§ 3.9 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Young)
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill he now react a third time. We had, on Second Reading and in Committee, informed debates. I believe that fears that the issues raised by the Single European Act would not be fully debated have been proved groundless. Here and in another place we have had a total of over 50 hours of debate. There has been support from all sides of your Lordships' House for the Bill that is before your Lordships. I am particularly grateful to those noble Lords who have helped to clarify aspects of the Single European Act and their relationship with existing Community law as it applies in this country. I should like in particular to mention the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway, the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, and the noble Baroness, Lady Elles.
I am also most grateful to all the noble Lords who have taken such a close interest in the discussion on this Bill—in particular I refer to the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, and others on the Alliance Benches—and, if I may say so, for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, and all those who have given their support, regardless of the hours and days involved.
The Single European Act is a practical response to the needs of the European Community in the 1980s. It does not extend Community law into areas untouched by the terms of our original accession. It does not detract from the powers of this Parliament. It does not create new powers for the Commission. I am glad to be able to reassure the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, on this point. I read carefully his article in today's Times. I welcome his conclusion that we should now,give the Single European Act our wholehearted support".There are good reasons for doing so. What the Single European Act does is to put our stamp on the original Treaty of Rome. It cannot be bad for Britain, whose companies are major participants in Community research and development programmes, to have specific provision for that co-operation introduced into the treaty, clearly expressed in terms of the interests of industry and the market place. It cannot be anything but good for Britain to have more majority voting in order to create the single large market for our goods and services for which our industry has been pressing.
As noble Lords will know, we are working to an agreed action programme of decisions on the internal market. Agreement remains thwarted on some of those decisions because of the reserves of one or other member state. These are decisions which range from the testing of pharmaceuticals to providing more flexible and cheaper air services or to the freedom to sell financial services. In no area does any member state have a vital reason for blocking decisions. But so long as unanimity remains the rule, the temptation will be there for one member state to insist that, for example, its own control layout for fork lift trucks must remain when safety dictates a different common 914 standard, or for another to insist on 50/50 capacity sharing on civil air routes when the common interest demands a new approach. That is why we need more majority voting in the limited areas to which it will be extended by the Single European Act.
I hope that I was able to dispose at Second Reading and in Committee stage of earlier fears that opening up the internal market would lay open our markets to unequal competition. I see no room for pessimism when what we are doing is requiring other member states to remove the barriers which stand in the way of our trade. There is nothing to stop a British company from buying insurance on the German market. There is nothing to stop a French freighter carrying coals from Shoreham to Newcastle. But, thanks to German law, a German broker cannot buy insurance on our market. A British freighter cannot ply its trade between Nice and Marseille. By the Single European Act we shall redress that balance. We shall create the opportunity to compete on equal terms. It is up to us to make the most of that opportunity. But we cannot fail to be better off than we are now.
In foreign policy, the British voice is not muted but amplified, when we speak not just for ourselves but for the Twelve. There has been criticism of the response of our partners over Syrian-sponsored terrorism. The point is not that the twelve member states always come immediately to the right decisions. No group of twelve member states can fail to have differences. My point is that the Community gives us a framework in which we can seek common solutions—essential solutions—to problems which none of us can tackle alone. The Single European Act reinforces that impetus to co-operation. It does not oblige any one of us to do something against our will—or prevent us from taking action alone when we need to. It does, however, make it more difficult to go it alone, where going alone means failing to face up to a common challenge. The Single European Act will bind us all to ensure that the combined influence of the member states is exercised,as effectively as possible through co-ordination, the convergence of their positions and the implementation of joint action".That is why the Foreign Ministers of the Twelve will be meeting in London next week to agree what our joint response to Syrian-sponsored terrorism should be.
I have described what I believe to be the two major practical advantages of the Single European Act, and I beg to move that the Bill be now read a third time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read a third time.—(Baroness Young.)
§ 3.15 p.m.
Lord Bruce of Donington
My Lords, the House is grateful for the brief introduction of the noble Baroness to the Third Reading of this Bill. Of course, we understand that she may be responding at rather greater length as soon as the debate has come to a conclusion on the Floor of the Chamber.
This Bill came to your Lordships' House as an extension of the existing treaty provisions. It added certain provisions to the Act of 1972 and itself involved the amending of the Treaty of Rome. Although by convention the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, and myself were omitted from the 915 "mention" awards of the noble Baroness, I think it will be agreed that we devoted most of our time to interpreting the Bill in conjunction with the Single European Act and with the treaty, and we trusted that most of the Members of your Lordships' House would come to a decision on the matter in the light of rather fuller information than was available in the Explanatory Memorandum and indeed from most of the speeches that emanated from the Government.
Of course, the time for that is past. We had a very interesting debate in Committee and we are now invited to give a Third Reading to this Bill, which in all practical terms means an intensification and speeding up of the provisions of the Treaty of Rome, combined with an addition in respect of foreign policy coordination, to which I shall refer later.
I think one thing appears without any doubt, and I am very glad to find my opinion reinforced by an article by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, which appeared today in The Times. I hasten to say that, while I accept his legal conclusions, I do not necessarily agree with the political decisions that he considers ought to flow from them. However, there is no doubt in his mind nor in the minds of the two Select Committees, one of which was constituted in this House and the other in another place, that in fact there has been a diminution of the sovereignty of the United Kingdom Parliament. There is complete agreement on that point.
Some noble Lords—and I shall perhaps make passing reference to them later—may have come to the conclusion that national sovereignty is not a vital matter for citizens of the United Kingdom nor for Members of this House or the other place. That seems a little odd in view of the fact that in 1982 we fought a minor war for the preservation of British sovereignty in a far-off corner of the earth. I feel that at some time or other we shall be confronted with problems of sovereignty relating to Gibraltar. Questions of sovereignty arose in regard to Hong Kong, but the position there is that there is an expiring lease, and the Government have done their best to ensure the preservation of the existing order after the lease has reverted to the People's Republic of China.
Sovereignty is or is not important. I trust I am speaking from a non-party standpoint and with the sympathy of most of your Lordships, but to me it is a matter of great importance. It is for that reason, although I did not embark upon it during Second Reading or in Committee, that we should take account of the economic position in which we now find ourselves before willingly parting with a substantial proportion of British sovereignty. As we are discussing the European Economic Community, I shall feel constrained to endeavour to place before your Lordships the economic and financial position of the United Kingdom vis-à-vis the EC.
At this stage, if there are any noble Lords who feel that because I am likely to give some unpleasant facts, or facts which do not accord with their myths, they are inclined to take no further interest in the proceedings, I shall not feel the slightest bit offended because I understand their sensibilities on a matter of this kind. There was evidence in Committee of sedentary 916 interruptions bordering in some cases almost upon mild apoplexy. I wish to avoid anything of that kind during what I hope will be a serious debate.
We are not—I repeat, not—dealing with the matters of 1972 or 1975. We are now dealing with where we find ourselves 14 years after 1972 or 11 years after 1975. Those are matters which I venture to think are worthy, regardless of party, of your Lordships' attention before we proceed with the Third Reading of this Bill.
We are on common ground. I have heard many times in your Lordships' House that the main, positive advantage of our joining the EC originally was the benefit that would undoubtedly flow from a market of some 320 million people. At the time, I am bound to say, it appeared self-evident that there would be some advantage from that. On the negative side, there has always been the stick and carrot. We were informed that we had to go in because if we did not, large scale unemployment would follow.
