or offensive speech about foreigners at the Labour party conference. I think that my hon. Friends will agree.
One of the ironies about Maastricht and the European Union is that, while Labour critics of Maastricht protested at the convergence criteria on public spending and related matters, on issues discussed earlier so eloquently by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore)—that was one of the main reasons why we went into the No Lobby—the Tory critics held the diametrically opposite view on public spending. They are the most ardent and enthusiastic advocates of public spending cuts.
I recently asked the Library what was Britain's current budget deficit. It amounts to 6 per cent. As we know, the Maastricht treaty lays down a figure of 3 per cent. The Library informs me that, to meet the criterion for Government borrowing set out so firmly in the treaty, a cut of some £20 billion would be necessary. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney said earlier, that would undoubtedly mean substantial cuts in public expenditure.
I find it difficult to understand why the Governments responsible for Maastricht should have placed such dogmatic emphasis on figures that will mean not dealing with poverty and social deprivation in member states, including Britain. Why did they not include criteria about moves towards full employment and about tackling mass 1070 unemployment? The latest figures have been much quoted, but the Library figures reveal that official unemployment in EU member states is more than 18 million. Does what has happened in Europe demonstrate how careful we must be about mass unemployment and the ugly political creatures who thrive on such misery, poverty and deprivation? Some of those movements have been emerging in Europe. We need policies that are different from those laid down in the Maastricht treaty. That is why I have been so critical of it.
When anti-German feeling was referred to, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) quoted those disgusting articles, I thought not only of the German victims of Nazism, but of what happened last Saturday. Were they not Germans? As my right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney said, they were protesting against what I am speaking about, and against the policies in the Maastricht treaty that the German Government want to implement.
The treaty's criteria to cut public spending and all the rest of it are a direct incitement to the Government, who use them as an excuse—not that they necessarily need one. When they want to cut public spending, they say, "We must do so; it is part of the Maastricht treaty and of achieving convergence," even though they do not intend at the moment to go into the European monetary union. Those negative views are not necessarily shared by all the most Euro-enthusiastic hon. Members, but they deeply worry me.
I want a Europe where unemployment is being dealt with. I do not want to see the misery of more than 18 million people out of work—the official figure, but there are probably more. That is why we must give much further consideration to the matter, although not to our EU membership. I voted against that in 1975, but I accept that we are in and that we will remain in. I want, however, different policies to aid people in Europe, and I shall continue to campaign with my hon. Friends on those lines.
§ Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith (Wealden)
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), because he shows why the public become confused about the messages that are sent out by the parties and by colleagues. In this debate about our involvement in Europe, we must recognise that, since we first became heavily involved with the single market and the Maastricht treaty, the public have become more doubtful in some areas. People think that the country is becoming more involved in what they believe is likely to lead to a super-federal state.
We need to consider the matter in perspective. My hon. Friend the Member for East Lindsey (Sir P. Tapsell) referred to Mr. Kohl. In his recent speech in Louvain, he said:
The question of war and peace in the 21st century really hinges on the progress of European integration.The stupid nationalist and xenophobic press and other hon. Members interpreted that to mean that we had either to accept Mr. Kohl's views about Europe or have a war and be left out.
I took another view of it. Mr. Kohl was not threatening us with war or a federal European state. As one of the same generation who experienced world war two, I can 1071 say that his speech contained no threat. It echoed Winston Churchill's speech, just after the war, at Zurich, where he said:We must build a kind of United States of Europe".He and Mr. Kohl called on us to put behind us our old enmities, not just to end the Franco-German rivalry, but to build a new Europe that would make war between European nations impossible, and that would help to build security and stability in the whole of Europe. The generation who suffered the bloodbath of the 1914–18 war welcomed those noble aspirations, as I do now, and we should not lose sight of that.
The Chancellor's insistence, however, on a federal solution—I use a British context to this—cuts across the grain of much of the British experience of pragmatism and our aspirations and interpretations of Parliament's role. To me and the Government, the national Parliament remains the central focus of democratic legitimacy. That view is contained in the Government's White Paper.
The danger to Europe is that, in our efforts to build the bridge of unity, we will replicate the federal institutions that were adopted in the United States. If we move too quickly, as the United States did—after 80 years, it broke out into civil war—we will retard rather than progress the purpose that we seek to promote in Europe. The founding fathers of that great country experienced that difficulty, and we are hung up on it ourselves. We all know that, unless we handle it carefully, one country after another will, either by force of economic circumstances or reluctantly, be dragged into a super-state. They will resent the encroaching burden of bureaucracy and view it with suspicion, as do Norway and Denmark.
If we put the matter to a vote in a public referendum, the enthusiasm that is generated by the majority of hon. Members will not be replicated. Enlargement has important implications if we are to fulfil the dream of a stronger, more stable and secure Europe. To enlarge Europe is the first priority of the intergovernmental conference. We must realise that that will not come about by strengthening, through corporate economic solutions, supranational institutions or the erosion of national identity. On the contrary, we need more flexible institutions that can accommodate those countries, so that we do not impose extra social costs on them. We need measures that not only reduce bureaucratic burdens and improve the competitiveness of countries that we hope will join the European Union, but increase prosperity.
Another important priority faces us. We must consider carefully the discussions that will precede the introduction of the single currency. Important and controversial points give genuine grounds for indecision. There is no strong message from either Front-Bench team. My party and the Government say that, if we think it is appropriate, we will have a referendum. The Labour party has yet to make such a commitment.
Recently, the Confederation of British Industry has at least shown greater confidence—certainly the members representing larger companies have—in the value of having a single market and currency. That is refuted by the Institute of Directors. Some trade unions are in favour of a single currency; some are doubtful. Some hon. Members—it would be interesting to know how many— 1072 are unequivocally in favour of such a move. It is no wonder, therefore, that the public are worried about the direction in which we are going.
What worries me above all is the tone in which our debates on these issues are held. The trouble is that too much of it is expressed in nationalistic and negative terms, which frequently betray a lack of confidence in our ability to persuade our people. We have to work towards a compromise and a solution with our European friends. Membership of the EU represented acceptance— especially with the introduction of the single market by the then Prime Minister, Mrs. Thatcher—of the creation of supranational institutions.
We must reject proposals that would seriously diminish our national sovereignty; but if we are to make progress, we must accept that economic, political and technological developments make it spurious to pretend that national sovereignty has the substance that it once had. Such developments make it impossible for some nations to have an independent currency or even to survive without joining other nations to protect their economic and financial base. That concept involves not only political and economic matters, but defence arrangements.
Relying on the old concept of national independence runs against the grain of greater unity, just as asking the public to accept a federal solution will restrain the development, strength and stability that can come from greater economic and political co-operation.
The attitude that prevails among many hon. Members on both sides of the House, and outside, makes it more difficult to convey the right message to the public. There are those of us in the House who do not have hang-ups about federation—and there are hon. Members who are warmly disposed to Europe who do.
§ 8.1 pm
§ Mr. Stuart Randall (Kingston upon Hull, West)
The relationship between the UK and the rest of the European Union faces a serious crisis, and there is a desperate need for confidence building. I hope and pray that the Florence summit will result in the relationship between our country and other EU member states being rebuilt. Serious national interests are at stake. Britain's future lies firmly in the European Union. The case for that is massive; yet the UK's behaviour for so long places in jeopardy its future interests. I regret—I do not say this in any partisan way—that the Prime Minister cannot deliver the confidence that business interests and the public require.
I was pleased by the speech of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition in Bonn on Tuesday, which contained a ray of hope. The position that he adopted was refreshing and in contrast to views expressed in the House and by the Government. My right hon. Friend promised a fresh start in the relationship between Britain and the rest of the EU. If only we can do that, if we win the next general election. My right hon. Friend said at that well attended meeting in Bonn that he wanted Britain to walk tall at the centre of the Community. It was encouraging to hear such remarks, which I interpreted as our leader saying that there will be no two-speed Europe for us, with Britain in the slow lane.
I am thinking of our nation, not in party political terms, when I express the belief that two contrasting positions will be in evidence at the next general election. Labour will be in favour of a constructive relationship with the 1073 European Union, whereas—and I do not relish this—the Tories will remain catastrophically divided, isolated and continuing as a force for obstruction with our EU partners. Some speeches made this evening depressed me.
§ Mr. Randall
That is a fair intervention.
A constructive relationship between this country and the EU will lead to a single currency—that is as inevitable as night follows day. Some opinion polls on the single market are confusing and conflicting, but it is regarded by business interests that generate this county's wealth and fund its social policy as a terrific success. It has brought a huge increase in trade levels and great opportunities for business enterprise. The single market is also popular with young people, who are leading us by the nose. It is wonderful the way young people react. The Arthur Andersen study clearly showed huge interest in the single market.
I do not have time to make the case for a single currency, but it is like having a cart without a horse. The single market and a single currency go hand in hand. The attractions to business of currency stability and lower transaction costs are irresistible. Many valid points have been made about the deflationary effect of a single currency and the consequences that inadequate convergence could have for employment. We must ensure that the transition works and does not damage public perception of the EU.
