HL Deb 01 May 1990 vol 518 cc915-26

3.47 p.m.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, with the leave of the House I should now like to repeat a Statement being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister about the informal meeting of the European Council in Dublin on 28th April. The Statement is as follows:

"With permission, Mr. Speaker, I shall make a Statement on the informal meeting of the European Council in Dublin on 28th April, which I attended with my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary. The text of the Council's conclusions has been placed in the Library of the House.

"The Council was convened for two main purposes: to consider the consequences for the European Community of German unification; and to discuss the way ahead in the Community's relations with Eastern Europe. We made useful progress on both issues.

"The Council agreed clear guidelines for the detailed discussions which will be necessary in order to incorporate East Germany into the Community, taking account of the interests of other member states. These discussions will cover trade, agriculture, fisheries, the environment and many other issues. It will be for the Commission to make proposals for any transitional arrangements which are necessary. I emphasised that derogations from Community law and practice should be brief and that we must avoid unfair competition and disruption to trade. These points are well understood by the Federal German Government.

"In the period before unification East Germany will have access to normal Community funds which have been set up to help Eastern Europe and will also be able to benefit from full access to the European Investment Bank. Chancellor Kohl indicated that the Federal Republic is not seeking any special fund for Community financial assistance to East Germany.

"A very welcome feature of the discussion on German unification was the strong support expressed by heads of government for NATO and that a united Germany should be a member of NATO. This corresponds very much to our own views and those of the United States.

As regards Eastern Europe, the Council reached two main conclusions: first, that assistance from the OECD Group of 24 countries ought to be extended to East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Romania, as well as to Poland and Hungary as at present; and, secondly, that as soon as possible we should negotiate association agreements between the European Community and those Eastern European countries which are making decisive progress to market economies and genuine democracy. This responds to a British initiative before the Strasbourg European Council last December and we very much welcome the decision.

"The Council also provided an opportunity to take forward discussion on other items of European Community business, in particular political union. This has never been defined and it was clear from our discussion that there are widely differing views on what it covers. I pointed out that the term 'political union' raises anxieties among many people about a loss of national identity, national sovereignty and national institutions. I suggested that we should all make clear that political union does not mean, for example, giving up our separate heads of state, or our national parliaments, or our legal or electoral systems, or our defence through NATO.

"I also proposed that we indicate that we do not intend to alter the role of the Council of Ministers as the Community's main decision-making body, with ministers each accountable to their national parliaments; and that we are opposed to centralising powers in Europe when decisions are better taken by national parliaments and governments.

"If we could agree that none of these things would happen as a result of political union, we could show that many of the fears about it were groundless. I suggested that the positive way forward lay instead through ever closer co-operation among member states and reform of the Community's existing institutions to make them more effective and more efficient. We shall ourselves have constructive ideas to put forward for this.

"I found a number of these views shared by other heads of government. Indeed our discussions during the day, particularly on matters connected with foreign affairs and defence, showed very clearly that in practice we all continue to think in terms of keeping certain key issues as matters for national decision.

"We therefore agreed to instruct our foreign ministers to analyse more thoroughly what political union should cover and report back to the European Council at the end of June with a view to a decision then on the holding of an inter-governmental conference. Such a conference can of course be convened by a simple majority of member states. But its decisions have to be reached by unanimity and approved by national parliaments.

"I will summarise briefly the other main issues which we discussed. First, the Council confirmed the commitment to complete the European single market by 1992. Secondly, we agreed to intensify preparations for the inter-governmental conference on economic and monetary union which will start in December this year. We also set an objective of finishing the work of that conference in time to permit ratification of the results by the end of 1992. It is rather early to say at this stage how feasible such a target is. The results of this conference would have to come before this House, which has already expressed its views on stages 2 and 3 of the Delors plan. Thirdly, we confirmed our commitment to a successful conclusion to the Uruguay round of trade negotiations in the GATT. Fourthly, we repeated our desire to strengthen relations with EFTA nations and extend the single market to them. Fifthly, we asked our officials to make proposals in time for the next European Council for improving the effectiveness of the Community's co-operation against drug trafficking and drug abuse.

"Foreign ministers also discussed a number of international issues. They agreed a statement on Cyprus, as well as guidelines for our approach to the CSCE summit, which we expect will be held later this year. These texts are annexed to the Council's conclusions.

"This additional meeting of the European Council set the way ahead for the Community on several important issues. It was also an opportunity to put clearly on record Britain's views on what political union should and should not mean and not least our determination to defend the powers of this House."

My Lords, that concludes my right honourable friend's Statement.