I wish to run quickly through the facts which are non-controversial in themselves, because they are facts. They are certainly not a juggling with the figures, as the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, hinted, perhaps prophetically, that I might attempt this afternoon. On the contrary, 11 years after 1975 there are 12 million people out of work in Europe of whom nearly 3.5 million, or more than 25 per cent., are in the United Kingdom. If one adds in Spain and Portugal, because the 12 million relates only to the previous membership, there are now 14 million people unemployed in Europe as a whole. I recite the facts without emotion and without need for emphasis, but I trust that the figures are noted.
What has happened to our trade with the EC? In a somewhat defensive mood I fancy, reference is often made to the fact that we have to be in the Community because 44 per cent. of our exports go to the EC. Speaking as an accountant, such people remind me of what we in the accountancy profession call "gross men", that is to say, people who seek to promote their businesses and who are optimistic about their future on the basis of what their future sales are predicted to be. Unhappily, in some cases they forget their expenses and purchases. That point must be corrected a little by saying, of course, that 55 per cent. of our imports currently come from the EC. There is the badness. More important than all that is the fact that in manufacturing industry there is a gross imbalance. In 1977, for example, our negative balance of trade in manufactures with the EC was £488 million; in 1985, it was £8,678 million. In the current year, I regret to inform the House, it is now running at a much higher figure; it is running at nearly £9,000 million. All that has been concealed, as your Lordships probably know, by the increase in oil exports to Europe.
I do not want to cast any doubts upon the salesmanship of the oil personnel of this country, but one does not need to be a genius to sell oil to Europe, which has no supplies of its own. Some 30 per cent. of our exports are comprised of oil. The £8,000 million or £9,000 million deficit in manufactures has been compensated for by £11,000 million of oil per annum. That was the figure for 1985, but I regret to inform your Lordships that the position is now very much worse because of course the oil exports for 1986,
917 instead of being about £11,000 million, are more likely to be about £6,000 million. We shall be £5,000 million short in our oil exports to the EC in 1986. Even on the assumption of a mild increase in oil prices on the dollar spot market at Rotterdam and elsewhere, we shall be in grievous peril in six months' time and our balance of payments position vis-it-vis the EC will be serious. In fact, from that standpoint the position is menacing. Within six months the country will be in serious trade and financial peril.
I do not seek to blame that upon the EC. I do not seek to blame it upon anybody. This is not that kind of party occasion, but it is a fact of which everyone should be aware. Moreover, in the past 11 years, because the intervention policy of the common agricultural policy and its price fixing has entered the United Kingdom economic structure, the average British family of four is now paying between £2.80 and £5 a week extra in food bills, according to circumstances, because the prices set by the CAP are very much higher than world prices.
On the financial side—we are dealing here with cost benefits—membership of the EC has cost the Exchequer and therefore the British taxpayer, who includes not only the payer of income tax but also the payer of VAT and of excise duty—£6 billion so far. That is a net figure following receipt of all benefits including, incidentally, the £2,700 million referred to by the noble Baroness the other day as receipts from the regional fund. All that the receipts from the regional fund represent, in the words of the right honourable lady the Prime Minister, are our own money back in a bag tied up with an EC label. We have already paid for them.
It would he wrong were I to omit to inform your Lordships that there are some future bills to pay. The grossly inflated stocks of cereals, milk and other produce in the Community, some of which is rapidly deteriorating, will involve an extra £5,000 million in the European budget by way of write-off. This will have to he paid for not only by the other countries in the Community but by ourselves as well. There are further net contributions to be made. Barely is the ink dry on that final expression of budgetary discipline—the VAT rate of 1.4 per cent.—than we find that we are to press up to the 1.6 per cent. mark, despite assurances of no supplementary budgets and strict financial discipline. It has already been revealed—I can give the noble Baroness chapter and verse—that the 1987 budget will most certainly be exceeded, probably by some £2,000 million. And we are still paying our share of stock—in many cases of substandard deteriorating material—amounting to some £2.3 billion a year by way of storage. These are matters that we should bear in mind. They represent the current state of affairs with which someone has to deal irrespective of whether this Bill is passed or not, although I have no doubt that it will be passed.
There have, of course, been advantages. One willingly concedes that the fortunes of large companies in Europe have benefited considerably. Of the 500 most prosperous companies in Europe, no fewer than 200 belong to the United Kingdom. Moreover, we can say that there has been far greater mobility covering the top five to 10 per cent. of our population in terms of professional men, architects, and the rest. There 918 have also been environmental advantages. It has been advantageous to be able to gain agreement with other member states on environmental matters of common interest. There have been advantages by Virtue of representation jointly at GATT. As to whether these advantages outweigh the grave situation to which I have referred is another matter altogether.
I am well aware that I shall be told that all this is old hat, that we have heard it all before and that this is the current campaign against membership of the EC. I noted, at one stage in our proceedings, that some noble Lords seemed to think it was quite improper to discuss the EC in critical terms. In their words, a decision had already been made; it was therefore entirely wrong to participate in any debate that cast doubt upon a decision that had been made. I am bound to say that I find this attitude somewhat remarkable. The whole business of democracy is surely that, from time to time, decisions made in the past can be critically reviewed in the light of events and, if necessary, new policies can be followed. This is the whole essence, surely, of democracy. It is, incidentally, one of the disadvantages of the European Community that regulations, once passed, can only be varied by accumulating either a qualified majority for change or, in many cases, a unanimous verdict for change. I have been particularly surprised to observe this new doctrine—that once the British Parliament has reached a decision, it is a decision that cannot thereafter be questioned.
I do not wish to apply the position too particularly to the Liberal Party, with whom I remain on the most friendly and amiable terms. However, if that doctrine was to apply, the Liberal Party, ever since 1935, would not have been contesting elections at all. The verdict of the people went against it. What right has the Liberal Party or anyone else to try to vary the electorate's decision? That is, of course, a complete nonsense. It is right that members of the Liberal Party—yes, even members of the Alliance—should seek to persuade the British people to change their minds. That is an inherent right of democracy. I do not say that I would agree with the Liberal Party, but it should most certainly have the right to try to change my view.
Lord Bruce of Donington
My Lords, I am sorry but I cannot give way; otherwise I shall stray over my allotted time. The noble Lord may care to deal with the matter when he speaks.
We are entitled to review the situation when, from time to time, democracies make errors, minor or major. It always lies within the British Parliament and within our sovereignty over our own affairs to make the necessary alterations.
I have dealt so far with matters affecting the EC. I pass now to another pail of the Single European Act. I was curious to note that the noble Baroness ventured to inform the House, at col. 1077, on 17th October, that Title III dealing with political co-operationis not within the scope of the Bill because it does not and will not form part of Community law".I am afraid that I must join issue with the noble Baroness on that point. If she looks at Title I of the 919 Single European Act, which is brought into British law under Clause I of the Bill at lines 15 and 16, it says, "Title I (common provisions)", and one finds under Title I, paragraph 3 of Article 1,Political Co-operation shall be governed by Title III".Title III is therefore brought directly into the scope of the Bill.
Moreover, the noble Baroness will also recall, even though the document was not disclosed, that on the signing of the Single European Act on 9th September a decision was made, in which Her Majesty's Government participated, which brought in the whole framework of European political co-operation—a decision, by the way, that was not communicated to the public, was not at the time put in the Library of either House and, like the Stuttgart declaration on 19th June 1983, was not publicised. Thus political co-operation has in fact been brought into the Bill.
What has happened? The noble Baroness referred to Syria. Another place and here both thoroughly supported the Foreign Secretary in the very forthright stand that he took in relation to our representation in Syria because of the appalling case that had been heard at the Old Bailey. The Foreign Secretary went to the EC with it and—there is no need to put a gloss on it—in fact came away virtually empty handed, so much so, indeed, that he was moved to say on 28th October that he vetoed the EC's £100 million for Syria. This was presumably a show of parliamentary virility. Unhappily, however, according to The Times of 30th October, the Brussels authorities made it quite clear that no special subsidy for Syria ever existed, so he is vetoing something for which the Commission had no funds.