If we believe in the concept of European co-operation, there must be more majority voting on policy where currently we have the veto. Majority voting is a more efficient and democratic way of conducting the governance of Europe. If we develop greater co-operation over foreign policy, which is pillar 2 or 3, the European Union's size and economic strength could make it much more influential. The common agricultural policy must also be reformed.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said in Bonn:I have no doubt at all that Britain's future lies in the European Union and at the centre of its events, not on the sidelines …It is demeaning to my country to be reduced to the margins of influence, dragged along querulously behind the vision and drive of others.I found that very encouraging.
So much has been said about the beef crisis, and I have so little time. It is now quite a political matter, and I believe that Conservative Members have a lot to answer for in the way in which it has been handled. In March we heard the health statement, but there was no preparation for it. We lost time, and there was no co-operation. We sustained much damage to our industry and to our reputation. I do not think that there will be a solution by the time of the next general election or that all the phases will have been gone through. Conservative Members will have a lot to answer for.
I should like to make a few practical and down-to-earth comments about the European Parliament. Not enough is said about the European Parliament, although it is regarded as suspect by many people. The Maastricht treaty contained the new idea of co-decision making. We should give the European Parliament a bit of credit for once and realise that the partnership between the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament has worked 1074 extremely well. The partnership gives ordinary people an opportunity to have contact with Members of the European Parliament, who are a part of the decision-making process. In democratic terms, that is good and very encouraging. The European Parliament has the power to block and it has various other powers.
I am afraid that I am out of time. I shall finish by saying that, based on what has happened so far, I believe that there is a very good case for giving the European Parliament budgetary powers and for extending those to compulsory expenditure, so that it can do something to improve the efficiency and budgeting of the common agricultural policy.
§ Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewes)
I hope that I shall be forgiven if I do not follow the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall), except to say that I have greater trust in our Prime Minister to bring back something from Florence than the hon. Gentleman seems to have, as expressed in his speech. I greatly enjoyed the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for East Lindsey (Sir P. Tapsell). It drew to my memory that wartime warning of "careless talk costs lives". That warning was used when we were fighting the Germans, and I believe that it may apply to his words.
We must fact the fact that the beef crisis has long been a calamity of indeterminate scientific analysis over natural good sense, but one hopes that the end is now in sight. I join some Opposition Members in doubting the beneficial effects of the non-co-operation policy. Perhaps it has had some influence, but I rather doubt that it has had much. The non-co-operation policy worries me especially as it affects spheres of British interest such as Europol, which is a part of a marvellous British initiative. We seem to think that that can be dismissed in using non-co-operation as a hammer.
I should like to make a point that I do not believe is always admitted by the Government: the European Commission remains the instrument for clearing up the BSE problem. The Commission lifted the ban on beef by-products, and it remains the instrument to sort out warring interests and political differences between nations. I remind the House of the Commission's crucial efforts to win the battle over the general agreement on tariffs and trade, which was led by Britain's very able Commissioner, Sir Leon Brittan.
Too often, criticism of the European Union—of what it has achieved and will achieve—hangs on criticisms of its institutions. Too often those who put the greatest faith in institutional values are those who criticise the European Union the loudest. That applies to some of my hon. Friends, the Euro-sceptics. That has been the case particularly with the European Court of Justice, which is the primary European Union institution to apply the rules, to identify those who break them and now—very much under British influence—to apply sanctions to miscreants.
We should welcome the existence of that instrument to ensure that agreements are applied properly and enforced fairly throughout the Union. We have argued for it, and Britain obtained agreement at Maastricht to give it greater powers to apply fines. Rather than arguing that the European Court's powers should be undercut, we should continually remind people that Britain always wants to play by the rules and wants others to do so, too. The 1075 European Court is charged with ensuring that that is done, and it is doing it ever more effectively, as year follows year.
The advantages of a single market of 340 or so million people are self-evident, with ever freer movement of people, goods, services and capital. To work properly, the single market must have common rules—not intrusive rules, which they do not have to be and should not be— that are properly enforced and evenly applied. That is the function of the European Court.
I agree with Ministers that we should maintain pressure to improve the workings of the European Court of Justice, as we are working to improve the workings of the Council of Europe's European Court of Human Rights. But let us beware of arguments advocating political control for such bodies, as that would mean politics overriding the rule of law, which is as inappropriate in an international context as it is in the British context. Sooner or later, such control would also run contrary to Britain's interests, both commercially and politically. That is not to say that there are no shared political interests between Britain and our partners in Europe—of course there are.
The European Union is not only a free trade area. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) pointed out, it never has been and never will be only a free trade area. For any nation aspiring to influence and leadership in the world—as Britain does and, I hope, always will—a position outside the European Union would prove untenable, even while enjoying the free market advantage of being within the European Economic Area. Britain left a free trade area to join a political community which gains its momentum by embracing free trade. That is the way round. Other nations have followed, and still others are knocking on the door. Europe's prosperity and even its security depend on a continuing drive towards an enlarged European Union. In that, Britain must continue to give a lead.
Just as British influence in Europe over the years is now being felt among our European partners, is it not peculiar that so many voices in Parliament and elsewhere—including in the media, as other hon. Members have pointed out—preach Europhobia? Those voices show such lack of confidence in Britain's ability successfully to negotiate or make deals within the European Union, which runs in the face of history and our achievements in Europe and elsewhere, where we have negotiated and won the argument so successfully.
We must continue to take pride in our roots and our track record and to draw strength and confidence from them. To withdraw under the hypothetical threat that others may set rules or establish an unreliable agenda hardly advances the British cause. The Euro-sceptical view would deny us any influence on events as they unfurl now or in the future. That would be to abdicate our future and to deny our rights of influence rather than to protect them. Rather, I believe that we should work closely with our European partners and with other countries to protect and embrace our mutual best interests, influencing for the better the character and structure of the partnerships with countries in the European Union and elsewhere to which we are committed.
We must continue to argue for evolution within the European Union which aligns with British interests and with our agenda, to include deregulation and openness. 1076 We must continually point out that the centralism inherent in too much of the thinking in Europe must lead to more rather than fewer meddling approaches from Brussels.
The speech of one Opposition Member injected a political accent, and I should like to follow that for a moment. I believe that the true Conservative vision for Europe, as deployed by the Prime Minister, is right for Britain. That is a Europe committed to free trade, market solutions and flexible labour markets. It is a Europe of nations, but not of bureaucracy; it is a Europe enlarged, but not rigid. The rest of the European Union needs Britain's Conservative voice to put that case, which in recent years has gained more and more support from other European member states. That voice has to be heard and responded to positively. We must employ persuasion, not perpetual brinkmanship. In an uncertain world, there is strength in working closer together, and there will be benefits for everyone in Britain if we succeed.
The Labour and Liberal Democrat vision of Europe is too often a negative one. It spells a weak Britain in an inward-looking European super-state where jobs are destroyed and enterprise is crushed. The Conservative vision is a positive one. It is a strong Britain in a strong, outgoing Europe with jobs and prosperity as our priorities. That is the way to build on the economic success of the European Community and to help consolidate peace in our continent. I believe that that is the importance of this and any other debate on the European Union—and may we have more of them.
§ Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting)
I want to comment on an issue that has not yet been mentioned—the application for membership of the European Union made by the Republic of Cyprus. That country has long historic links with the United Kingdom and we are one of the guarantor powers. I should declare my interest as chairman of the Commonwealth parliamentary Cyprus group. Whenever I talk about Cyprus, I mention two commitments, as do other hon. Members on both sides of the House who are involved with Cyprus. We believe in the total sovereignty of the Republic of Cyprus and we believe in the rights and the security of Cypriots, be they Greek or Turkish Cypriots.
I do not think that anyone would dispute that Cyprus, with its traditions and democracy, is part of Europe. That is why many hon. Members fully support its application for membership. Discussion on its application took place some years ago. In January 1992, the European Parliament agreed to establish a Cyprus joint parliamentary committee. At a meeting of that committee in November 1994, a recommendation was sent to the European Parliament, the Council of the European Union and the European Commission that enlargement of the EU should involve Cyprus and Malta. At a meeting in Nicosia in April 1995, that same committee adopted a recommendation which stressed:an unsuccessful outcome to the talks held under the auspices of the United Nations Secretary-General for a solution to the Cyprus problem should in no way constitute an obstacle to Cyprus's membership of the European Union.It is because of that commitment that I wish to take part in the debate.
What concerns me and many other hon. Members is that we are increasingly hearing that the application of Cyprus will depend on whether there has been a 1077 settlement to the long-running tragedy that has existed there since the invasion by Turkey in 1974. Such a condition was never mentioned or sought to be imposed before and many of us wonder why a change is taking place. I and many other hon. Members were concerned that, at a recent meeting of the friends of Cyprus group— the chairman of that group is Lord Bethell from the other place—comments such as that were made by the Foreign Secretary.
