European Community (Developments)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:24 pm on 6th December 1990.

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Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman Shadow Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs) 5:24 pm, 6th December 1990

The right hon. Gentleman may have sought to explain it, but he did not explain it in a wa y that was clear to the House. He talked about co-operation on the Gulf and he reproved members of the Community for what he claimed to be their inadequate response to the Gulf crisis. Does the right hon. Gentleman see the Community co-ordinating a military response in the Gulf? Does he see it co-ordinating a naval blockade in the Gulf? Does he see it co-ordinating an air blockade in the Gulf? If so, what was he up to talking about the Community's response on Gulf issues? Hostages are clearly an important matter, but is that a security matter? We need to know what the Government mean by security as distinct from defence.

Those are important matters, on which the Government may come to the House with legislation at a future date and we need to know exactly what they propose. After all the right hon. Gentleman's statements in Brussels, his statement to the Select Committee and his further statement this afternoon, what he is proposing is not at all clear and could be dangerous.

The right hon. Gentleman spoke this afternoon, as he has on other occasions, about majority voting. But nobody has any clear idea where he, and therefore the Government, stands on majority voting. Speaking to the House of Lords Select Committee on the European Communities on 25 July 1990 he said: Undoubtedly, this country has quite substantially gained from the Single European Act, in that many of the decisions leading to the Single Market are to be taken by qualified majority. We and the Commission would not be nearly so successful in demolishing protectionism in the Community had it not been for qualified majority voting, and that is a point I ought to make from the point of view of those who approach qualified majority voting with some suspicion. That appears to me to be something of an encomium for qualified majority voting.

Three months later the right hon. Gentleman appeared to change his mind. In the debate on the Queen's Speech on 8 November, four weeks ago today, he said: We do not want … significantly extending qualified majority voting. Does that mean more majority voting or not? What is the significance of the word "significantly"? Does he mean that he is opposed to any more qualified majority voting, or that he is ready to see some more qualified majority voting? If so, in what areas?

That is an important issue for the political intergovernmental conference, yet there has not been a word of clarification today, just a repetition of the fuzzy words on the matter that the right hon. Gentleman has been saying all along, except, as I say, for his encomium for qualified majority voting at the House of Lords Select Committee three months ago. If he cannot sort out his own mind, how on earth will he make a clear, positive and useful contribution at the intergovernmental conference?

What about the issue of sovereignty? In his interview with Mr. Walden on 25 November, the new Prime Minister—not then the Prime Minister but about to become so—seemed very firm. He said: At the moment I can foresee no chance of pooling any more sovereignty. He also said: I see no circumstances at the moment in which we could or would present legislation to the House of Commons to surrender more sovereignty. That seemed pretty clear until one read it, when one saw that repeated phrase, "at the moment". That gave the Prime Minister a let-out should he decide to change his mind. The chances of his changing his mind seem quite strong.

In yet another campaign interview published two days later on 27 November in the Financial Times the Prime Minister said: I have no doubt that when we go through this conference"— that is, the intergovernmental conference— it is possible to negotiate a treaty that will be acceptable to the House of Commons that will move Europe forward and keep it forward together. What will there be a new treaty for if we are not going to sacrifice, as the right hon. Member for Finchley would put it, some sovereignty?

The Prime Minister acknowledged in that interview that a new treaty would have to come to the House, and a new treaty will mean, in the Prime Minister's own words, pooling more sovereignty; surrendering more sovereignty. Where do the Government stand on the issue of sovereignty? Where do they stand on a new treaty? Do they accept that they may have to bring this new legislation, pooling or surrendering sovereignty, to the House, and that if they meet opposition, they may have to guillotine it through the House as they did the Single European Act?

We have a right to know about those matters, but the Foreign Secretary told us nothing about them this afternoon. It may be that there is a good reason for that. Perhaps he does not know himself. Perhaps, in the immortal words of the Secretary of State for the Environment, the Government are ruling nothing in and ruling nothing out. We do not know. The Foreign Secretary did not tell us. The only hint that he has given about proposals for the political intergovernmental conference, before his extremely woolly words this afternoon, was provided in his speech to the House on 8 November when he said: we would like to see a more prominent role for the European Parliament, not by giving it more legislative powers but in monitoring Community expenditure."—[Official Report, 8 November 1990; Vol. 180, c. 152–53.] What on earth does that mean? What does it mean in terms of providing powers or not providing powers for the European Parliament? It cannot be given a greater role without being given more powers and that may need legislation in this House and in the other areas of the Community.