On the other hand, the Prime Minister, speaking in another place admitted that she had no power to stop sales of grain to Syria at subsidised prices. She said that she could not do anything about that. Why? Because, of course, it was bound within the provisions of the infamous common agricultural policy that cannot be varied without the full consent of those concerned, so much so that The Economist—which is very proEuropean—was moved to say in its issue of 1st November, thatThe dithering over Syria should be the death-knell of the idea that the EEC can have a voice in the world".It continued:Europe has fallen into a trap. Consensus on foreign policy is becoming an end in itself, and a self-defeating one at that. The search for a common policy too easily becomes an excuse for inaction. This week seven EEC governments were prepared to withdraw their ambassadors from Syria, but did nothing because some of their partners would not withdraw them too".It concluded:Go-it-alone is better than consensus-at-all-costs".That is the burden of my argument to your Lordships this afternoon, that it is better in some circumstances to be on your own.
Now we are nevertheless faced with the position in which the Single European Act will pass. There are certain steps to be taken, and I offer some constructive suggestions to the Government as to how we may tackle the existing position without going into a lot of argument as to who is responsible for it. That can wait until later, on a more partisan occasion.
920 One thing is abundantly clear to everybody in this country, or to almost everybody, that the common agricultural policy has got to be reformed. People have been saying this for the last 11 years—there is nothing new about it. What can be done? The first thing that we can do as a country, as the United Kingdom—a force still to be reckoned with in Europe and in the world—is to insist that the common agricultural policy be put on a cash basis, on a basis of cash limits being rigidly applied. We are evidently courageous enough to impose cash limits on the National Health Service when people's lives and people's health are involved. We impose cash limits on our education system in which the future investment of our people is concerned. Do we not have the guts to insist on cash limits being imposed on expenditure on the common agricultural policy, even to the point of saying: if nothing is done about this, then we ourselves will repeal the European Accession Act of 1972? Believe me, with the mass market in manufacured goods which this country has provided for many countries there, the continent of Europe is far more nervous of our leaving the Community than we should be. In other words, we should be tough and prepared to follow it up, because everybody knows that one cannot have budgetary discipline unless one has cash limits. This open-ended expenditure has got to stop. Even though what I have said today will certainly not find favour and is unlikely to feature in any of the press who regard EC matters as rather boring anyway and are, generally speaking, in favour of the EC, in six months' time your Lordships may recall what I have said.
There are other questions. We have structural changes to consider in the way in which we conduct our affairs with the EC. The other governments of Europe have their Civil Service and their servants abroad in the Community, in the Commission, in the European Parliament, on the management committees, the advisory committees and the regulatory committees, all carefully co-ordinated by those governments. The position of the German Government, the French Government, within the Commission, with all these other bodies, is quite clearly defined, and they operate under a different system. The French in particular have a chef de cabinet. Instead of Ministers having to go into all the detail, they have members from their own parties forming their own chef de cabinet, forming their own cabinet, which is then capable of supervising the vast array of matters that come before them. In this country, it is impossible for individual Ministers, with the responsibilities of their own office, to be aware of what is happening in Europe and what the Civil Service is doing in their names in Europe. They do not have the time. They should, therefore, reform the system.
Moreover, this Government or any future Government, if they are going to function properly within the EC, and particularly with the new function of political co-operation, must have in each department of state either an Under-Secretary or a Minister of State dealing specifically with the EC matters affecting that department. Otherwise the political leadership of this country will not be capable of dealing with the highly sophisticated instrument 921 which the other governments have formed in close liaison with the EC. These are suggestions.
With regard to the budgetary commitments and the taming of the CAP, provided that the leader of my party consented, I am not entirely inexperienced in budgetary matters in the EC and I should be happy to assist the Government in framing such proposals as may rid them of this continued bleeding by the unregulated expenditure of money from the CAP.
The final difficulty is psychological. This is the most difficult problem to face. We have become so debilitated in the United Kingdom that we no longer regard ourselves as capable of surviving on our own, of exerting our own free and independent will in the world. I do not mean alone, because all sovereign states conclude treaties. We have an understanding with the United States and have treaties with a number of other countries. I do not mean self-sufficient, but independent. The trouble is that we have tended to regard ourselves as an appendage of Europe. It is a refuge to which we have had to go and which we are afraid to leave.
I detect exactly the same attitude towards the European monetary system. It has not been put forward as a carefully argued policy—and I have read most of the articles upon it—but as somewhere where, because we are weak and feeble, we have to go. I believe that that is nonsense. It may be that despair and a sense of inevitability—to put it in the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning—may secure our acquiescence, however reluctant it may be. Acquiescence and inevitability or despair are not postures which historically the United Kingdom has been accustomed to adopt, nor should it ever do so.
In not resisting the Third Reading of the Bill, I ask Her Majesty's Government to think very hard about the independent role of the United Kingdom in the world, its potential strengths, its past history which sustains it and the many friends in the world that aid it. It is their job as Members of the Government not to sustain and give their fealty to an international organisation, but to fight for the best interests of Britain, albeit in collaboration with others. As long as they do that, we wish them well.
§ The Earl of Perth
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down perhaps I may ask him a question. Another noble Lord attempted to intervene during his speech and he said that if he allowed him to speak he would exceed his allotted time. I do not know of a practice of the House which gives anybody an allotted time to speak, and nor do I know how long the noble Lord was given to speak this time. I wonder whether he can help me?
Lord Bruce of Donington
My Lords, I gave myself a provisional allotted time that I fear was much less than the time I took. But I apprehended in view of the likely course of the proceedings that as long as I presented hour Lordships' House with what I trust was a reasonably argued case your Lordships would bear with me. If I have offended in that way, I humbly apologise to the House.
§ The Earl of Perth
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord. I was anxious to ensure that there was not some 922 arrangement which gave any noble Lord an allotted time. I am glad that he has cleared that up, because in my opinion it is certainly not the practice of this House.
§ Lord Banks
My Lords, I should like briefly to support the Third Reading of the Bill this afternoon. I made clear on Second Reading the attachment which we on these Benches have to the concept of European union and our support for the Single European Act as a modest step towards that goal.
The European Economic Community can be described as an experiment in the pooling of some of our national sovereignty with that of our Community partners and our joint exercise with them of that pooled sovereignty. In so far as the Single European Act makes the exercise of that pooled sovereignty more efficient and speedy, and in so far as it states more clearly some of the aims of the Community. it is to be welcomed.
During the Committee stage the amendments moved by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, and others gave us the opportunity to discuss the contents of the Single European Act and the opportunity for a clear explanation of the nature and significance of those contents by the noble Baroness, Lady Young. That was all to the good. But what was disappointing during the Committee stage, and I think again today, was the apparent hostility to the Community and certainly to the concept of European union.
That hostility has seemed so often to animate those who moved and supported amendments. Time and again we seemed to be arguing once more the issues which we thought were settled in the last decade. For example, much exception was taken to the phrase "European union". It was presented as a dangerous new departure. Much sinister implication was read info it. Yet the preamble to the Treaty of Rome described the contracting parties as:determined to establish the foundations of an ever closer union among the European peoples".If that is not a reference to European union, I do not know what is.
If the attitude of the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, was predictable, I was surprised to receive a letter from the London Swinton Circle urging the rejection of the Bill by your Lordships' House this afternoon. I was surprised, because the headed paper states that the president of this organisation is the right honourable John Biffen, MP. I wonder what he thinks of the missive sent out by the organisation that he heads. I know that he occupies a semi-detached position, but even so I am confident that the noble Baroness will be able to assure the House that he is fully in support of the Bill. The vice-presidents of the London Swinton Circle are stated to be Sir Paul Dean, MP, and Mr. Harvey Proctor, MP. That only emphasises the fact that noble Lords on the Labour Benches who oppose the Bill—not all do—are not without allies on the right of the Conservative Party.
The noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, says that he has a perfect democratic right, and even a duty, to raise the question of whether it is to our advantage to be in the Community and whether we should remain 923 within it. I do not deny that he has that democratic right and that there may be occasions when such a fundamental issue has to be raised and discussed. But if we are to have a perpetual and continual debate on this issue so that it is never allowed to rest, I am convinced that we shall not make the best of the enterprise on which we are engaged. I hope that critics of the Community—and all of us criticise certain aspects from time to time—will argue about the aspects which they do not like and about the policies pursued by the Community with which they disagree without appearing to question its whole enterprise and basis.
Throughout my adult life there has never been a government in power in peace-time, in the United Kingdom, of which I was a supporter. I have always been opposed to some of the policies of the government of the day and even to some aspects of the constitution. However, I have not attacked the concept of the United Kingdom for that reason.
We on these Benches hope that the modest advances in the Single European Act will be translated into practice with success, and that they will pave the way for further advance before long.
§ 4 p.m.
§ Lord Denning
My Lords, I hope that the discussions on this Bill will have shown the people of England and this House what important issues are involved. My noble friend Lord Gladwyn said during the discussions that I was living in the past, in the far past of Lord Palmerston. I acknowledge the impeachment. He was a Victorian; I was born in 1899. Equally, I am proud of our country and what we have done in the past to save our country from the domination outside. I belong of that far generation of English folk. We fought the Spaniards in the Armada; we fought the French at Waterloo and at Trafalgar. We fought the Germans in the last two world wars, and many of my generation fought and died in those wars to save our country from domination in Europe.
I, having come from the long far past, hope your Lordships will feel as I felt when I read this Single European Act, and as John of Gaunt did, that;This dear, dear land is now leas'd outLike to a tenement or pelting farm.Is now bound in with shameWith inky blots and rotten parchment bonds.This England, that was wont to conquer others,Hath made a shameful conquest of itself.Those are the views of a former age which I have expressed, and put forward also in an article in The Times newspaper.
Perhaps I may turn to the modern stage. I hope that I can think in modern times, instead of going back to the far past. In modern times, we in this House have the most valuable reports of our Select Committee of the House, which is far better than any other committee that I know of in Europe. The Select Committee takes much time and labour in preparing the most valuable reports for the information of this House. As a result of those studies I am going to shed away the lawyer's wig and gown and adopt the politician's role. We are faced with the political will of this country as we go into Europe, as we shall do.
924 I should like to start, by mentioning Lord Cockfield, our Commissioner in Brussels who has done a first rate job preparing the White Paper, The Commission for Europe for completing the Internal Market. It is a most valuable document. When studied, it will I hope convince people, as it convinced me, how important is the step we are now taking. This is the heading of his Conclusion, which shows the importance of this Bill:Europe stands at the cross-roads. We either go ahead—with resolution and determination—or we drop back into mediocrity. We can now either resolve to complete the integration of the economies of Europe; or, through a lack of political will to face the immense problems involved, we can simply allow Europe to develop into no more than a free trade area".That is Lord Cockfield's assesment of the position. If we are going into Europe, as we should do and will be now, we need high political will in order to see our proper place within it.
That being the problem, I should like to go on to assess what should be done, not only by us alone, but by all the member states. Each member state needs high political will, not to stand isolated, but to work with everybody for a common cause. It cannot be done unless all the member states go into it with vigour and enthusiasm. I should like to read what Lord Seebohm said, when he was chairman of one of our Select Committees:The committee consider therefore that member states acting through the Council will require the highest political resolution and skill, if national interest and administrative convenience are to be overcome and a complete internal market is ever to be achieved".It is not only up to us, but it is up to all the other member states to diminish their own national sovereignty and interest in co-ordination with the whole.
That is what I deal with next. We must send the very best of our people to Europe. Let me tell you at once that we have sent our very best people to the European Court of Justice. I should like to pay tribute to Lord Mackenzie Stuart, who is now President, and Sir Gordon Slynn, who is an Advocate-General and becoming very senior. They are the very best judges and people that we could have sent, and we have sent them. They have contributed remarkably to the very liberal attitude and progress of the European Court of Justice.
We should give every inducement and encouragement to our best people to go there. I would suggest that, instead of their being puisne judges, they should at once have their value recognised, as is the case when a Lord Justice is made a Privy Counsellor, or when a Lord of Appeal is made a Member of your Lordships' House. The great value of their work should be recognised by those in authority, because they are also treated with greater respect when they go to the European Court of Justice. It is not only in the European Court of Justice that we need our best people, but it is very important to have them in the other institutions.
I refer to the European Select Committee reports, and I should like to tell you what they say about the Council as it now operates, or may operate. Paragraph 75 states:So far as meetings of the Council itself are concerned, the Select Committee accept the description given by one of their number—'Too many people are met in a huge disorderly gathering: most people come with prepared speeches and do not even listen to 925 what their colleagues say. They make no pretence; they do not even have their headphones on'".I am told that that very important Commission, which exercises so much authority and power, is often inclined to be regarded as a backwater; people do not want to go there lest they lose their chance of promotion here. That must be altered. We must remember that there are 10,000 civil servants there.
At paragraph 55 the Select Committee's report states:The Select Committee believe that the debate on European Union has concentrated too much on the enlargement of the legislative powers of the European Parliament as a way of solving"—My Lords, I apologise; I am reading the wrong paragraph. Paragraph 66 reads:If the Commission is seen and treated as a mere bureaucracy, subservient to, and under the detailed control of the Member States, the whole scheme of the Treaties becomes distorted. It is essential, if the Community system is to work well, that the Commission should be in a position to carry out properly the duties imposed on it by the Treaties and thereby to command respect".In practical terms that means that it must be adequately staffed and adequately funded, and that the career structure for its officials should be such as to attract people of the highest quality. There is serious concern that these requirements are not being met.
Therefore, I urge us to go into Europe with enthusiasm and vigour. Let us send our best people there to represent us on the Commission, the Council and the Parliament. Then, with a good voice, we shall be able to carry and urge England forward. The purple patches in an article in The Times today were cut out; I had a purple patch with which I was going to conclude. In 1974, sitting as Master of the Rolls, I drew this picture:The Treaty is like an incoming tide. It flows into the estuaries and tip the rivers. It cannot be held hack.I continue with this imagery:
Look, there is a ship coming in with the tide. She is called 'European Union'. But she is in difficulty. She is overloaded. Her gear and tackle are all adrift. She is in danger of stranding. Send out a good boat to help her. Here is one. It is called 'United Kingdom'. Put good men aboard the 'European Union'. Make good the rigging. Heave on the ropes. All together now. Get her clear. See that she can ride out any storm. She must be made equal to any ship that sails the oceans of the world".I have said all that—and everyone should believe this—so as to encourage us not to be isolationist any more. We must recognise the importance of what we can contribute to European union. Let us help all we can to achieve that.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Lord Reay
My Lords, some of us believe that two full days in Committee discussing amendments, none of which could be accepted or passed without wrecking this Bill, was a very considerable waste of the time of this House, an abuse of the habit of indulgence of this House, if not of its procedures, and something which we would hope not to see again in a long time.
The noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, claimed to have discovered a new doctrine which he said had been embraced by his opponents—
§ Lord Stoddart of Swindon
My Lords, will the noble Lord give way? Can the noble Lord explain why any government should put forward a Bill to be discussed 926 in another place arid in this House, and then that Members of this House should be criticised for discussing and trying to amend that Bill? Is that not what we are here to do?