I and many other hon. Members want a settlement to the long-running tragedy in Cyprus. I suggest that people read the report of the Secretary-General of the United Nations. He will leave no one in any doubt about who he blames for the lack of a settlement to that long-running tragedy. It is certainly not the Republic of Cyprus or its Government.
For several years there has been a close relationship between Cyprus and the European Economic Community. Report after report has praised the impressive record of Cyprus' economy and stressed its eligibility to become a member of the Community. Over the years, the Government of Cyprus have set up some 20 committees, in co-operation with the European Parliament, to look at specific issues that would face Cyprus as it becomes more involved in the European Community. Those committees have covered company law, free movement of capital, foreign and security policy, taxation, the environment, industrial policy, enterprise policy and many other matters.
In June 1994, at its meeting in Corfu, the European Council discussed Cyprus and said:An essential stage of Cyprus' preparation for accession can now be regarded as completed.That statement was confirmed by the European Community at its meeting in Essen in December 1994.
That is the background to what has happened in recent years to Cyprus's application for membership of the European Union. Many hon. Members are concerned that conditions are beginning to be imposed and that one of the countries seeking to impose them, is, sadly, Britain and the British Government. The application for membership of the European Union should be based solely on the criteria for membership and on no other issue.
President Clerides of the Republic of Cyprus has repeatedly asked the Turkish Cypriots to work with him to form the basis of the application that the Republic of Cyprus is now seeking to see pursued after the IGC. Sadly, we know that the economy of northern Cyprus is in a deplorable condition. Thousands of Turkish Cypriots are leaving northern Cyprus because they are depressed and see no future for themselves or their families. There is no doubt that membership of the EU would benefit the whole of that country and its people.
I hope that this evening we will have a clear statement from the Minister and from the Opposition Front-Bench spokesperson that under no circumstances will Turkey have any veto on Cyprus's application. Turkey seems to think that it will have a right of veto, and it should be told clearly by one of the guarantor powers for the island of Cyprus that it will have none. I hope that we will hear that loud and clear from both Front Benches.
The recent history of Cyprus has been one of tragedy. All of us who are involved with Cyprus want a settlement for the benefit of the republic and of the people who live 1078 there. Many of us believe that the future for the island of Cyprus is via its membership of the European Union, which will bring stability, security and, without doubt, prosperity to that country. I hope that Cyprus's application will be supported by all parties represented in the House, and that, when it is tabled, the British Parliament will be at the forefront in supporting it.
§ Sir Richard Body (Holland with Boston)
I agree with the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) that Cyprus belongs to Europe and should be in the European Union— but so should some 24 other countries that equally belong to Europe. Some of our Euro-enthusiasts have argued today for a single currency. They told us that we cannot repatriate the common agricultural policy or anything else. I put to them one simple point—how can we bring in Cyprus and the other 24 countries that belong to Europe, just as much as we do, if we try to enforce single policies on no fewer than 40 countries?
The newspapers were rather maligned in the earlier part of our debate, but they made one forecast that has proved to be correct—that the Euro-enthusiasts on the Conservative Benches would be out in full force in this debate to repudiate the Euro-sceptics. They have indeed turned out—every one of them—and made the case for little Europe. They think of Europe as just 15 countries. [Interruption.] Oh, yes. They argue for a single currency and all the policies that may just work, but only just, for 15 countries, but could never work for 40 if we want to bring into Europe countries such as Ukraine and Russia, which belong to Europe just as much as we do. It is unthinkable. I fear that even my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone), with whom I try to agree on these occasions, is a little European. His Europe is but a mere part of our continent.
Hon. Members have spoken of the massive case for our membership of Europe and cited economic facts. I draw their attention to the first full cost-benefit analysis of our membership of the European Union. After 20 years, it is right that some objective study should be made. The study was sponsored by a number of industrialists and reported in last week's European Business Review.
The survey's conclusion is that, although there are advantages to our membership, it is fairly evenly balanced or, indeed, slightly adverse so far—but it says that, if we embark upon the social chapter and a single currency, it will be categorically adverse. I commend to the House someone who contributed to that report, Noriko Hama— who is the chief economist at the Mitusishi Institute and probably advises more Japanese investors in this country than anyone else—who said that, in or out, this will always be the best country in Europe for Japanese and other foreigners to invest in.
She gave some powerful arguments for that view—not just the obvious one that we speak the English language, just as all Japanese business men do—including the fact that we take a much less chauvinistic attitude towards the Japanese when they want to invest and set up factories in this country; that we are not so regulated; and that we are much more welcoming than other countries. I commend to hon. Members what she said and also the other conclusions in that important report, which is the first detailed, sophisticated study of the economic advantages and disadvantages of our membership of the EU.
1079 The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) spoke passionately about unemployment. It is outrageous that 18 million—and rising—people are out of work. Some people say that the number will be 20 million quite soon. Yet around the world unemployment is going down. It is going down in Britain. In parts of western Europe that are outside the European Union there is no unemployment problem. For example, in Switzerland and Norway, unemployment is non-existent. We must ask ourselves whether the European Union is trailing its feet over an employment policy while other countries throughout the world are getting over the problem of unemployment and not suffering to the same degree.
Economists say that there is a distinct correlation between the size of a market or an integrated economy and the size of the problems—the larger the market, the larger the problems. They say that in a large single market the mega-corporations tend to be the biggest investors and the most powerful elements and that they prefer to invest in capital projects rather than in what economists call labour, but what we call people. If that is true, it is an indictment of the way in which any large single economy works. Several hon. Members became quite lyrical on the subject, but I hope that they will consider some of the arguments being advanced by some of our foremost economists in both the academic and business worlds.
It is rather notable that an educational charity has been seeking an economist of some distinction to argue the economic merits of our continued membership of the European Union and a single currency, but has so far failed to recruit anyone willing to undertake that task. We must put to one side, or at least moderate, the euphoria that has been generated so eloquently and forcefully over the years by many of my right hon. and hon. Friends that it is now catching on among Opposition Members.
Some of my hon. Friends are rather patronising to us Euro-sceptics. None of us likes being patronised; I certainly do not. More than 40 years ago, way back in 1955, I signed the first early-day motion on what we call Europe. It was signed by just a few hon. Members and it urged the Government of the time to be at Messina and play their part in drafting what became the treaty of Rome. I well remember what the then Patronage Secretary, who now sits this side of the Gangway, had to say to us about that EDM. We were just a tiny band and we were rather federalist-minded. I fear that they are now all dead, or certainly retired, as I am the only survivor in the House.
I hope that my hon. Friends do not become too patronising towards those of us who have been arguing about Europe for so long—in my case, originally arguing in favour of membership. The world is moving on—if I may say so and make a very banal point—and so is Europe. We are not talking of the Europe of the 1960s or the 1970s. We must now look forward to a Europe in which all 40 countries may play a part. That is why I hope that, at Florence, we shall take some steps to make the Community a more flexible, looser arrangement so that those countries, which are just as European as we are, may be allowed to play a part.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
The hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Sir R. Body) shares with his right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and 1080 Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) the classic ability of Members of Parliament to make a good speech without notes. Unfortunately, I cannot follow them to that extent, but I share with them, having been around before, during and after the war, a passionate belief in European internationalism as a means of preventing successive disasters such as those that we had experienced.
Where I disagree with the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup is on the means he has chosen. He and his generation saw to it that Europe was saved from disaster. We owe a debt to those who went to war as well as to those who died. However, I believe that the right hon. Gentleman, whom I shall mention at length this evening, has chosen the wrong vehicle—provably so. I mentioned to him that I intended to make these remarks. He has to go to his constituency this evening, and I understand that, of course.
The test case is the fisheries. We are to have a cut of approximately 40 per cent. in our fishing ability; that is part of the European Community's responsibility. During the debates of 19 December last, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup was attacked by Conservative Members for having given away the fishermen's rights. The right hon. Gentleman said:There is no truth whatever in that statement. The principle was laid down by Act of Parliament, as were all principles. However, the policies to be followed were not laid down, and there was no common fisheries policy at that time—nor was one being discussed.He was referring to the period 1971–72.
I believe that the right hon. Gentleman is sincere in his desires, but I fear that, as with all of us, his memory is sometimes not as accurate as it might be. The principle, of course, was not laid down by Act of Parliament; it was laid down in successive regulations and existing treaties of the European Community. They laid down fisheries as a common resource. Indeed, our relationship to that fisheries policy was published only after the great vote on the White Paper, when article 103 of the revised treaty laid down the arrangements. They were not known at the time of the big vote on the principle. In any case, as I shall show, those arrangements were not included in an Act of Parliament.
The right hon. Gentleman said last December:there was no common fisheries policy at that time—nor was one being discussed."—[Official Report, 19 December 1995; Vol. 268, c. 1360.]However, in July 1971, before the accession treaty, the right hon. Gentleman's Government published a White Paper. Paragraph 152, headed "Fisheries", said:we do not consider the common fisheries policy, decided upon at the time our negotiations began, to be appropriate to the needs and circumstances of an enlarged Community".So it must have been a policy. The White Paper then said:further discussions will be held in the near future. The Government are determined to secure arrangements which will be fair throughout the enlarged Community and will satisfactorily safeguard the interests of British fishermen.Why were the existing arrangements unsatisfactory? The reason was that a regulation laid down the principle of a common resource, although that may not have been within the terms of the treaty, and arrangements for the common resource would be decided by qualified majority voting. We know of the difficulties that that brings.