3.56 p.m.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Lord for repeating the Statement. As it makes plain, the crux of the discussion at the Dublin Summit was the movement towards political union. The meeting was certainly much less turbulent than was predicted. That was mainly, I think, because the Prime Minister was able to agree a four-stage programme which could lead to a European political state. Can the Minister clarify this? Are the Community leaders, or the majority of them, including France and Germany, working towards one centralised European government and parliament? The Prime Minister was reported as saying after the meeting that, Political union means different things to different people". Can the noble Lord tell us what "political union" means to the Government and what policy they will aim for during the next months of negotiation? For example, will the Government be prepared to surrender more of our national sovereignty and contemplate a reduction in the powers of this Parliament in favour of the European Parliament?

There is a vague reference to this in the Statement, but I believe that it is very much in our interests that it should be clarified.

Is not a clear and practical policy essential, since the Dublin Summit next month to which the noble Lord referred will propose that the constitutional issue will be put on the agenda for the Rome meeting in December? It is therefore vital that Parliament and the British people should know exactly where the Government stand on the central issues.

Does the noble Lord agree that a deep, fundamental division on political union, as well as possible division on economic and monetary union, would result in a major crisis in the Community? Is it not therefore as well that we should recognise that now rather than later on?

Speaking personally, there seems to me to be a case for inter-party talks in this country to see whether agreement can be reached on the main issues, although I concede that that may be difficult. But as these will be some of the most important decisions taken in the history of this country, we should treat them with the gravity they deserve.

We welcome the decision on OECD assistance for the East European countries. We note the conclusions reached on German reunification. I particularly noted that Her Majesty's Government agree that East Germany should enter the Community and that the reunified Germany will be a member of NATO. Can the noble Lord say whether we have any further assurance that the Soviet Union will agree to this? Has it modified its views on these two aspects of reunification? We further note and support the other important agreements on drug trafficking and the GATT trade negotiations.

Those are the comments that I have to make. On the major issue of political union I shall be most grateful to have the views of the noble Lord.

Lord Bonham-Carter

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement made by his right honourable friend the Prime Minister in the House of Commons. The Statement is one of extreme significance and importance. It is ludicrous to suppose that we can discuss or examine it properly in the time available at this moment. I very much hope that the official channels will provide us with an opportunity to have an extended debate to discuss the implications of the decisions and proposals made at the Dublin Summit which are of great importance to the future of the country.

In following the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, I should like to make the following relatively brief points. I welcome greatly the change of tone which seemed apparent in the Statement that has just been made from that which was used in the past. It appears to be more one of argument and persuasion than of lecturing and hectoring. I regard that as extremely important. It is high time that this country and your Lordships recognised the danger of our becoming isolated not only within the European Community but also within the Commonwealth and equally from the United States. That is a very real and dangerous possibility and one to which we should pay attention.

I believe that the recent Kohl-Mitterrand initiative on Lithuania, which was encouraged from Washington and from which this country was excluded, is a significant symptom of the isolation which we have reached and which means that our political role in guiding the destiny of the world in which we live has been severely diminished. We have to look to the future. It is perfectly clear that the role of NATO will change while the role of the European Community must deepen and may expand in response to German unification and in response to the events in Central and Eastern Europe. If we oppose the deepening and expansion of the role of the European Community I believe that we shall find ourselves isolated.

The central point of the Dublin Summit was political union. It seems to me that the Statement which the noble Lord the Leader of the House has just repeated to us put up a great many Aunt Sallys which simply do not exist. No one has ever suggested, least of all the French, that heads of state of the sovereign countries of the Community should be abandoned. No one has suggested that the role of national parliaments should be abolished, though clearly it will have to be adapted. When one talks about the electoral systems and the future of NATO one is talking about a different order of events. They will inevitably change. Those are not bottom-line issues on which this country will refuse to move.

National sovereignty, about which the Prime Minister speaks so often, has already been diminished by our signing of the Treaty of Rome and the Single European Act. If the democratic deficit which we talk about, and which is indeed important in the European Community, is to be dealt with then the role of the Council of Ministers must be altered. Its proceedings must be public and known to the people to whom it is responsible and its role must be changed.

Finally, if subsidiarity, which is a crucial element in the discussion, is to be enforced it must apply not only within the Community but within the countries which are also members of the Community.