§ Lord Reay
My Lords, I shall pass on to what the effect of an amendment would be. The fact is that an amendment to this Bill would have amounted to the wrecking of the Bill, because an amendment would have been exactly the equivalent of a refusal by Parliament to ratify the Bill. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, that Parliament had to have a discussion on the Bill, and indeed, it had a discussion on the question of ratification. The question about which Members of this House had to make up their minds was whether it was worth refusing to ratify the Bill, which would have been the consequence of accepting any one of the noble Lord's amendments, and what would be the consequences of such a refusal.
I suggest that those consequences would have been deplorable politically. For us in this country to have failed to ratify—and no other country has given any signs of failing to ratify this Bill—would at once have cast us back into the role of the Community's reluctant and unreliable member, and there would then be no question of us receiving any support for policies over Syria or any other matter about which we may wish to go to the Community and ask for its support.
The achievement of this Bill seems to have been the introduction of a new period of stability. It seems to have brought about a healing of long-standing, very festering divisions between us and our partners. Against all the odds, a broad measure of agreement seems to have been reached with regard to the rate and direction of Europe's economic and political progress.
As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, has just reminded us, the purpose of this Bill is to improve the decision-making procedures of the Community, above all for the purpose of completing the internal market. For years this has been regarded by many people, including ourselves, as a desirable goal, and indeed even urgent. We have long deplored the existing situation. We have repeatedly brought before the Community our different proposals as to how these procedures could be improved and the internal market completed. I suggest that it would be quite incomprehensible if we were to turn back now.
§ Lord Tranmire
My Lords, in view of what my noble friend Lord Reay has just said, I wonder whether, when my noble friend the Minister winds up, she could give us a picture of what progress the other contracting parties have made towards ratification. There were four contracting parties which made declarations saying that they could not accept certain of the articles. In fact, in their declarations, they were introducing the very amendments to the Bill which my noble friend said were impossible. I think that we should have that information before we pass this Bill, because we have been pressed both here and in another place to deal with the Bill very quickly. Fortunately, we do not have a guillotine in this House, but in my time in the other place I have found no parallel of a constitutional Bill being guillotined, except when we passed the European Communities Bill in 1972. I shall leave that matter because I do not want to be contentious today.
927 My main concern is the damage that will be done by this Bill to the sovereignty of Parliament. Therefore, I was interested when my noble friend said that the Single European Act does not detract from the powers of Parliament. That of course is in conflict both with the able 12th Report from our European Economic Committee, which said that the position of Parliament will be weakened, and even more so with the 3rd Report of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Commons. This says:We agree with the House of Lords' Committee that the powers of the United Kingdom Parliament will be weakened by the Single European Act".They have used "powers" instead of "position", but they are both in conflict with what my noble friend said in her opening speech.
Going back to 16th February 1972, I remember that I then said in my speech in the House (at col. 472 of Hansard):I have not been sent here by my constituents to gamble away parliamentary sovereignty".I no longer have representative responsibility, but I have been a Member of this Parliament for over 57 years and my anxieties with this new Bill have been intensified.
The inspiration for this Bill was stimulated by the report of the Dooge Committee. What they recommended we find in paragraph 49 of the 14th Report of our Select Committee. They stated:National authorities have, through their experts, gained too much ground over the last 10 years".I know nothing at all about how the parliaments of other countries have behaved, but I know our own Ministers, our own councils, our own Parliament, and especially our own Select Committee, have behaved in a co-operative way with the Commission and the European Assembly, now the European Parliament. A great deal of that is due to the two chairmen of our Select Committee, the late Lady Tweedsmuir, who was indefatigable in this connection, and the noble Baroness who sits opposite, Lady Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe. Both have been untiring and successful in dealing with the proposals that have been put before their committee.
Perhaps I may now turn to the difficulty that we face. With the Single European Act the task that Parliament faces is going to be far greater than we envisaged in 1972 to 1974. At that time in the House of Commons the Government appointed a Select Committee under the chairmanship of Sir John Foster—who was a keen advocate of accession to the Treaty of Rome—to examine and to report on how to deal with secondary legislation. In paragraph 36 of their report they said:It remains central to the United Kingdom concept and structure of parliamentary democracy that control of the law-making processes lies with Parliament and ultimately with the elected members of it. It follows therefore that new and special procedures are necessary to make good so far as may be done the inroads made into that concept and structure by these methods of making law.That report was debated in the lower House on 24th January 1974. The Government spokesman was James Prior. He made no suggestion for any new procedures that had been recommended by the Foster Committee, but stated that six additional 928 parliamentary days would be offered for the discussion of Community legislation.
At that time I had been chairman of the Select Committee on Procedure for a number of years. In that debate on the report I said (at col. 1943 of Hansard):
we should take a close look at [the committee's] recommendations to see how they can be fitted into our procedures without doing too much damage to the traditions of the House".I then proceeded to recommend a much more radical reform of the procedures of the House.
At that time the evidence to the Foster Committee was that the House would probably have to examine between 300 and 400 proposals a year from the European Community. I hope that my noble friend will be able to help us when she winds up the debate by giving us her estimate of how many proposals will require parliamentary scrutiny as a result of both the expansion of the Community and the Single European Act. We have to face that fact if we are to do our job properly under this Act. I do not believe that it will be merely 300 or 400. I think we will be dealing in thousands. This means completely new procedures in Parliament for tackling this job.
Therefore, I suggest that both Houses should have a radical reform of their procedures so that they can take on this extra work. Clearly, as recent exchanges have shown, we are over-burdened in this House with work. It is hard to fit in all the debates; and the House of Commons must be in a worse state because, as I said before, they had to guillotine a constitutional Bill, which would have been against all the laws of procedure in the early days of my time in Parliament.
I noticed in the Second Reading debate that my noble friend Lord Bethell suggested that there should be a committee formed of Members of the two Houses of the British Parliament aided by British Members of the European Parliament to carry out the onerous responsibilities of scrutiny. I see some technical objections to that, and also perhaps practical objection. It would be difficult to get your members of the European Parliament here to take part in a committee. But I completely agree with my noble friend Lord Bethel] that this is one of the matters that ought to be examined by any inquiry for any reform of our procedures to be effective.
If we do not get the radical reform of our procedures so that we can cope with this mass of secondary legislation that is going to come, particularly after the new powers being given to the Commission, then I fear that the whole system of parliamentary democracy in this country will in time disintegrate.
Sometimes in my moments of gloom I recall the boast of Sir Geoffrey Rippon when he moved the introduction of the Second Reading of the European Communities Bill on 13th February 1972. He said:The House as a whole may therefore be reassured that there is no question of this Bill making a thousand years of British law subservient to the Code Napoleon."—[Official Report, Commons, 15/2/1972; col 270.]Who will dare to say that today?
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Viscount Massereene and Ferrard
My Lords, I heartily agree with my noble friend who has just sat 929 down. When I spoke on Second Reading I was hoping to take part at Committee stage, but unfortunately owing to unforeseen circumstances and illness I was unable to do so. I am pleased to take part in the Third Reading debate, and I shall be very short.
One thing that has worried me about the whole procedure here is what I would call the secrecy by which this Bill has been put before Parliament. We had Second Reading on the day when the House rose. We then had a reasonable Committee stage. But Report stage was on a Monday, when there was a very thin House, with hardly anybody here, and it went on the nod. Today is another Monday, but I am glad to observe that quite a number of peers are present. What is perfectly obvious is that we know that this is a very important constitutional Bill, but from the point of view of public understanding, it has not been given the attention that it ought to have been given. I have asked many intelligent and experienced people about this Bill. Hardly any of them know anything about it. I have even asked the chairmen of Conservative constituencies and they know nothing about it. There seems to have been a veil of secrecy over the whole procedure.