1081 If the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup were here, I would tell him that there was very much a common policy. What he said then, alas, was not carried out. Safeguards were not inserted in the arrangements, although at a Conservative party conference earlier, the Government said that they would be.
On 19 December 1995, the right hon. Gentleman said:My actions were not secretive; I have a record in my own papers. The principle was published, and it was open for debate in the House.It was published only after the right hon. Gentleman had signed the treaty. On the matter of open debate in the House, the right hon. Gentleman said:We debated our proposed entry into the Community day after day in both Houses of Parliament."—[Official Report, 19 December 1995; Vol. 268, c. 1361.]There were statements about the fisheries, but there was no debate.
It is extraordinary that the discussions on the European Communities Act 1972 did not feature any debate on fisheries. The relevant amendment was ruled out of order on 22 June 1972. The then Chairman of the Committee, in an unprecedented remark, ruled it out of order, saying:It is depressing but nevertheless true."—[Official Report, 22 June 1972; Vol. 839, c. 737.]My right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) had said that, unless we debated the amendment, we would not debate fisheries at all. I fear, therefore, that the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup was also inaccurate in that respect.
On 19 December 1995, the right hon. Gentleman said:Therefore, it is a lie to say that we were secretive and held back information from the House."—[Official Report, 19 December 1995; Vol. 268, c. 1361.]Unfortunately, I again challenge that statement as not being strictly correct—indeed, I believe that it is incorrect by a long way. When the fishing arrangements were finally agreed by Lord Rippon, he made statements in the House that suggested that any arrangement that had been made, as it had been, for a 10-year temporary arrangement for the fisheries provided that, when it finished on 31 December 1982, it would be subject to wide and unanimous agreement.
In the House of Lords, Lady Tweedsmuir twice said that that was the case. I do not have time to read the quotation because of the 10-minute rule, but it is stated clearly. That was untrue, because, in the treaty and in the other documents, it was clear that fisheries arrangements would be subject to qualified majority voting. That was pointed out by the late Lord Jay on 20 January 1972, when he said:The Chancellor has misrepresented the facts to this House and to the fishing industry. In saying categorically in the other place on 14th. December that we have a veto, the noble Lady was guilty of a direct falsehood."—[Official Report, 20 January 1972; Vol. 829, c. 731.]I believe that I have demonstrated by those brief quotations that the right hon. Gentleman's memory in that respect was inaccurate.
The Norwegian press published, during the period of the negotiations, a letter from the right hon. Gentleman to Mr. Bratteli, the Norwegian Prime Minister, saying:It is very important for us that we present this question in a manner that will appear satisfactory to our fishing interests.1082 Unfortunately, Mr. Bratteli still went ahead and as a result, his Fisheries Minister resigned. That had a big effect on the subsequent referendum in Norway.
I have summarised the situation accurately, I believe. The right hon. Gentleman will no doubt read what I have said and look at the documents that I shall send to him. I have respect for the right hon. Gentleman, for being of a generation who made discussion of these matters possible and who made it possible for us to be here in freedom, but I believe that he has chosen the wrong vehicle. The fact that the fisheries arrangements had to happen to get us into the EC, the fact that we now have friction in our fisheries arrangements, the fact that there is a crisis in the industry and the fact that there are fish wars show that the machinery is not working.
I believe that the treaties are not the right vehicle for us to achieve what we all want—a peaceful, prosperous and equitable Europe of all nations, as the hon. Member for Holland with Boston said, in the next few years and in the centuries to come. I ask the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup to admit that he has chosen the wrong vehicle to attain those ends.
§ Mr. Ray Whitney (Wycombe)
The European fisheries policies have always been perfectly clear. If the common fisheries policy did not exist, it would have to be invented. The propensity of fishermen to over-fish, the need for conservation and the fact that fish do not take account of international territorial waters mean that we need international collaboration, and that is what the common fisheries policy should and does offer. That does not mean that it should not be changed, but the basis of its existence must be accepted, even by the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing).
Our debates on Europe tend to be setpieces between accustomed actors, among whom I include myself and the hon. Member for Newham, South. We go through the regular routine of the "pros" and the "antis" and we hear the views of both sides. My hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston (Sir R. Body) has almost put himself in the anti-European category, according to my definition of it. I heard what he said about a Europe of 40, but that is not what we are talking about. We are talking about a working community. There are also the much-discussed Euro-sceptics.
I am delighted that the balance of the debate, which has continued for nearly four hours, is so strongly in favour of those who take a constructive and positive approach to Europe. Those in the other camp—as we well know, and has been demonstrated again this evening, they are on both sides of the Chamber—fall into two categories: the clear anti-Europeans and the Euro-sceptics. The anti-Europeans are few in number, but they have two qualities that they can pray in aid: first, their consistency, as most of them have been consistently opposed to Britain's membership of the European Community for 20 or 30 years; and secondly, their honesty, as they say what they believe. That is in sad distinction to many Euro-sceptics, who share the view that they wish Britain to be out of the European Union, but shy away from actually saying so. Instead, they resort to the use of the word "sceptics".
Sceptical means doubtful or unconvinced, but Euro-sceptics are not in the least doubtful. Most are convinced that we should be out of the union, but they 1083 simply do not dare say so. They know that even now, despite the barrage of anti-European propaganda to which the public have been subjected, the great majority of the electorate is where it was at the time of the 1975 referendum—a 2:1 majority in favour of Britain remaining in Europe.
I welcome my hon. Friend the Member for North Tayside (Mr. Walker), who has joined us for the first time today. If he listens quietly, perhaps he will learn something for a change. It is nice to have him here, even at this late hour.
Even if we take Euro-scepticism at face value, what a negative position it is. What on earth does it mean? We are all sceptical about a great many things, but surely it is the duty of politicians to support or advocate a policy. We are well accustomed to negativism or scepticism in the media, and we rightly complain about it, but we seek from politicians the positive advocacy of a policy. What are Euro-sceptics positive about? Instead, they exaggerate and magnify every silly grumble—and some not so silly—about the European Union. We hear a great deal about square tomatoes, straight bananas and silly rules about slaughterhouses. We hear diatribes about the great spectre of the hegemony of Germany that will attempt to dominate and control us and use every manoeuvre to achieve what it failed to achieve in two world wars. We are told that 13 other ancient European nations are voluntarily rolling over or being hoodwinked to accept German domination. That is total myth, and they know it.
Another myth is that we thought that we were only joining a free trade area. My right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) and my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) have touched on that. It was always perfectly clear that it would be more than a free trade area.
When the Common Market started in 1958, for all those historical, geographical and cultural reasons, Britain did not join at Messina. I was interested to hear what my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup said about his views on Messina at the time. It was a great missed opportunity of our political forebears. Instead, we said, "Let us form a free trade area." Within two years, we realised that that was not adequate, and by July 1961, Britain, under a Conservative Government, was applying to join the European Community because we knew exactly what was at stake and that that was what was needed.
All the extra benefits of the European Community have always been perfectly clear, as has the background of the failure of the European Free Trade Area. Baroness Thatcher has been quoted, in what she said about the European Community in 1975. Nine years later, in June 1984, she addressed the memorandum to her fellow Heads of Government that called fora series of new policies to promote the economic, social and political growthof the European Community. She stressed that it must be the objectiveto aim beyond the common commercial policy through political co-operation towards a common approach to external affairsand to strengthen European defence co-operation. So any serious politician who claims that he thought that we were only joining a free trade area has many questions to answer.
1084 The benefits of the membership of the European Union are manifold. Although we need to develop the common foreign and security policy and make it more effective, it certainly exists. The environmental benefits, international trade, our effectiveness in the Uruguay round of the general agreement on tariffs and trade negotiation and the World Trade Organisation have been mentioned, as have the benefits of the internal market.
In order to use those great benefits properly, we need supranational organisations such as the European Court of Justice. The point has been made, so I shall not dwell on it, but we cannot simply repatriate British laws and have no supranational laws, because we benefit from them. We are great advocates of the single market, and to make that single market work properly, we certainly need a European Court of Justice. It is subject to amendment, as is the European Parliament, but those supranational institutions are absolutely necessary. Those who advocate the so-called withdrawal from or change in those institutions know that it is completely unrealistic. It is another means of disguising their own basic objective, which is that Britain should withdraw from the union.
The White Paper on the IGC, which I believe is a commendable document that tries to stitch our party together, puts that clearly:We must be realistic therefore about the sort of changes we can hope to achieve at the IGC, just as we are clear about the sort of changes we will not accept. If we were to press ideas which stand no chance of general acceptance, some others would seek to impose an integrationist agenda which would be equally unacceptable from our point of view.That is precisely what too many hon. Members, including some of my hon. Friends, are trying to do. They know clearly that what they advocate would lead to Britain's departure. All those claims about repatriation, and about seeking to change the fundamental essentials of the treaties of Rome and of Maastricht would break up the European Union, greatly to the detriment of Britain and of our British national interests.
