HL Deb 26 June 1991 vol 530 cc576-8

3.14 p.m.

Lord Ezra asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether in their opinion European federalism means more or less centralisation.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, federalism means different things to different people.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, in Britain it is often held to mean a unitary state with a universally elected central executive. We do not believe that that would be acceptable to Parliament.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, does the noble Earl recall that one of the reasons that led the then Government in 1950 to reject the invitation to participate in the negotiations for the creation of a European Coal and Steel Community was a misunderstanding of the French words en principe? Does the noble Earl agree that it would be unfortunate in historic terms if we were to repeat that semantic difference so many years afterwards and thus diminish the effective role that we can play in the development of Europe?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the answer to the noble Lord's first question is, no, I cannot remember the negotiations of 1950. With regard to his second question, I agree that it is important to get the definition right so that everyone is clear.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, does my noble friend the Minister agree that this is one of the questions which is frequently asked but which has no meaning? It is like asking whether the A.1 goes from London to Scotland or Scotland to London. It depends which end you start from. If you have a unitary state and you demand federalism, as some people have for the United Kingdom, it is a matter of decentralisation. If, as in Europe, you have what are still independent sovereign states, federalism can mean only a central form of government as in the United States and other well-known federations.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, my noble friend makes important points. It would be interesting if the Europeans were to tell us what they understood by the word "federalism".

Lord Jenkins of Hillhead

My Lords, will the noble Earl accept that I agree that "federal" has different meanings in the different countries of Europe, although, curiously, the English dictionary definition appears to agree with the interpretation that is put on it in, say, Germany rather than with the interpretation put on it by the British Government? The Concise Oxford Dictionary, for instance, defines it as: a polity in which several states form a unity but remain independent in internal affairs". That does not sound very terrifying or much of a juggernaut state. Will the Minister also bear in mind that, if King Henry IV of France thought that Paris was worth a mass, perhaps Mr. Major, given his proclaimed aim of a position at the heart of Europe, might think that that was worth a single mention of the word "federal"? Will the Minister convey to his noble friend the Leader of the House that this matter is dominating issues at present and that it would be desirable if the House could have a debate on Europe before we separate for the Summer Recess?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, on the noble Lord's last point, that is for the usual channels to decide. On his other questions, he is absolutely right to underline the important point that we must know what we are talking about in any treaty.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, in view of the views expressed in recent weeks and over a period of time on this issue by Mrs. Margaret Thatcher, Mr. Edward Heath and, more recently, by the present Prime Minister, will the noble Earl persuade his right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary to produce a short White Paper giving the Government's definition of federalism? As the noble Earl is aware, the people of this country are totally confused as to the Government's policies at present. Arising from that point, will he say whether the present draft treaty would create a federation in Europe?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, when one is in the middle of negotiations the aim of which is to reach an agreement by the end of this year and when the situation is evolving, it would seem a little odd to try to produce a White Paper. The noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition referred to the fact that some people in this country might be confused by what was happening at the moment. I am sure that they are extremely confused as to what the position of the Labour Party is now that it seems to be on at least its seventh policy as regards Europe.

Lord Monson

My Lords, does the noble Earl agree that a federal super-state with a common foreign policy would entail a single seat at the United Nations instead of 12 seats; a single ambassador representing all 12 members in Washington, Tokyo, Moscow and so on, instead of 12 separate ambassadors in each place; and, above all, a common army, navy and air force operating in 10 languages, with the possibility that a Luxemburger admiral of the fleet might be in command of what was left of the Royal Navy?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, that is one interpretation, but again it shows the need to get the definition absolutely right to begin with.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, in view of the fact that the European Commission itself claims, under the provisions of Article 155 of the treaty, to be the authentic interpreter of European legislation, will the Government consider making formal representations to the Commission asking it to produce, within the limitations imposed by Article 163, its authentic version in English as to exactly what it means by federal union or federalism?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the noble Lord raised an important point. It is the responsibility of the member states to get it right first. That is why there is no way that we would permit the word "federal" to appear in a treaty until or unless it is clear what it means and that it does not mean the centralisation of power.

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