I hope that the noble Lord the Leader of the House will provide an opportunity for us to discuss these crucial issues which affect the future of this country very significantly so that they can be given proper consideration.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords for their responses to the Statement which I have repeated. The noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, suggested that the Statement raised a series of Aunt Sallys which were matters that had not been raised at all. Yet I was interested that the very first question which the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, asked was whether I would, despite what was said in the Statement, confirm on behalf of the Government where the United Kingdom stands over the question of government, parliament and sovereignty in the European Community of the future. I should say in reply to that point that the Government feel that we need to be certain that the proposals for political union, not so far defined, will not in any way affect the existence, role or functions of heads of state, including Her Majesty the Queen. That is one point on which I believe a great many people wish to be reassured—that we are not being drawn inexorably down a road to a federal Europe.

I should add that I believe that most people do not want to see more power accumulated and centralised in Brussels. Nor do we want to create the sort of Europe which it would be difficult for others to join later.

I was very interested that the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, at the very end of his remarks referred to the doctrine of subsidiarity. One of the positive ideas of the United Kingdom is that we should like to see specific recognition that the Community should only do those things which cannot be done better by member states.

The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, asked whether, if there was a deep fundamental division on political unity, that might not lead to a crisis in Europe in the future. That is why I believe that it is so terribly important that in the Statement which I have repeated it was recorded that there was unanimous agreement to instruct the foreign ministers of the Community countries to analyse more thoroughly what political union should cover and report back to the next European Council at the end of June with a view to a decision then on the holding of an intergovernmental conference. I believe that that was wise and constructive and that it was a consequence of the intervention of my right honouraable friend.

Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, asked me a direct question: could I give an assurance that the Soviet Union agrees to what has been said about the unanimous view taken by the member states at Dublin that not only is NATO important but that a united Germany should be a member of NATO? I can only say this afternoon that that was the unanimous agreement at Dublin. All the member states hope and believe that the Soviet Union will come to accept that it is in its own best interests that that should come to pass.

4.7 p.m.

Lord Walston

My Lords, we too on these Benches are grateful to the noble Lord for repeating the Statement. We are very glad that the atmosphere in Dublin on this ocasion was so much happier and so much more co-operative than at some similar meetings in the past. I should like to congratulate the Prime Minister on her contribution to bringing that about.

I have very little to add to what other noble Lords have already said. However, I should like simply to make one point, which I hope is not petty and carping. The Statement talks about the anxieties among many people about loss of national identity, national sovereignty, national institutions, and so on. A little later it states: We therefore agreed to instruct our foreign ministers to analyse more thoroughly". It is all very well, and I am sure that it is constitutionally correct, for President Mitterrand to instruct his foreign minister as to what should be done. However, surely it is not consistent with our own habits in this country and our own constitution that any one minister, even the Prime Minister—the first among equals—should instruct not her or his foreign minister but Her Majesty's foreign minister. It should surely be a question of requesting her foreign minister to do that.

If there is already a feeling that the Prime Minister of this country can instruct her foreign minister, surely that is an indication that we have already gone much further than many of us would like towards a loss of our national sovereignty and national institutions. Perhaps the noble Lord can enlighten me.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I do not want to quarrel with the noble Lord, Lord Walston, about the use of a verb. It was unanimously agreed at Dublin that an initial step that is needed is an examination and analysis by foreign ministers of whether a further treaty change is necessary. They and those who advise them are the experts. It was therefore felt by the heads of government that that was what they wanted their foreign ministers to do. There will then be the report back to the Council in June. That Council will then have to decide whether to hold a second intergovernmental conference in parallel with the economic and monetary union IGC. I hope that that answer more or less satisfies the noble Lord, even if there is a slight difference over the use of a verb.

Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the country owes a great deal of gratitude to the Prime Minister for the stalwart way in which she has defended the interests of this country as a good member of the Community, but with the interests of this country obviously first, in resisting the urge to rush towards conformity for conformity's sake, particularly in the areas of anxiety which she spelt out? Should she not receive the wholehearted support of both Houses in that respect?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Oppenheim-Barnes. The Statement records that the Government have positive ideas for the future of the Community. I simply wish to assure the House that, in the discussions which are taking place, we shall not be slow 10 put forward constructive ideas.

The Earl of Perth

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, has made what seems to me a most interesting personal suggestion; namely, that the Government should hold inter-party consultation on those matters which are of the gravest importance for the whole country and on which our future depends. I hope that the Government will consider that personal suggestion most carefully.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I am interested to see that the noble Earl makes that point in addition to it being made by the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition. I must apologise for not having responded to it. I shall certainly take it on board and draw it to the attention of my right honourable friend.