My noble friend the Minister told us what a wonderful thing this Bill will be for Britain; that there will be no danger to our sovereignty and so on. But if that is so, why was there not more publicity? The title of the Bill itself is deceptive. When I first saw the Bill I thought it was of little importance and when I read it the Bill meant little to me. Instead of being called the European Communities (Amendment) Bill, it ought to have been called the "European Political Union Bill". Then the public would probably have taken notice. Even the press appear to know nothing about it. I cannot understand this. I feel that there have been some faceless individuals—who they are, I do not know—of great power who have been able to manipulate the Government into keeping this Bill out of the limelight, which I think is a pity. I am not in any way blaming my noble friend on the Front Bench. She would not dream of doing such things.
I understood my noble friend Lady Young to say that the Bill would not affect our sovereignty at all and that it would mean a great advance in the welfare of this country. But this Bill debases the sovereignty of the Queen in Parliament: there is no doubt about it. If we debase the sovereignty of the Queen in Parliament we debase our law. It is as plain as daylight that British law, our common law, our legislative system, will eventually be under the Supreme Court of the EC. That cannot be avoided. I may even live to see the day when foreign judges sit in our courts to judge United Kingdom citizens. That will take some time no doubt, but I find the idea extremely unattractive.
Various other things will happen. Frontiers are to be abolished. There will be no frontiers. How many members of the EC are there now? I think there are 12 and, if frontiers are to be abolished, what about crime and drugs? Good heavens, think of the poor police! We here will be flooded with foreigners from the whole of Europe, apart from the one or two other countries who are not in the EC. Has anybody thought of that?
I am afraid that I cannot support this Bill, though I cannot do anything about it. I am always being told 930 that today is the age of the common man and that therefore anything one says is irrelevant. I am quite prepared to accept that, but not when it comes to the debasing of the sovereignty of. the Queen. My family for centuries in direct line has served every monarch, and we even brought one back.
§ Viscount Massereene and Ferrard
Yes, my Lords, he was; he had a great sense of humour. I have been speaking for six minutes and that is nearly enough.
But something rather worries and surprises me about the Opposition. I agreed with some of the things the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, said. I did not agree with everything; he cannot be as lucky as that! What worries me is that the majority of the members of the EC have Socialist governments. I think they do, but the noble Lord shakes his head. They certainly have Labour Governments. What is the difference? Surely there is none.
There is a danger. When I was speaking on Second Reading I read a quotation from the political director of the Communist Party in this country, saying that his party must support the EC. He knew when these Bills were introduced, and all the titles of the Bills. He said that we must support by every means in our power the entry of Britain into the EC and support the other Bill that we are now discussing. How he knew when that was to be, or what it was to be called, I have no idea. It was said that it would be a good cover for a Marxist state.
I first came to Parliament 30 years ago. This year we have had many times the number of Bills that we had in this House when I first came here; we had then only about a tenth of the Bills that we have now. In an omnipotent state one will always find that, through bureaucracy, it starts with more and more Bills, as we have had this year. I can only say, in the interests of the common man, that I hope that if we do get an omnipotent state it will not be as ruthless as a Marxist state. Anyway, it will be called something else, because very few politicians today call a spade a spade. One day—though I shall not see it, for I shall be dead—the effect of this Bill, when it is enacted, and of the main Act which it amends, will be that Europe to all intents and purposes will become a totalitarian state. I must apologise to my noble friend on the Front Bench. I am not attacking her; that is the last thing that I would do. I am attacking this Bill. But I can do nothing about it, so I will shut up.
§ Lord Ezra
My Lords, I had not intended to intervene in this debate as I had not taken part in earlier stages. I tried to intervene during the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, but he did not allow me to say the few words that I wanted to say then, so I should like to say them now. It seemed to me that in his vigorous, as always, intervention he was not so much addressing himself to the Bill before us as to our membership of the EC. In my opinion, that had been settled by the referendum which was held during a previous Labour Government and our role now within the European Community is to play the best part we can.
931 Having heard what some noble Lords opposite have had to say about this Bill, I feel that from this side of the House I should like to come to the support of the Government and to say that I fully support what they intend to do. I was very impressed by the contribution of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, who said that our best participation in the Community could now be by making people available to play a real role in it. I must say that to a large degree we have done that. The noble Lord, Lord Cockfield, is trying to create a real internal market and I am sure that the whole House supports him in that endeavour. The noble Baroness, Lady Elles, makes a very strong contribution to the affairs of the European Parliament and am sure that we support her and her colleagues in that endeavour. So I very much hope that we shall use this Bill as a stepping stone to playing a more vigorous part in the creation of a European Community in which Britain can play a leading role.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
My Lords, the opening sentence of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, caused me some disquiet. I had not intended to intervene, although I have a point that I want to put to your Lordships. His opening sentence was, in effect, that we have had our referendum, it was decided, and that is that as though that was the end of the matter and we automatically go forward with everything that now flows from Brussels and Strasbourg just because in the referendum at the time we had a majority. I hope that that will not be the approach of this Government or any other government when they are dealing with these matters. That was far from being "that", and many things have happened since the referendum.
I confess at once that perhaps I approach this with some slight prejudice. I thought the whole idea was premature and I did not think that it would work. Alongside the noble Lord, Lord Tranmire, I was one of the 38 who voted against joining from the Conservative Benches when the idea was being pushed that we ought to enter. But after that I felt that the only way that we could continue, once we had accepted membership and had signed the Treaty of Rome, was to make it our duty to do all we could to make it work. That is the only way that you can run civilised parliamentary government, as we have set it up.
One thing I learnt in the five years that I sat in the European Parliament—and I pass this on for what it is worth to my noble friend and to the Government—was not to take anything blindly just because we had had a referendum at the beginning of all this. I assure my noble friend that if in the long term the Community is to work, one final ingredient is necessary and up to now that ingredient is not there. There is not in the European Community, certainly not in the European Parliament and I doubt whether there is in the Commission, the affinity necessary for it really to work. The members are very much separate entities; they look upon the Community as something where self-interest has to be taken into account. I do not grumble at that because I feel exactly that way about the United Kingdom's membership. But the affinity is not there. If we go on easily accepting every 932 step along the road—such steps as those represented by this Bill—without questioning them, we shall not be doing a service either to Europe or to ourselves.
I hope that my noble friend and her colleagues in government will pay real heed to the sort of contribution that we have had from my noble friend Lord Tranmire. We should listen to the criticisms and not take it for granted that, because we are a member and want to make the Community work if we can, and because we have had the referendum, that is that. We may well reach a point where we ought perhaps to retreat to some extent. That may well be so in matters of law. One listens with care and concern to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, who from the first gave warnings to the nation as to what could flow from signing the Treaty of Rome.
The Treaty of Rome was far from a perfect document. It was far from being something which could remain unaltered forever, although some may have thought that things were always going to remain as they were. Today, the Government must get their Bill. There can be no question of doing anything other than giving it a Third Reading today. But I hope that some of the points of real relevance that have been made from all sides will be taken into account. I hope that this Government and any future government will be on the alert and will not feel, because we had a referendum and eventually signed the original Treaty of Rome, that if the need shows itself we cannot deviate from some of the suggestions that have come from other quarters.
I hope there will be no need for deviation, but the affinity, the real understanding, the feeling that the members want to be one community is not there. I did not find that feeling, much as many members desire it. If we keep that in mind and use whatever powers we have in reserve to look after our interests in the interests of Europe, I do not think that we can go far wrong. One cannot lie back and say that that referendum decision settled the matter forever. It certainly did not do so in my view.