It is encouraging that tonight the strong weight of argument has been against the anti-Europeans and the Euro-sceptics. I am afraid that that campaign will have to continue, because the time for turning the other cheek and trying to patch things up is over. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said yesterday, we can gain tremendous benefits from being part of Europe, and Britain's place—
§ Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South)
Earlier today, I intervened during the Foreign Secretary's speech, and I was a bit surprised that when he responded to me, he did not point out the fact thatAll member states had imposed or announced banson this country's beefbefore the Union actedcollectively.
Those are not my words, but those of David Williamson, the Secretary-General of the European Commission, in an article that appeared in the Financial Times on 10 June. I hope that Ministers will read that 1085 article, which says a lot of sensible things about the damage the non-co-operation policy is doing to our country and to Europe as a whole.
Unfortunately, I do not have time to go into detail about the beef crisis, but it is worth pointing out that none of the 21 countries that imposed a ban on our beef before the European Union action will make any financial contribution to the British farmers affected by their ban, whereas the European Union is providing financial support. No doubt that means that, in the Daily Express and the Daily Mail—owned by the people who were referred to by the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath)—the European Union will be denounced for doing so.
I intend to concentrate on economic and monetary union. The Confederation of British Industry has produced a little leaflet as part of its "Business in Europe" campaign, which includes the following important statement:Even if the UK does not join, it is in the UK's interests that EMU is a success.The House of Lords European Communities Committee has published in the past few days a report entitled "An EMU of 'Ins' and 'Outs'", which says:We are convinced that it is prudent for the United Kingdom to plan on the basis that EMU will go ahead, whether or not the United Kingdom eventually joins.Perhaps that is why the Chancellor of the Exchequer has quietly persuaded his fellow Finance Ministers to drop the requirement for two years' membership of the ERM before a country can join EMU. He is keeping his options open. I am not sure whether the rest of the Cabinet are entirely satisfied or happy with that, but at least the Government seem to be preparing the ground.
EMU is not a problem for our Government alone. If and when it takes place, it will happen because there is now a momentum behind it. The markets have already made the adjustments. In the financial institutions, it is assumed that there will be a European single currency within the next few years. There may be some slippage of a few months in the implementation date, but we should not hold our breath. It is clear that EMU will happen at some point, and as a country we are sleepwalking away from the real questions.
The debate today has been of an infinitely better quality than some of the European debates in the House. I congratulate the Conservatives who have come along and made their voices heard in favour of European co-operation for a change. Sometimes it has been a bit sad, and we have got the impression that there is no one but rabid xenophobes on the Government Benches.
§ Mr. Gapes
I exempt the hon. Lady, who always attends European debates.
I have a serious point to make about where we are going. Clearly the single currency will be centred on the deutschmark. There is already a deutschmark zone. If we choose to stay out of that, it will probably be at the cost of our having to meet the convergency criteria anyway, so as to be competitive in international markets. I was in Oslo recently, and the Norwegians are meeting the single market criteria more rigorously than most member states of the EU, even though they voted to stay out. They are doing so because they recognise that their economy depends on 1086 getting into the European market. If we do not face up to this problem in the next few years, we could face some harsh decisions.
Our country is now at a watershed, and we must stop the uncertainty. We must recognise that we have to make some decisive choices soon. I have been against referendums, and I tended to the view of Clement Attlee that they were the devices of demagogues and dictators. But we must make decisive choices, and we need a general election soon that gives a clear choice to the people of this country. We will do ourselves enormous damage if we spend another year of incessant agonising about our future and do not face up to the fundamental economic and political problems of a wider Europe, such as enlargement. This country must stop looking inwards and start looking to the wider world.
§ 9.5 pm
§ Mrs. Edwina Currie (South Derbyshire)
I am hoping for two helpful announcements following the Florence summit: first, that the framework document on BSE will be adopted and implemented, as other hon. Members have said today; and, secondly, that the non-co-operation strategy will be abandoned and consigned to the dustbin of history where it belongs. The two elements are linked by the Government, and the latter strategy has been regarded as the cause of the former.
Earlier today, a triumph was claimed by the Government, and who am I to argue with that? I merely put on record a point that I made to the Foreign Secretary when he came to speak to the Conservative group for Europe, of which I am chairman, on 12 June in the House. In my view, had we adopted the framework approach from the start, we would have arrived at much the same point by now without the non-co-operation process. If negotiation, scientific evidence and everything else that we have called in aid are as strong and important as we believe them to be, the obduracy and bad manners of the non-co-operation process would not have been necessary.
Some things are very obvious from the position paper of the Commission, entitled "The Protection of Human and Animal Health". It is very clear, for example, that the European Union holds the whip hand in this. The document states:Fortnightly reports by the UK and inspections and monthly reports by the Commission to the Council and Parliament"—not this Parliament, but the European Parliament—will continue as long as necessary and are an integral part of this procedure".The document adds:The Commission will subsequently fix the date when exports can effectively resume following a successful outcome of a Community inspection".My goodness—that puts us in our place.
It has also become obvious that we cannot manage without the EU. These countries are our customers. The hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Gapes) said that the countries banned our exports before the EU did so, and he is quite right. However, it was worse than that. Our customers banned our exports. The day after the announcement by the Secretary of State for Health—I am glad that he made it in the House—the markets in Derbyshire and Staffordshire closed. My constituents, and my beef farmers in particular, had a lucrative trade with Italy, but they have been unable to export anything—not a single gramme or ounce—since.
1087 These countries are our customers, but they are also our regulators—there can be no argument about that any more. They are also our competitors and, close as we are, they are our companions in every aspect of business. What is also beyond peradventure is that enormous and long-lasting damage has been done to the European beef industry— probably more than to our own. Therefore, we are all very much in this together.
My anxieties have been aroused by much of the debate during the past three months or so. Hon. Members have talked about the damage done to this country's reputation abroad, but I should like to mention how the clumsy handling of this and previous rows has damaged public opinion in this country. When the Prime Minister took office, a Gallup poll in The Daily Telegraph in November 1990 asked a regular question:Generally speaking, do you think British membership of the European Union is a good thing, a bad thing or neither good nor bad?In November 1990, 56 per cent. said that it was a good thing and 13 per cent. said that it was a bad thing—in other words, about 4:1. Of course, the British are among the few nations who can say that something is a bad thing, but want to stay in it. Nevertheless, at that stage the European Union was very popular. That was the result of a highly successful decade of pro-European activity, culminating in the creation of the single market.
Where are we now? In the same poll in The Daily Telegraph on 10 April 1996, 34 per cent. of respondents said that it was a good thing, 34 per cent. that it was a bad thing and 32 per cent. did not know. So we now have a confused and divided nation. That, I suspect, reflects a confused and divided House, and in particular a confused and divided Administration.
Our Front-Bench speakers repeatedly raise fears about things that do not exist and probably are not going to exist. We constantly hear—it is in the White Paper—that the Government are totally against a super-state and a federal Europe. Those phrases were bandied around by our Ministers long before Sir James Goldsmith appeared on the scene and started using such language.
My right hon. and hon. Friends are raising an Aunt Sally which has no basis in fact. The result is to make the British people fearful not of how the European Union will be in future but of how it is now. We know that the United Kingdom as a trading nation has gained enormously from how the European Union is now. The Government have been making a rod for their own back. That makes it harder to accept change when it inevitably comes. It also makes it harder to accept the implementation of changes agreed many years ago such as the fisheries policy. It just makes life very much harder.
All the surveys show that the British people want more information—information that they can trust, refer to, discuss, debate and evaluate. That should come from the Government. It should not come from anyone else. It should come clearly from the Government, who ought to take on board as a duty their responsibility to educate the nation.
The same report in The Daily Telegraph referred to an effort by Gestetner to discover the attitudes of Britain's school children. It discovered thatsophistication about Europe among Britain's young is not high … 39 per cent. thought Europe included the USA and Australia.1088 The provision of information ought also to be the European Commission's job, but it is extremely hesitant about information campaigns. It has decided not to spend information money in this country, although it spends it in other countries. So the voluntary movements will have to do it. The hon. Member for North Durham (Mr. Radice) is the chairman of the European Movement. I am a vice-chairman, and other vice-chairmen have been in the Chamber tonight. We will have to do it. We will have to take on Goldsmith. We will do it, but it is a disgrace that it is being left to the voluntary movements. It ought to be the responsibility of the Government.
I have a feeling that the Government think that anti-European or Euro-sceptic policies will be popular with the electorate when the election comes. This is the Redwood theory. It is sadly mistaken. It may go down well in Wokingham, but it does not make voters' eyes light up in the industrial midlands, where large numbers of marginal seats are to be found—seats such as mine. Why? Because the European Union means jobs, that is why, and my young working voters know it. At no time since the war have the British electorate voted into power an anti-European party. The Labour party knows that, which is why, with its most cynical approach to politics, it is now moving in that direction.