Lord Jenkins of Hillhead

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the change of tone of this Statement compared with some other post-summit communiques is greatly to be welcomed? If, to achieve that, it is necessary that there should be tilting at windmills or pretending that the monarchy must be defended—I am not sure that the Spanish, Dutch, Belgian or Danish monarchies are greatly in favour of winding themselves up or that even the President of France is in favour of losing his status as head of state—as a smokescreen for a change of tone, so be it.

Is the noble Lord also aware that, although there is widespread support in this House for the doctrine of subsidiarity—I wish that we could find another word for that concept—by which issues should be dealt with only at the level which is most appropriate, the Government's cries against centralisation are bound to be received a little cynically so long as this country remains the most determinedly centralised country in the European Community? The other two traditional, centralised countries are Spain and France, both of which are endeavouring to devolve vigorously whereas that is constantly resisted in this country. Does the noble Lord agree with regard to subsidiarity, the principle of which is that matters should be decided at as low a level and as close to the people as possible, Brussels should not do too much, but that Whitehall should not do too much either?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, although the noble Lord, who is enormously experienced in European Community matters, welcomed the tone of my right honourable friend's Statement—I thank him for that—he nonetheless referred to the need, as he saw it, for a smokescreen. At the risk of being tedious, I must underline the fact that even those most active in pressing for political union agree that the important proposals for political union, over which the noble Lord, Lord Walston, and I had an exchange earlier, are linked to words which have no definition of any kind at the moment. It therefore seems sensible to try to proceed by a process of elimination. That is the process which my right honourable friend has started, although we shall now wait to see what comes back from the meetings and deliberations of the foreign ministers of the Twelve.

On the issue of subsidiarity, the noble Lord is perhaps a little out of touch with reality when he suggests that the Administration in this country does not stand as close to the people of this country as the administrations in other countries stand to their people, save, he said, for Spain and France. I simply do not think that that is the case. If the noble Lord believes that, he would be wise to go and talk to people about such matters as planning and the legal system in this country. He will find that he is not correct.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that, on the face of it, the Statement which he has just made and the attitude of the Prime Minister in Dublin seems very reasonable and acceptable? However, does he agree that, certainly according to the press, there appears to be some confusion as to exactly what the Prime Minister means? Is it possible for the noble Lord the Leader of the House to clarify exactly what she means? Some of us remember that she initially opposed measures in the Single European Act. However, when it came to the push, she used a guillotine to force the Act through the House of Commons, although the House of Commons and this country stood to lose a great deal of sovereignty as a result of passing the Act. Are we again hearing a great many fine words from the Prime Minister only to find, when it comes to action, that this country is again asked to lose an amount—whatever that amount may be—of its sovereignty?

Will the noble Lord take seriously the suggestion made by my noble friend Lord Cledwyn about inter-party talks? The matter of this country's constitution, which has been built up over a thousand years, is important. There is already a Back-Bench consensus against federalism among all parties. Will the noble Lord take the matter seriously and put it to his right honourable friend the Prime Minister that she should try to proceed on an all-party basis before any deep constitutional changes are made?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, perhaps I may answer the noble Lord rather briefly because we have started to go over ground which has already been covered. He asked me what my right honourable friend the Prime Minister meant in her contributions to the Council. My right honourable friend meant that we must define the term "political union"; that we shall await the report of the foreign ministers; and that Britain will then contribute to a decision at the next European Council in the light of the foreign ministers' report on whether there should be an intergovernmental conference on the issue of political union.

The noble Lord put the same point about inter-party talks as that on which I responded to the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition and my noble friend Lord Perth. The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, will forgive me if I say that the policy of noble Lords opposite on political union has not become wholly apparent during these exchanges.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, is it not sensible for the Government to continue thinking about the proper location of a reunited Germany in the scheme of things? Is it not asking a bit much of the Soviet Union that it should agree to a united, armed Germany in NATO? Should we not consider for a moment what we would think if the cookie had crumbled the other way and there was a proposal that there should be a united, armed Germany in the Warsaw Pact? Western Germany is bigger than Eastern Germany; but we have to try to see the situation from the other fellow's point of view.

My noble friend Lord Cledwyn asked whether the Government can state whether the Soviet Union has withdrawn its objection to a single Germany in NATO. The noble Lord the Leader of the House repeated that we on this side had no objection to it. Do we not all know perfectly well, and have known since it was first mooted, that the Soviet Union objects most strongly and is most unlikely to withdraw its objections? It was only the victory of the Right in East Germany as opposed to a victory of the Social Democrats that led to the matter being pressed so far as it has been pressed already. If anyone is alarmed by the economic advantage that might be gained by a reunited, neutral Germany in neither pact, do they think that that could be neutralised by a lowering of arms levels in the rest of Europe on both sides? I see that the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip looks anxious.