§ Lord Wilberforce
My Lords, I trust that the noble Baroness will indulge me for just a few minutes. I know that she wants to reply and I know that the House wants to hear her. I want to say just a few words for two reasons. One is that because of the unsocial hours at which the early stages of the Bill came on I was not able to participate. The other is that I should not like noble Lords to think that the only legal doctrine about this Bill or about the European Communities is that which is so eloquently and movingly given us by my noble and learned friend Lord Denning and still less that given us by the noble Viscount who spoke a few moments ago.
When we were thinking of entering the Community in 1972, a number of eminent lawyers in this country—British lawyers—were consulted informally and formally on whether entry would pose a threat to 933 our law, our common law, our institutions, our courts, the position of the Queen and so on. All those questions were most carefully considered and advised upon. The decision which was taken by Her Majesty's Government to enter the Community was taken in view of advice that no such threat to our essential institutions existed. That was the time we decided to enter into the Community.
This Bill does nothing beyond that. It adds nothing more in principle. I know that the noble and learned Lord shakes his head and presents this as a terrible, irrevocable new step that is going to sign away a lot more liberties. The noble Baroness has explained both in her Second Reading speech and on other occasions that that is not so. This is simply a Bill designed to improve the procedure by which the Community is going to work. I take up the welcome words of the noble and learned Lord:Let us go into Europe with enthusiasm and vigour".Those were happy words, except for the phrase "go into Europe". We have been there for 14 years. Let us have enthusiasm and vigour certainly, and I am glad that he has lent the weight of his authority to that proposition.
I was astonished to hear an argument from the noble Lord. Lord Bruce of Donington, who, after complaining that we were in deficit on manufactures by £9 billion in the course of this year—although I believe he said £9 million—
§ Lord Wilberforce
—then seemed to object to the Bill, which was designed to counteract that by enabling us to get access to the insurance market, to get access to the professional market, to increase our invisibles and to get more research and technology done. It seems to me a strange argument. However, one has heard many strange arguments.
Perhaps I may say a word about sovereignty, although I am sure noble Lords do not want a discourse on that very elusive subject. It has struck me that discussions in this House and also in another place have proceeded as if we are the only party in the transaction and the only body concerned. There are 11 other countries concerned, many of them extremely nationalistic, many of them very chauvinistic and with very strong ideas about the position of their national parliaments, their heads of state and so on. One need only think back to General de Gaulle to realise that. The whole essence of this transaction is that every one of those 12 countries is prepared (assuming that they come into this Act, and the noble Baroness will tell us what the process is) to consent to a certain diminution of their absolute sovereignty in the general interest.
The question one ought to ask in this context is whether the diminution of our own sovereignty is advantageous to us, having regard to the diminution of the sovereignty of others which they accept by entering into this Act as well. Sovereignty is not in this context what is called a zero sum. One does not like giving up one's sovereignty to increase someone else's sovereignty. That is why the argument concerning the Falklands and Gibraltar is a false one. When one deals with territorial sovereignty, one is concerned with a zero sum.
934 If one give up territory, somebody else gains it. If we give up Gibraltar, Spains gains it. If we give up the Falkland Islands, Argentina gains the Islas Malvinas. That is indeed a case where one man's loss is another's gain. However, that is not the case with multilateral international treaties. One enters into obligations in the hope of gaining benefits from the obligations of others. That is the question we ought to be considering.
The noble Baroness has put over to us extremely well that it is in our interests at this stage in Community development to have the obligation of the other states to improve the decision-making process and to give us access to economic areas from which we have hitherto been excluded. It may be true that Parliament's sovereignty and liberty of action are for the time being diminished. However, they are not taken away. Parliament is free to decide at any time to take us out of the Community. It can take us out tomorrow if it is willing to face the consequences.
The consequences of entering into a treaty are that while you are in the treaty you are bound by international obligations, There is nothing new about that; it has been the lam, for generations that international obligations take precedence over domestic obligations. Everyone has always accepted that. One can free oneself from international obligations, but while one retains them one's freedom of action is limited to that extent.
I wish to make one other point which was touched upon by the noble Viscount who spoke a few moments ago. I, and I expect many other noble Lords in this House, have received a large correspondence on this Bill. There have been many letters and they are not the usual letters from professional protesters, cranks or eccentrics. For the most part they are from caring, thoughtful and educated people who are troubled by the impression they have that we are being taken against our will into some new situation where our essential liberties will be taken away. I think that the noble Viscount was perfectly right in saying that that misapprehension is sometimes found even in this Chamber and in other parts of the House where discussions take place. It is certainly found in educated circles and is reflected in these rather moving letters.
I respectfully suggest that the Government have a duty to try to put across more directly and more fully than has been done up to now what is the real object of this Bill. It is essential for our economic interests and in order to redress this adverse balance that we have on manufactures and so on that the decision-making process be improved. We are not making any fundamental attack on our liberties. To the extent that the Commission can decide more rapidly, Parliament may be able to decide rather less, but that is the extent of the limitation on parliamentary sovereignty.
If the noble Baroness could persuade our colleagues in the European Parliament and those in the House and elsewhere to spread the gospel, perhaps embark upon speeches around the country or encourage well-informed articles to explain the real position, I feel that much good would be done and much misapprehension would be dispelled. Having said that, I join entirely with those supporting the Bill. It is an essential Bill if the Community is to be workable and 935 I hope that the Government will succeed in getting accession from the other members of the Community to it.
§ Lord Moran
My Lords, I shall be brief because I had my say on this Bill on Second Reading. I have been to some extent in a dilemma on the Bill because I am very strongly in favour of the completion of the internal market. The more I study it, the more important it seems to me to be for British interests. At the moment it is to some extent a one-sided market, in that our own market is freely open to manufactures of all sorts from Europe, whereas in those fields where we have particular skills, such as banking and insurance and financial services, we encounter difficulty.
To the extent that we can make this market wholly complete, I think it is very important and that we should do everything possible to attain it. However, I am not convinced that the mechanism of extending majority decisions which is brought in by the Single European Act will, in fact, be effective in removing obstacles to the completion of this internal market. I hope that I am wrong, but I must confess to having some doubts.
I have mentioned at previous stages of this Bill my doubts about the reality of achieving, over a relatively short time scale, a common European foreign policy. The Single European Act institutionalises the political co-operation that has existed for some years past and I think that a common European foreign policy is a splendid aspiration. What I doubt is whether it will be a reality in the immediate future or beyond. I think the Luxembourg meeting on 27th October brought that home to all of us, when we saw our Foreign Secretary, with an overwhelming case against Syria and with evidence carefully sifted and gone into by a court of law with enormous thoroughness in this country, being unable to persuade his colleagues to take common action. We saw one country—Greece—taking a wholly incomprehensible line. I was not surprised that some members of the Government party in another place who were keen Europeans were going so far as to talk about "our so-called partners" after that meeting.
However, my fear in this Bill has all along been that the Single European Act is a step down the slope towards a United States of Europe. It is a further shift of power and influence from this place to Brussels and I am not at all convinced that this is something that the British public wants.
I am very glad that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, mentioned the letters which many of us have had. I have had some of these and I am sure that many of your Lordships have. They express real anxieties and I think that those anxieties are very widely spread among thoughtful people in this country. That is something of which the Government and all of us ought to take very careful account. This Bill has been going through Parliament with the great mass of the country totally unaware of what is going on. But the thoughtful people who have been following it are concerned about it and that is something that the Government should ponder.
§ 5 p.m.
