HL Deb 06 June 1994 vol 555 cc948-51

2.55 p.m.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they consider that it was proper and consistent with his position as President of the European Commission for M. Jacques Delors to describe those who are opposed to a federal Europe as racists, and the British Prime Minister as a schizophrenic.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey)

My Lords, no.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, I am glad to hear that. Is the noble Baroness aware that the remarks of M. Delors were deeply insulting to the 70 per cent. of the people of this country who do not share his view of a centralised, corporatist Europe? Is she further aware that some of us were rather surprised to find the following day that the French Assembly wanted to ban anglicised phrases from the language? Finally, will the Minister advise her right honourable friend the Prime Minister that if he averred and insisted that he wanted to be at the heart of Britain rather than at the heart of Europe, he might get a few more votes on Thursday?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I must say that I think that many of the reports that have appeared recently in the British press misrepresent what was actually said. Let me just tell the House which of M. Delors' remarks were the most important before they were misrepresented. At the end of his remarks about the future of Europe and the European Parliament he said: To work together is to allow other continents to exist and to avoid the civil wars which were the shame and the misery of Europe in the past". On the 50th anniversary of D-Day of all days, it is invidious to harangue the European ideal, which did begin to bring Europe together and ensure that we should never have another war in our continent.

So far as French and English phrases are concerned, I do not believe that we have seen the end of the thé dansant. Also, I believe that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister is absolutely clear that Britain should have its interests put at the heart of Europe. That is why his candidates for the elections on Thursday are the right ones to be elected.

Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes

My Lords, will my noble friend the Minister agree that that pompous little pipsqueak, the President of the European Commission, does more to encourage European scepticism than almost any other single person?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I do not think that it is the time for name-calling. All I can say is that at the beginning of next year we shall have a new President of the European Commission. We believe that Sir Leon Brittan would be much the best choice, even though there are other well qualified candidates.

Lord Richard

My Lords, the noble Baroness rejected what M. Delors is alleged to have said—I emphasise the word "alleged". Will she now please condemn the remarks that have just been made by her noble friend?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I do not think that the House should take those remarks quite so seriously. This is a time of electioneering. Many things are said which are regretted at leisure.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the outrageous remarks of the president of the Commission are wholly inconsistent with the role under the treaty that the Commission is supposed to have? Ought not the Government, rather than taking this mutely, to issue some kind of official objection; otherwise, this will go on being the licence which the President of the Commission has from time to time allowed himself when speaking about the United Kingdom in particular. Will the noble Baroness also take into account, in mitigation of M. Delors' outburst, the fact that it was delivered to the European Parliament, but that instead of 518 Members being present, only 40 were there at the time, of which 30 gave him a standing ovation?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I see no merit in trying to secure retractions whenever a public figure says something with which we do not agree. We may object to it. I accept that. I share the noble Lord's feelings, as I made clear in my initial Answer. But I do feel that M. Delors' remarks were unfortunate. I have read his speech to the European Parliament. Many of the reports which we saw in the British press were totally different from those in the French and German press and misrepresented the tone of his remarks. But he did make remarks which I believe he should and will regret at leisure.

Lord Monson

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that the civil servants in Brussels, among whom M. Delors is to be numbered, should be persuaded to adopt the same code of political impartiality as applies to civil servants in the United Kingdom?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

Yes, my Lords.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that only a man of the doubtful sanity of M. Delors would be so foolish as to describe my right honourable friend the Prime Minister as a schizophrenic? Does she further agree that my right honourable friend's recent support for a two-speed or indeed three-speed Europe is entirely in agreement with his excellent article in the Economist of 23rd September last? Finally, does she agree that the only truly dangerous lunatics on the European scene are those who favour further political and monetary union?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I believe that the whole country would be wearied if we were to continue this debate about schizophrenia and other unwise accusations. We want a free trading Europe, a competitive Europe, and a Europe in which subsidiarity must be rigorously applied, where there is flexibility based on what can be done, but where the core disciplines of all countries are deregulation, decentralisation and mutual recognition rather than harmonisation. We must make the single market work in the best interests of Britain. We must help all the new countries as well as existing countries to grow together at their own speeds.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, in the light of the Minister's reply to the noble Lord, Lord Monson, will she advise the Government to work towards a situation in which the European Commission simply becomes a civil service rather than the government of Europe?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, there are many things to be done in the European Commission, as Sir Leon Brittan has already clearly enunciated. Yes, those things must be considered and we shall see what can be done.