More significantly, it is in the Government's interest and the country's interest that we should adopt a much more positive approach in future. I hope, therefore, that we will return in our dealings with the European Union to consent and courtesy as quickly as possible.
§ Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)
In a Chamber in which we extol the virtues of education and maturity, when someone like myself speaks as a pro-European who 20 years ago campaigned against Europe—as did my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition—it is regarded not as a sign of education and growing maturity but as some dark secret that one should try to bury. I was unashamedly naive about Europe and I have, I think, matured and become confident of the benefits that membership of Europe gives to us as a nation and to the people whom I represent.
I listened to the speech of the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) and I agree that the original concept of the treaty of Rome was right. Europe should grow closer and closer over the years into a greater unity. We should be unashamed about that, especially as most of us come into politics because, above all, we want peace. We can prioritise the economy, which is very important—the hon. Member for South Derbyshire (Mrs. Currie) spoke about jobs—but we want peace and prosperity and that is why we have built Europe as a bulwark against another war such as the one in 1914–18 and the last war.
We want a peaceful and a prosperous Europe that offers cultural diversity. We should speak out about the good aspects of Europe, and I am glad that we have had a positive debate today. So many of the voices that have been heard in our country in the past two years have been strident, Euro-sceptic voices.
I do not blame the Euro-sceptics. They have an opinion and they have the right to express that opinion, but the Government have been pushed into nervous timidity about Europe. That is the real problem, but I think that they are 1089 coming to their senses. I knew they would come to their senses on the day that the CBI spoke out with a clarion message. As someone involved with manufacturing industry, I have gone round and spoken to the chairmen of companies and they have asked quietly—they are more positive now—what the Government's problem is and why they have changed their mind about being at the heart of Europe. That is a consistent point of view and an important one.
I wish to shed a little light into the lives of all those who believe in Europe. Some of the more sophisticated polls show that the new, younger generation, especially those who are well educated, are positive about Europe. We have a wonderful network in Europe in the ERASMUS exchange programme. Young students from across Europe come here to be educated, and our students go abroad. There is a marvellous feeling among the new generation, who are better at languages than we were and better at conversing with their opposite numbers. That is making Europe a reality and is one ingredient that will stop us ever going back to an anti-European position.
Another problem with the issue of Europe is that too often people think that one has to be pro-Europe and unquestioning or anti-Europe. I want to be both. I am pro-European, but there are some ghastly problems with Europe. For example, the common agricultural policy is a disgrace. It must be changed, but we must be in Europe to change it. We cannot change it if we do not participate.
I take the traditional view about a healthy democracy. I do not know of any healthy democracy that does not have a legislature that checks the executive effectively. That has worked in this country and in the great democracies of the world. An effective legislature is the key ingredient, together with an independent judiciary, for a healthy democracy. We do not have that in Europe, because it is far too heavily driven by the executive. The Council of Ministers has too much power—as, in some ways, does the Commission, but that can be put right.
As a Front Bencher shadowing various Ministers in the past 12 years, I have seen the facility with which a Minister would leave the House of Commons, get into his chauffeured car, drive to the City airport or Heathrow, fly to Brussels, and meet his opposite numbers, with a simultaneous translation and another staff provided. The executive has wonderful access to Europe. The Minister shakes his head, but if we want to deepen our European experience and to make the people we represent more confident about Europe, we must start taking it seriously ourselves.
That means that we must talk to our opposite numbers in Germany, France, Spain and Italy. We must have the ability to meet them and talk to them on issues in which we are interested such as energy, the environment or industrial policy. The best way to overcome prejudice is to meet the people that one tends to hold prejudices about. We, the 15 domestic legislatures, have to take steps to make common cause, which is what politicians do best. Politicians are good at gossiping, plotting and planning, and we must start doing that across the 15 domestic parliaments.
The Front-Bench teams have been very good and have allowed Back Benchers to squeeze in extra time, so I shall not detain the House for too much longer.
If we are to start making common cause, we must have access—not the miserable one trip to Brussels a year. We must have a method of communication, a regular page on 1090 the Internet and a regular journal or newsletter for hon. Members and for those other legislatures that are still steam driven. We must also demand a meeting place—a central location—perhaps in Brussels, with meeting rooms and simultaneous translation, where we can do the thing that politicians do best: check an executive which, if not controlled, will get out of hand.
I promised myself that I would say nothing about the beef crisis, but I have been tempted by the latter remarks of the hon. Member for South Derbyshire. I was sitting in the House talking to the chairman of a major chemical company three months ago when the crisis broke. When we all thought that it was a quiet week, two Cabinet Ministers rushed into the Chamber to make a statement— indeed, the hands of the Secretary of State for Health were shaking on his papers. The message went round the world that there was a crisis. The senior industrialist said to me, "When we get to a certain level in my business, we are sent on a crisis management course. You are told that, if you do not handle a crisis in 10 minutes or 10 hours, it will get out of hand." The beef crisis got out of hand.
I was with the German ambassador in Paris two weeks ago, when he asked me in a pained way, "What have you done? You have single-handedly undermined one of the most important industries in Europe." If the crisis was in the pharmaceutical, chemical or steel industry, it would look different, but it happened to involve farming and beef. It was this Administration who got things so wrong and forgot that we live in a global village. The image of the Secretary of State at the Dispatch Box was instantly transmitted around the globe, and everything that followed was this Administration's responsibility.
I shall end on a better note: this has been an intelligent and constructive debate. We must ensure that the message that prosperity and peace come from a deepening and widening Europe is broadcast not just today. We must continue to give that message, or the eccentric right in this country will take the initiative and take advantage of the current situation.
§ Ms Joyce Quin (Gateshead, East)
Today's debate has been part of the series of debates that we hold in the House to look at the six-monthly developments in the European Union. Such is the unpredictability of political life that six months ago we did not imagine that we would spend the majority of today's debate discussing a beef crisis. As many hon. Members on both sides of the House have said, it has been a good debate—one of the best of the six-monthly debates that I have experienced during my time in the House, with some excellent contributions from both sides of the House. There have been fewer of the setpieces to which the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) referred, and, given the unusual circumstances, some unusual contributions.
On the Conservative Benches, as was pointed out by many of my hon. Friends, the debate was not dominated by Euro-sceptics. They have not been entirely absent from the debate. There was the perhaps idiosyncratic speech of the hon. Member for East Lindsey (Sir P. Tapsell), which provoked plenty of reaction on both sides of the House, and the speech of the hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Sir R. Body), who said some things with which I agreed, particularly on the common agricultural policy and the need for its reform if enlargement of the EU is to go ahead, as we all hope.
1091 None the less, there were some notable Euro-sceptic absences in the debate, including that of the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash). Perhaps he was so wounded by the comments made about him by the hon. Member for South Derbyshire (Mrs. Currie) in The Times today—I shall not quote them in case they are deemed unparliamentary—that he was rendered speechless and unable to attend. I shall leave to my hon. Friends the joy of discovering those quotes in today's newspapers.
§ Ms Quin
I do not think that the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) has been present throughout the debate. He certainly has not heard as many of the speeches as I have, so perhaps he will not make comments from a sedentary position.
The beef ban and the Government's approach to beef have been a dominant theme throughout the debate. Indeed, there were many telling criticisms of the Government's approach to the issue. There is, it seems, a depressing pattern in the Government's approach to European Union issues. They breathe fire and brimstone and then subside without achieving their original goals, and often do so in such a way as to damage our standing with our European partners. Indeed, this is the third time in the past couple of years that the Government have adopted such an approach: they did so in the dispute about qualified majority voting, at the Ioanina conference and at the time of the appointment of the European Commission President, where they stuck out against the appointment of Jean Luc Dehaene and ended up with the appointment of Jacques Santer, who then said that his views on European policies were identical to those of Mr. Dehaene, whom the Government had been so determined to resist.
There has been a catastrophic mishandling and mismanagement of the BSE episode and the beef ban by the Government, beginning with deregulation and the laxity of rules on animal feed, which have caused such problems, leading to the extraordinary events, which have been described by many hon. Members, of 20 March, when the Secretary of State for Health made his statement to the House. The statement was made with a staggering lack of consultation with our European partners and it caused many of the problems that have subsequently haunted the Government. I quite accept the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore), who said that members of the public were surprised that the EU had the power to impose a worldwide ban, but I find it quite astonishing that the Government did not seem to realise that, or that they did not prepare the ground much more fully with our European partners, given the likely reaction by consumers in other European Union countries.
I found the Foreign Secretary's speech an exercise in the rewriting of immediate history. He seemed to think that we had very short memories indeed and that we would not remember what was said in the House only a month or so ago, but my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) reminded us in vivid detail 1092 what the Government said at the beginning of the process, what they claimed then and what they claim today in the House and outside to the media.
§ Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)
In his speech today, the Foreign Secretary repeatedly made the point that the extra 67,000 cattle that will be slaughtered are not additional, because they will be slaughtered prematurely anyway. But is not that true of all cattle? Otherwise our fields would be filled with small, grey, geriatric cows tottering around on arthritic legs. We do not see that. Is not it true that the additional cows that are being slaughtered are in fact having their productive lives reduced, and that the change of policy is a humiliating climbdown?
§ Ms Quin
As ever, my hon. Friend makes his point very effectively. The Government are unable to convince the National Farmers Union, and farmers generally, of the accuracy of figures that they say are much less important than they obviously are.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr. Radice) reflected on the many ironies of the situation. There certainly are a great number. Many double standards have been operated throughout this episode. Tory Euro-sceptics who have been keen, indeed gleeful, in their criticism of European Union countries have usually omitted to refer to countries outside the EU that have also banned our beef. The Government must recognise that, even if the ban is lifted, as we all hope, it will be, a massive information campaign will be needed to ensure that other countries, many of which have a traditionally friendly attitude to Britain, accept British beef in the future.
There is also the irony of the Government's appeal to the European Court of Justice, given the many criticisms of the Court that have emanated from Conservative Members, and the schizophrenic approach to it adopted by the White Paper. There is also the irony involving the voting system. The Foreign Secretary spoke of the importance of unanimity, but I heard a radio interview in which the Minister of Agriculture seemed to suggest that, thank goodness—in his view—the matter could be decided through qualified majority voting; otherwise, it would be impossible to make any progress in the direction that the Government wanted.
Then there is the irony referred to by my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston—the blocking of measures that we in Britain particularly wanted, and from which we stood to benefit greatly. I endorse what my right hon. Friend said about the unfairness of penalising countries by blocking decisions even when those countries were third countries, not party to the dispute. I think that blocking aid to Russia, or to third-world countries, comes firmly into that category.
The Government now have a massive bridge-building exercise to undertake, and a great deal of reassurance to give many people who have been greatly worried and put out by their strategy. They certainly have many bridges to build with British industry. Many firms and industries have been extremely worried for a long time by the Government's approach to the whole European Union question. That has been confirmed by quotations, given in the House, from representatives of the Confederation of British Industry.
I know from my conversations with representatives of industries belonging to, for example, the Chemical Industries Association, how concerned they are that 1093 continuing Government criticisms of the EU may jeopardise their position in the single market. Indeed, the Chancellor of the Exchequer is on record as saying that he is very worried about the pronouncements of many of his hon. Friends and their possible effect on inward investment. If the hon. Member for South Derbyshire were here, I am sure that she would endorse his comment, given that, like me, she comes from an area that has benefited greatly from such investment.
We need to build bridges with our European Union partners, and we hope that that can achieved if the Government adopt a much more constructive attitude to the issues to be considered by the Council of Ministers over the next few months. Presumably that will give the Government an opportunity to reverse the blocking of important measures that we have seen over the past few weeks.
The Government have a duty to reassure some of the countries that are applying for EU membership, which have been worried about the implications of the Government's policy, believing that, if it went on too long, it might jeopardise their applications and their relationship with the EU. My hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) mentioned the application of Cyprus, and, as he knows, in previous debates, we have strongly supported his line.
I warmly welcome the many powerful expressions of concern in the debate about the far too frequent xenophobic rantings during this episode, especially in the tabloid press. My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), my right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) and many others spoke powerfully about that. It is a credit to the British people that they have not been whipped up into a xenophobic frenzy. The warm welcome given to many visitors from EU and other countries during the Euro 96 tournament has been good to see.
One of the measures that the Government blocked was a declaration against racism and xenophobia. If there is a settlement in Florence, will the Minister of State assure me that the Government will join our European partners and support that declaration?
I mentioned that the Foreign Secretary seemed keen to rewrite immediate history, but the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) told us about the rewriting of the history of our previous relations with Europe and the European Community. The Foreign Secretary rightly made the distinction between a free trade area and a single market, but Europe is not just a single market. We did not join just a single market when the British people decided in the 1970s to stay in the EC.
I confess to being old enough to remember the arguments during the referendum campaign and the speeches by people such as Enoch Powell about the danger of the loss of sovereignty in the EC. In many ways, those arguments were like the ones advanced today against the EU, but they show that, in the 1970s, we were joining not just a free trade area, but a deeper body of co-operation, with different aspects, including an important social dimension, which the Government often seem to forget.
I was glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North mentioned the social chapter. In recent weeks, there have been some interesting developments on that. I was pleased that the principal employment adviser of the Confederation of British Industry recommended an end to the Government's opt-out from the social chapter. I remind 1094 the Minister of State—perhaps he will refer to this—that it is important to read what the social chapter says. Not many people seem to realise that it refers tothe need to maintain the competitiveness of the Community economy.It also says that measures should be gradually implemented and that directives should avoidadministrative, financial and legal constraints in a way which would hold back the creation and development of small and medium-sized undertakings.Why does the Prime Minister never mention that in all his rantings against the social chapter? Is it because, if he did so, his opt-out from the social chapter would clearly be seen as the shabby political manoeuvre it is?
If there is agreement on beef, the Florence summit will allow the discussion of many other matters, some of which have been referred to by my right hon. and hon. Friends. The all-important question of tackling unemployment is on the summit agenda. I hope that the Minister of State will assure us that the Government will back some of the employment initiatives proposed by the European Commission president and by many Governments in their interesting submissions to the summit.
I commend the submission of the Austrian Government, which describes that country's successful experience of a strong currency combined with an active employment policy. I should like the Minister to welcome the submissions of the Irish, Belgian, Netherlands, Luxembourg and Danish Governments—all of whom want complementary action on employment at European level to supplement national action.
The Government's attitude to employment in Europe is staggeringly complacent. From the world prosperity league, to which the Government do not like to refer, it is clear that the UK's record is not good and that it has much to do to catch up with the progress made by other European countries over the past 16 years in employment policies and creation. The current Conservative poster campaign—"Yes it hurt. Yes it worked"—goes down badly with my constituents. For some reason, the Conservatives chose to site that poster, referring to low unemployment, in a ward in my constituency that suffers from high unemployment. A similar poster, referring to the number of people who own their homes, is to be found in another part of my constituency where there is little home ownership. If the Conservatives carry on behaving like that, their campaign will not be terribly successful.
I appreciate that the Minister has been asked many questions, but if he has time, perhaps he will give some explanation for the Government's mysterious position on qualified majority voting and powers for the European Parliament. At times, the Government talk of no increase in QMV, at others about no significant increase. They do the same in relationship to the powers of the European Parliament.
In recent weeks, part of the hidden agenda of the Minister's friends has been revealed, with withdrawal at last mentioned by some of them. Despite the overall pro-European tone of this debate, the former Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Hurd)—who is not known for making extravagant statements—has been writing letters to The Economist warning that the UK will have to man the ramparts all over again. I wonder whether the Minister agrees.
1095 It will take the Government a long time to restore, if they ever do, Britain's standing in Europe—and the Government do not have that much time left. This country needs a Government who will approach the future challenges of enlargement, CAP reform and so on without being handicapped by the souring of relations that has frequently marked the present Government's record.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston concluded his speech by saying that the UK needs a fresh start. It can have that with a change of Government. That would mean a fresh start in Europe and a much needed fresh start in Britain. It would allow a far more constructive relationship between the UK and Europe which would give the British people a better deal from EU membership and help to create a sound basis for the enlarged and renewed European Union that we all want in future.
§ The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. David Davis)
I take the opportunity to reinforce the congratulations expressed by my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary to the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook). The right hon. Gentleman and I have crossed swords before, but his elevation to the Privy Council is well deserved.
This has been a fascinating and high-quality debate across the Floor of the House. It will be very hard to do justice to all the points raised, so I apologise in advance to hon. Members whose points I do not deal with in my comments.
As my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary made clear, the United Kingdom's membership of the European Union is vital to our national interests, to our position in the world, to our nation's economy and— to agree with only one part of the comments made by hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman)—to the peace of Europe, which is an important part of our national interest. That dominating strategic fact drives our policy in the longer term.
The immediate prospect that I must deal with today, as has been made apparent in the debate, is the crisis of the European handling of BSE. The hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy)—I think in a spirit of teasing—told the House about my good relations with my opposite numbers around Europe. I suspect that he was trying to undermine me in some way. Very seriously, however, those who know my origins will realise just how much distaste I have for the extremes of xenophobia about which one hears from time to time. I should like to make that clear.
One of the misfortunes of this exercise has been a growth in xenophobia. That started not with the non-co-operation policy, however, but with the frustration of the British people at the behaviour of the European Union during the course of this exercise. The Union's action in banning British beef exports was inappropriate, precipitate and damaging to the industry—not only in Britain, but across the continent. The non-co-operation policy arises from the repeated refusal of our partners to engage properly in negotiations. We faced the prospect of the ban continuing indefinitely, and it was not in our national interests to allow that to happen.