Lord Denham

My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will forgive me if I interrupt him for just a moment. We are strictly limited to 20 minutes for this part of the discussion. I hope that the noble Lord will feel that it is much better to ask brief questions because that gives more people time to participate in those 20 minutes.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, the noble Lord is perfectly right. I cannot see the Clock from here. I shall forgo my last point.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, the quick answer to the noble Lord is that Germany is to be united, and the unanimous belief of the 12 member states is that a united Germany should be part of the NATO alliance.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, I have been involved in the Community for many years, mainly at the industrial and commercial level. Undoubtedly a very strong momentum has developed over the years toward firms with mixed ownerships getting together on a consortium basis and working more closely together. The fear of those who do that work at the commercial and industrial level is that their momentum may not be matched by the momentum at the political level. They fear that they may find obstacles at the political level; for example, in the exchange rates, or other arrangements which could stultify that highly desirable growth.

Will the Government confirm that they consider that momentum at the industrial and commercial level to be entirely desirable, and that they will seek to do everything possible at their level to promote it further?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I do not think that there is anything that I can reasonably add to the Statement about the movement that is taking place in Europe. Political union is ground which we have covered again and again in the past 18 or 20 minutes, and I have nothing to add. The matter that we have not mentioned at all, which arises from the very interesting question that the noble Lord asks, is that of the single market. I am delighted that the statistics that the Commission made available at Dublin show that Britain is in the lead among all the nation states of the Community in implementing the directives to bring into effect the single market.

Lord Callaghan of Cardiff

My Lords, do the Government and the noble Lord not think that there is some relationship between Germany's membership of NATO and closer political union, however that may be defined? I should have some sympathy with the Prime Minister if she showed exasperation about the failure to define it. Are there not two real dangers for Europe? One is that its politics should be renationalised; the second is that Germany should stand independently. Is it not at least possible that Germany's membership of NATO will to some extent become dependent upon achieving a closer political union? Otherwise, is it not likely that if Germany is denied a closer political union and finds that membership of NATO will become a cause of great disturbance with the Soviet Union to which its relations are very closely tied, we could then have a Germany that would be independent, free floating and without political union? Can the noble Lord the Leader of the House say whether the Government have in mind the fact that there is a close connection between those two in the ultimate resort?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, the reply to that question should await the deliberations of the foreign ministers. At risk of repeating myself, the Government feel very strongly that they would like to see specific recognition that the Community should do only those things that cannot be done better by member states. Therefore we believe in the so-called doctrine of subsidiarity. The noble Lord said that nonetheless it is surely important that cohesion within the Community should take place so that a united Germany could feel confident that it would be a part of the NATO alliance. All I can say is that we know inevitably—indeed we have welcomed it—that both parts of Germany are on a course to become unified. Therefore it was interesting that it was agreed unanimously at Dublin by all the nation states that a united Germany should become part of NATO.

Lord Renton

My Lords, would my noble friend give an assurance that the Government do not follow the point put by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra; namely, that political union should follow commercial initiatives? Would not that place sovereignty at the mercy of commercial interests?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, the answer to my noble friend is yes. Perhaps I may just explain why I so readily say yes. I understand that one of the topics that was discussed at considerable length at Dublin and which started as an initiative from the United Kingdom was that inter-trade agreements with the Eastern bloc countries should now be embellished to became association agreements. However, those association agreements will not inevitably lead to the countries concerned becoming Members of the European Community. That step could be much further off and all the conditions will have to be right. Provided that the conditions are right, we shall no doubt welcome them. Therefore I agree with my noble friend, by giving the example of the association agreements with the Eastern bloc countries, that it is not right to say that commercial cohesion should inevitably inform political cohesion.

The Earl of Selkirk

My Lords, does the Common Market imply complete free trade throughout the European Community?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I believe that the single European market to be achieved in 1992 comes at last very close indeed to being the Common Market which we envisaged joining some 17 years ago.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, I noticed in the Statement that stress was laid on the importance of a unanimous decision. I should like to know the Government's attitude to majority voting. I can understand that for important decisions one might insist on anything up to a three-quarter majority before they were taken. If the Government are to insist on unanimous decisions, it places a veto in the hands of an increasing number of states and can hold up important decisions.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, the answer can be very quick. For example, setting up an intergovernmental conference will be decided by majority voting; but if the decisions which are needed as the result of that conference were to lead to changes in the treaties, that would require unanimity.