European Community

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:17 pm on 5th March 1986.

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Photo of Mr Russell Johnston Mr Russell Johnston , Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber 7:17 pm, 5th March 1986

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Sir A. Meyer) whose courageous consistency in defence of the ideals of the European Community through fair weather and foul must attract general respect. I say that despite the somewhat limp slap on the hand which he felt obliged to give to the Liberal party.

It is also a great pleasure to welcome to the six monthly "take note" debates the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker). If it is not an embarrassment to her in her absence, I must say that I have always found her an exceptionally fair-minded Minister, not given to being dogmatic, but willing to listen—which cannot be said of all Ministers. Her arrival on the European scene will enhance the Government's contribution. We could do with more people with her engaging, intelligent frankness. I say that unreservedly.

In these debates we ask ourselves where we are in the Community and where we are going. An optimistic view, which is becoming fashionable, is that not only the Government but the great official structures, such as the Foreign Office, the Treasury and the Department of Trade and Industry, think that we are making progress, that we must make more progress and that there is movement and a more positive attitude.

One gets a taste of this in the first paragraph of the White Paper, which states: The enlargement negotiations were completed and the Spanish and Portuguese Accession Treaty signed. Agreement was reached on the new own resources decision embodying the budgetary corrective mechanism for the United Kingdom. With these long-standing issues resolved the Community was able to give greater attention to its future development and in particular to institutional reform and better decision-making. More than anything else, that changed attitude was enshrined in the paper presented by the Prime Minister to the Fontainebleau European Council in June 1984. Many of us felt that the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes)—I am sorry that he has left the Chamber—had written that document in secret and that its publication was to be the precursor of his meteoric rise to office. Sadly, that did not happen.

It was certainly a positive document. I am surprised at how few hon. Members have read it. I strongly recommend it. It had the most positive tone of any document produced by any United Kingdom Government since the halcyon days of the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath). Indeed, it will make an interesting speculation for future political historians whether, had the right hon. Gentleman won the 1974 election, our path into Europe would have been very different and whether we would have ridden the oil crisis that coincided with our entry quite differently. The pro-European mood was certainly there, as the 1975 referendum demonstrated, but thereafter it was steadily dissipated, first by an unenthusiastic Labour party and secondly by a very nationalistic lady.

What is now the status of the Fontainebleau paper? It was quite at variance with the spirit of the Fontainebleau paper—first, on institutions—that we should ally ourselves with Denmark and Greece in making reservations on the Dooge report. That is referred to in paragraph 2.6 of the White Paper, when the present Secretary of State for Scotland had the job of chumming up with Mr. Papandreou and the Danish representatives. It was also at variance with the spirit of Fontainebleau that, in making the argument for budgetary adjustment to take account of the United Kingdom's continuing economic decline and the GNP relative to other members, we should simply make a United Kingdom case without establishing this in a Community frame to take lasting account of the problems of other countries. For example, Portugal was in exactly the same position, but from an even lower economic base.

I also suggest that in our appointments to the Commission we gave no evidence of a wish to promote United Kingdom politicians of the first rank, far less those with enthusiasm for the institution that they were joining. In parenthesis, let me record that I very much regret the departure of Ivor Richard, who was beginning to do a very good job.

I again ask what the status now is of the Fontainebleau document, and I hope that the Minister will say something about it in his reply. I also hope that he has read it, studied it and agreed with it.

The Luxembourg meeting took place after the publication of the White Paper, but, even if the Government went along with the conclusions of the Luxembourg agreement and prised themselves apart from Denmark and Greece, their role was one of brake, not accelerator, and the vision one saw in the Fontainebleau agreement was surpressed.

In passing, I entirely agree with the Minister of State and am pleased with the result of the Danish referendum. I congratulate the various forces in Denmark on their success, particularly my political friends in Venstre.

Over the years, there have been a variety of approaches to reconciling the enthusiastic call of the Six with the others who joined later—who have always been a bit difficult, with the possible exception of Ireland, which has managed to get quite a bit out of it. In 1974, Socialist Willy Brandt coined the idea of a two-speed Community, and the Liberal Ralf Dahrendorf afterwards came up with the idea of an a la carte Community, although that had many federal connotations. The new French President of the Commission, Jacques Delors, was the variable geometry man. They have all been trying to find a way of reconciling those two problems.

Although the decision-making process was approved in Luxembourg, it must still be put to the test of vested interests. I was not terribly encouraged by what the Minister of State said. She said that our special interests were protected, and we all know the result of that. She also said that the Luxembourg compromise holds, but what happens then? The only direct thing that she said was that we will decide things for ourselves. That did not encourage me to think that the Government were of a mood to go in for majority decision making.

Even if all this works, we shall thereafter need stronger mechanisms for regional regeneration and for dealing with changing technology. The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) spoke about this, and he was quite right.