1096 It is now more than 12 weeks since the start of the ban. In that time my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Agriculture, made proposal after proposal to the institutions of the Union, and he demonstrated time and again that there was no basis for the ban. Other Ministers did the same—including myself on a number of occasions—in the political networks in which one must deal. Some of our partners merely refused our proposals. What was worse, some of them refused to offer alternatives or constructive criticism. It was often impossible to get a clear idea of a country's policy. We faced the prospect of endless inaction, while a British industry employing 650,000 people foundered. It would have been irresponsible to let that situation continue. That is not xenophobic or anti-European, but a matter of national interest that a Government must take seriously.
That is why, with regret, we adopted the policy of non-co-operation and blocked EC business. We did not do it lightly. We did it because the behaviour of some member states left us no alternative. We decided that progress would not be possible in the intergovernmental conference or elsewhere until, to quote my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister:we have agreement on lifting the ban on beef derivatives and a clear framework in place leading to lifting the wider ban."—[Official Report, 21 May 1996; Vol. 278, c. 100.]Some, particularly in Europe, have asserted that that policy breaks the law. They have suggested that it breaks article 5. It does not. No article of the treaty dictates how nation states should vote. There are, however, articles that make it illegal to impose unilateral bans on importers in the single market, and there are articles that make it illegal to ignore the lifting of the derivatives ban. We are not the ones who have broken the law. Others have threatened to break the law by refusing to lift the ban on beef derivatives, and we shall look to the Commission and, if necessary, the European Court of Justice to see that the rules are applied. Throughout this crisis we have resolutely refused to be drawn down the path of illegality. Many have recommended that, but we have refused. In pursuing a framework for lifting the ban on British beef, we are simply asking the Commission to fulfil its proper duties under the treaties.
What we are doing is not unprecedented. Several of our partners have resorted to tough tactics in the past to secure national interests. Many observers have recalled the French empty-chair policy of 1965–66, one subordinate aim of which was to protect French farmers. In recent years, Spain, Italy and others have used blocking tactics in pursuit of national aims.
Several hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire (Mrs. Currie), have expressed concern about long-term damage to our standing. I have not been aware, in any of the meetings of the European Union that I have attended, that any of the countries I have mentioned are suffering from their past actions being held against them, and I do not foresee that being a problem for us in the future.
The Prime Minister has made it clear that normal work in the European Union and progress at the IGC will not be possible until we have secured a framework for progressive removal of the ban on British beef exports. There is a growing realisation that the restoration of the beef market is a European interest, not just a British one. After all, German consumers may not be eating British beef, but one of the problems facing that country is that substantial numbers of them are not eating German beef either.
1097 The right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) often says things in the Chamber with which I agree, but I must correct him on one point. We do not put the action of individual countries down to malignancy in any way, and he should not misunderstand that. We should recognise that many of them have their own internal political problems of different sorts.
As the House knows, the Commission will be putting forward its proposal for Florence. Four weeks ago that was deemed to be impossible, even though we had asked for it a number of times. The framework has been and will be considered by member states. Four weeks ago, that was denied. So, even before Florence, our tactics have precipitated progress in negotiations. We could not have come so far without non-co-operation.
Throughout this, the Labour party has taken its traditional opportunistic line. The Labour leader was at first confused, and then he was tentatively supportive. All the time he was trying to seize some party advantage for a situation in which, in his own words, the "national interest is engaged". For example, our negotiations were not helped by the actions of Labour MEPs who criticised the Government in the European Parliament on a number of occasions. We were not helped by the Labour leader's attack on the Government's handling of the issue when he was in Germany the other day—the very country whose media have been most strident in their criticism of British beef.
I suppose that on this issue the hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye could be considered a neutral observer. He characterised Labour's policy as running with the hare and hunting with the hounds. I could not have put that better myself.
The right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) talked about what represents a success in this. The criterion for success is whether it delivers solutions to the problems faced by the beef industry. The aim is the fastest possible delivery of confidence in British beef, the fastest possible delivery in access to a single market and the fastest possible resolution to the European crisis on beef.
I started with beef because, naturally, it was uppermost in our mind. However, our vigorous defence of the United Kingdom's interest in Europe is not restricted to the policy on beef. That defence will continue in our other discussions in Florence. In our discussions on employment—the hon. Member for Gateshead, East (Ms Quin) raised that issue— the Government will impress on our European partners the need to create the right economic climate for job creation. We will stress the foolishness of increasing the burden of non-wage costs.
Our defence of British interests will continue in our discussions on subsidiarity and deregulation and on cutting the burden of present and future European legislation. It will continue in the IGC, where we will reject proposals to centralise power in Brussels— proposals fuelled solely by misguided ideology. At the IGC we will refuse any extension of the powers on qualified majority voting.
The hon. Members for Gateshead, East and for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney and my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) all raised the issue of employment. That is just about the most important issue that will be addressed in Florence. Employment 1098 is Europe's biggest problem and has been its biggest failure. Employment creation is one of the great weaknesses of the European Union.
Since 1960, the number of jobs in the United States has increased by nearly 200 per cent., while in Europe the number of jobs has increased by barely 10 per cent. In the past 20 years, the United States has created 36 million new jobs as against 5 million in the European Union. Every other trading bloc has done better than Europe in that respect.
§ Mr. Renton
I am listening carefully to my hon. Friend. He should recognise that one reason for higher employment growth in the United States has been its consistently lower interest rates than most European countries. As we move towards greater stability in the single market, possibly through economic and monetary union, we hope for lower interest rates, which will generate lower unemployment.
§ Mr. Davis
It is a little off my European brief, but as an ex-business man I can tell my right hon. Friend that the primary concern in interest rates is the nominal interest rate. The best method of dealing with that is low inflation, which happens to be a primary policy of this Government—Europe or not.
The UK, uniquely within the EU, has a good record on creating jobs—moreover, jobs in the private, not the public, sector. Since 1979, the UK has created as many jobs in the private sector as have been created in the whole of the rest of the EU. That is the answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath), who offered the thesis that, in order to compete with the far east, we had to offer the wages of the far east. We have demonstrated that that is not the case.
All that is no accident. It comes from an approach based on free trade and competition, reform of inflexible labour market regulations, reduction of non-wage costs, investment in skills and sound macro-economic policies—points all made by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes in his excellent speech. That is why we opted out of the social chapter and why we continue to believe that our policies are the best for the British people.
That is also one reason why Britain is so successful at attracting overseas investment. Britain accounts for more than 30 per cent. of non-EU investment in the EU. Last year we attracted 22 per cent. of all German overseas investment—we are its number one destination. Despite what the hon. Member for Gateshead, East said, that should not be news to the Labour party. After all, two days ago its leader got the message direct from the president of the German equivalent of the Confederation of British Industry. Mr. Henkel drew attention to the British Government's record—our success in dealing with unemployment, in reducing state interference, in privatisation, in reducing the state share of national income and in the low taxation of profits. Mr. Henkel concluded:Great Britain has become the most attractive location for investment in Europe. Although the German market is twice as large as the British, since 1985 foreigners have invested 10 times as much in Britain as in Germany.The Labour party never believes that fact when it hears it from us, so I hope that its leader will have been more receptive when he heard it from an impartial 1099 overseas observer—however galling it must be for the Leader of the Opposition to travel abroad only to have to listen to foreigners praising the British Conservative Government's approach.
In Florence, we will reinforce member states' efforts to create a sound, stable macro-economic framework in which business can create jobs. We agree with the emphasis on tackling unemployment in Mr. Santer's confidence pact and President Chirac's memorandum. But we will not agree to an increased role for trade unions, a single European social model or the abolition of the UK's social protocol opt-out. We will not agree to measures that destroy jobs rather than create them—to increased rigidity in the labour market, too much regulation, high non-wage labour costs and the sort of corporate approach which failed this country so badly under the last Labour Government.
I have very little time left, but I promised the right hon. Member for Livingston that I would answer his specific and important questions about Bosnia. First, he referred to the feasibility of free and fair elections. It is vital for the international community that elections are held on 14 September. It is the best hope for making a new start in Bosnia. We expect the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe chairman in office, Swiss Foreign Minister Cotti, shortly to certify that elections can go ahead. That will focus the efforts of all concerned on improving the conditions for free and fair elections.
In particular, we need improvements in freedom of movement, freedom of expression during the election campaign, as the hon. Gentleman said, and freedom of the media. It is not true that only Government candidates will have access to the media during the election campaign. The international community, in the form of the high representative, Carl Bildt, and the OSCE, which is responsible for supervising the elections, has secured an agreement on fair access to prime time television. We shall ensure that all parties stick to the agreement.
The return of refugees has begun: tens of thousands have returned since the end of the war, but it will be a long process. Hundreds of thousands will not have returned by the time of the elections, so we have ensured that there will be ways in which they can all vote. They will vote either where they are registered in the 1991 census, in which case they may vote in absentia, or where they plan to return to, in which case they may go there to vote.
The right hon. Member for Livingston raised the question of Karadzic and Mladic. Obviously, we agree that indicted war criminals must be brought to justice. It is not acceptable that they continue to be free and it is worse if they exercise power and influence—
§ It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.