§ Baroness Young
My Lords, with the leave of the House I should like to start my remarks as I began when moving the Third Reading of this Bill, by thanking those, such as my noble friend Lord Reay and the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, who have supported the Bill in this discussion this afternoon. Also, I think that the whole House was very grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, for his most telling and important intervention. I should also like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Banks, but to draw his attention to the fact that my right honourable friend the Lord Privy Seal voted for this Bill at Second Reading in another place; and of course, as he will know from the constitution, it would be a collective Cabinet decision.
May I say to the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, and the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, that if I did not refer to them at the beginning it was because I knew that the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, was to speak later and, though I do not really agree with anything that he said in his speech, I accept the sincerity with which he made his remarks. I am glad to confirm to him that we have kept to the parliamentary timetable that was agreed, and I was grateful for his agreement.
That brings me to a general point that was raised by my noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard and the noble Lord, Lord Moran, who has just spoken. to the effect that the Bill has in some way been rushed. I said that we have had over 50 hours of debate, but so far as your Lordships' House is concerned there has been nothing unusual in the steps by which this Bill has proceeded. I gave an undertaking at the beginning of the Committee stage that we would have plenty of time for discussion. We had two full days in Committee, and there has been an opportunity for extensive discussion again at Third Reading.
Of course, we all take the point of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, that perhaps we ought somehow to make the details of the Bill better known. Some of us have tried very hard to that effect and we must continue to do so. It is not always as easy as perhaps it sounds to get these things across, but I can assure your Lordships that there has been no want of trying nor has there not been the wish to get the detail of the Bill better known outside.
I have been asked a number of quite specific questions to which I should like to turn. My noble friend Lord Tranmire raised two particular points. The first one—and it is a point raised by others—is: what is the situation now on the ratification timetable? Two member states, Denmark and Belgium, have both ratified. All other member states have committed themselves to taking steps which will enable them to ratify by the end of the year. My information is that all member states are on schedule, with the possible exception of the Federal Republic of Germany who have to consult the constituent states of the federation.
My noble friend also asked about the likely increase in decisions as a result of enlargement and the Single European Act. As I am sure my noble friend will appreciate, I cannot make a precise prediction. I do not envisage a significant increase in proposals and therefore a substantial requirement for additional debates. The rate of decision-taking should improve.
937 The new co-operation procedure with the European Parliament will involve an extra burden of scrutiny and I made clear at Second Reading that the Government would he ready to adopt procedures to help meet the requirements which the Select Committee of your Lordships' House has already identified.
The noble Lord, Lord Bruce, made a number of statements about the Bill and criticisms of statements that have been made by those who were in favour of Britain's entry into the Community and of the Bill before the House. He drew attention to the United Kingdom's deficit in trade in manufactures with the rest of the Community. But, as he admitted, we must not forget our substantial surplus on oil—£11.2 billion last year. He went on to say that it was not difficult to sell oil to countries that do not produce it themselves, but he failed to draw an important conclusion. We do well on oil exports to the Community because we are selling our partners something that they want on terms which are highly competitive.
The Germans do well selling their manufactures in Europe and elsewhere for exactly the same reason. Their positive balance of trade with us reflects both this and the fact that their own market is less open than ours. The solution to this is not to put up our barriers to trade. That would simply make our own market less efficient and our firms less internationally competitive, as well as imposing higher prices on consumers. What we need to do is to make our products more competitive in terms of price, quality, meeting the demands of our potential customers and, most important of all, we need to break down the barriers to trade which other member states have created. That is what the Single European Act is intended to do.
The noble Lord, Lord Bruce, also raised the point about Syria and our veto over the European Community's funds. The noble Lord, Lord Moran, also asked about that in relation to political cooperation. As regards the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, if I may say so, I think he has confused two issues, one on special restitutions in respect of agricultural exports to Syria, which have taken place but will do so no longer, and Community aid to Syria.
The financial protocols of all the Community's agreements with countries of the Mediterranean are due for renewal. We have said that there can be no question of the United Kingdom agreeing to such financial assistance to Syria in the present circumstances and, since the money cannot be paid without our agreement, our decision will be effective. Aid to Syria, which would be worth £100 million over five years, will therefore be denied.
The third point that I should like to clear up concerns Title III not being within the scope of the Bill. I believe that I explained this fully at Committee stage, but in case there should be any misunderstanding of the point I will go over it again. Clause 1 of the Bill makes clear that the Preamble and Titles I and IV of the Single European Act are within the scope of the Bill only in so far asthey relate to any of the Communities or any Community institution.938 In so far as these parts of the Single European Act relate to Title III arid thus to European political cooperation, they do not relate to the Community and are outside the scope of the Bill.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, whose support I am so pleased we have, referred to the legacy of our history and to the tragic loss of life in two world wars that he had seen. But how much more tragic it would he if we had learned nothing from these sacrifices. We have, in fact, learned something. We have learned the necessity of linking ourselves to the democratic countries of Europe. The Preamble to the Treaty of Rome concludes:Resolve by thus pooling their resources to preserve and strengthen peace and liberty and calling upon the other peoples of Europe who share their ideal to join in their efforts".The Community has helped to make war unthinkable between the member states. That is no sacrifice of British interests; it is what most of us have striven all our public lives to achieve.
We are a European power. The European Community is the principal voice, economic and political, of European nations. It is inconceivable that we should not play a leading part in shaping the policies of the Community. In doing so we do not have to abandon old alliances for the sake of new ones, as some feared in the 1950s. Our relationship with the United States is as central to our political and defence interests as ever, and the friendship between us is as close as ever. But when it comes to holding our own in trade there is no special relationship. The Americans say that there is no such thing as a good loser—just a loser. To sell our steel in the United States we need the bargaining strength of the Community. To compete with the United States or Japan in the new technologies, we need the economies of scale which only a single large market can bring. It is unthinkable that our voice should not be heard as part of the Community in the negotiations affecting our vital economic and political interests, a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington.
I do not underestimate the arguments about sovereignty that have been made in our debates. But sovereignty is about power, and above all the power to act in the interests of this country. The logical conclusion of the argument that absolute sovereignty must he retained in the British Parliament is that we would be members of neither NATO nor the Community—the two alliances on which our security and prosperity most depend. The arguments raised by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, and by my noble friend Lord Tranmire, are not about the Single European Act. They are arguments for turning the clock back, not to before December 1985 but to before 1972. I do not believe their view is shared by the majority of people in this country.
A European Community without Britain would be poorer politically and economically. But it would be a powerful force none the less. It would increasingly speak with one voice in foreign policy. We could tag along or dissent. If we did the latter, how clearly would we be heard? A Community without Britain would negotiate trade agreements with Japan and the United States. We could not afford to be excluded; but we would have no right to be included.
939 A Community without Britain would set its own standards in every field from car safety and pollution to animal and plant health. Our motto is export or die. Half our exports now go to the Community. Our motto would have to become "Comply if you want to export". We would have to meet European standards. But we would not have been at the table where the key decisions were taken.
The Select Committee on the European Communities of your Lordships' House—and perhaps I may say again how pleased we are that the noble Baroness, Lady Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, has been in her place throughout the debate—was right to pose the question whether loss of sovereignty was outweighed by the greater ability to see our interests effectively pursued. I believe that in these debates your Lordships have already given your answer to that question.
Your Lordships' House has always led the way in wanting to make a success of our membership of the Community. The reports of the Select Committee on the European Communities have shown that it is possible to participate fully and positively while safeguarding our essential interests. Of course we can be timid. But to what end? The real world would not stop because we had got off. On the contrary we should be affected by events and decisions over which we had no influence. We made that mistake in the 1950s. We should not repeat it now.
The Single European Act creates the potential for more decisive Community action in areas where we want to see progress made. Community and national interests are at one in this. I have no hesitation in saying to your Lordships that this Bill is in the national interests. I commend it to your Lordships' House.
On Question, Bill read a third time and passed.