Intergovernmental Conferences

– in the House of Commons at 1:09 am on 19th December 1990.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash , Stafford 1:09 am, 19th December 1990

About five or six years ago, I became increasingly concerned about the momentum towards what I described in an article in The Times as "creeping federalism". Then, I would have regarded our present situation as almost impossible, as far more progress towards federalism has been made in the relatively short time since I began raising these matters on the Floor of the House than even I anticipated.

In Lewis Carroll's "Through the Looking Glass", when Alice says, "But you can't believe things which are impossible," the Queen of Hearts replies, "Nonsense. You just haven't had enough practice. I often believe six different impossible things before breakfast." Impossible things are happening, and it is certainly true to say that one of the aspects of the direction that we are taking that I find difficult to understand is the reason for the next step. I have repeatedly said that I voted for the Single European Act. Although I put down an amendment that nothing in the Act should go against the sovereignty of the United Kingdom Parliament, nonetheless I believe that there were, and are, benefits to be derived from that Act as it was enacted.

However, at a number of meetings with people who know a great deal about this issue, I have had great difficulty in extracting from them—or from any recently produced documents—a reason why we should move to the next steps. It is a source of considerable curiosity to me that, whenever one poses that question, one does not get an answer.

There were good reasons for the establishment of the European Community. In 1951, the European Coal and Steel Community pooled steel and coal for the purposes of rationalisation, but also to prevent a repetition of the second world war. There have been thoroughly understandable and well-explained developments in the European Community since then. However, with the ending of the cold war, the picture has changed significantly.

As I have said on a number of occasions, it is fundamental that we consider what is relevant to the 1990s, and not what was thought to be relevant to the 1950s. Also fundamental questions arise out of the developments that are now taking place. I shall summarise those by saying that they turn on the question of consent and accountability. As I have put it on previous occasions, "Who governs?" And it is not just who governs, but how they govern.

For centuries the House has evolved towards democracy. We had sovereignty in the king and crown, and the divine right of kings until the 17th century. Through the centuries we moved towards a greater emphasis upon consent by the people, and accountability went with it. I am worried that the present proposals for the future of the Community mean that we are envolving away from consent and accountability. The other day, the Bank of England released the statutes for the proposed central bank to me. It is quite clear that hon. Members have a different approach towards government, accountability and consent than others in the Community.

I also believe that we may have got ourselves into difficulties as a result of our traditions—for which we should not apologise, because hard experience over many centuries has taught us that our practical and pragmatic approach pays off; nevertheless, the view that if we pass an Act in the House of Commons we shall be able to change it is no longer so valid as it was before the passing of the European Communities Act 1972. Policy options closed following the agreement that majority voting should be allowed, particularly since the Single European Act.

The 1971 White Paper—"The United Kingdom and the European Communities"—was really addressing the question of sovereignty, along with the concepts of consent and accountability and the democracy that is tied up with those concepts. Although some may think that we have agreed to proposals over the past 25 years, those proposals were within a clearly defined parameter. Paragraph 29 states: We shall have full opportunity to make our views heard and our influence felt in the councils of the Community. The Community is no federation of provinces or counties. It constitutes a Community of great and established nations, each with its own personality and traditions. The practical working of the Community accordingly reflects the reality that sovereign Governments are represented round the table. On a question where a Government considers that vital national interests are involved, it is established that the decision should be unanimous. Like any other treaty, the Treaty of Rome commits its signatories to support agreed aims; but the commitment represents the voluntary undertaking of a sovereign state to observe policies which it has helped to form. There is no question of any erosion of essential national sovereignty; what is proposed is a sharing and an enlargement of individual national sovereignties in the general interest. Paragraph 30 states: All the countries concerned recognise that an attempt to impose"— I stress the word "impose" a majority view in a case where one or more members considered their vital interests to be at stake would imperil the very fabric of the Community. That could not have been put more clearly.

It could be argued that time has moved on, that we could draw a veil over all that, and that it really does not matter very much any more; I feel, however, that it probably mattes more than ever now, given the proposals that have been emanating from the Commission about economic and monetary union and political union, and the activities of our friends and colleagues in Europe regarding those matters.

The question of consent to the next step—whether or not it is imposed, and whether or not we are asked to agree to it—goes to the heart of the nature of democracy in this country, our system of government and the kind of Parliament that we have here. I understand that the Government suggested some weeks ago that a public statement would be made, perhaps in the form of a White Paper, and that that may still be in the pipeline. I hope that it is. The consent that will allow the House to continue to deliver the democratic accountability that it has delivered for so long is dependent on whether those who are asked to make the decisions are themselves fully informed, and whether the electorate are fully aware of what is being done in their name.

In recent opinion polls on Europe, only a few weeks ago people were asked whether they wanted more powers to be transferred from national Parliaments to European Community institutions. Sixty-nine per cent. said no. They were also asked whether they were in favour of a European central bank. Sixty-nine per cent. said yes. There is enormous confusion about Europe.

When my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe) was Leader of the House, I asked for a White Paper. It is no secret that I made the same request to the Foreign Secretary and to my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher). In a Bow group pamphlet that I published some months ago entitled, "The Democratic Way to European Unity: Arguments against Federalism", I argued that it was essential that there should be full and thorough public debate of these issues, not only in this country but in all the member states of the European Community.

I am particularly glad that, when my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made his statement yesterday, he referred to the fact, as the presidency conclusion showed, that these matters would have to be discussed and considered before any decision could be reached. For that reason, the outcome of the Rome summit was much better. The objective was no longer being pursued on the basis of threats, but on the basis of discussion.

I do not regard the actions of my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley as having been in any way misconceived. I do not believe that the present Prime Minister or any of those who have played a prominent part in matters relating to Europe during recent months could have agreed to the fixing of a certain date without a programme having been put before them.

We must be properly informed. The European Commission published its proposals for treaty amendment on 21 October. I am disturbed that it took so long for that information to be made available and that I found it necessary to exert such reasonable pressure as I thought necessary to obtain, a week ago last Thursday, the bank statutes from the Bank of England. I now know that a draft treaty on economic and monetary union has been prepared by the Commission. Reference is made to it in the presidency conclusions which, I believe, contain other material that people ought to know about if they are to form a proper view about what is being done.

For many centuries we have entered into treaties and alliances. There is no mystery or magic about the fact that, for more than 400 years, we have entered into treaties and alliances with our colleagues, and sometimes with our adversaries, in Europe. Therefore, I regard the treaties as a perfectly natural development. However, they are being, and have been, rolled into a legal order, which is quite a different thing. As we move on to the next phase, the mixture of politics and law within that legal framework is giving rise to considerable difficulties.

The House has been primarily concerned with the raising of revenues, the disposal of expenditure, grievance, redress of grievance and supply. The proposals for a central bank go to the heart of democracy and consent. The choice by the electorate—the ordinary men and women of this country—of what economic and social priorities they wish is being taken away from them.

For example, the central bank would be created as a matter of primary European law, which would specifically prohibit either the bank or the Bank of England from taking political instructions from any Government. It would sit in secret, would vote by majority voting and would formulate the monetary policy of the Community, including key interest rates and supply and reserves. The board of the bank would be empowered to give instructions to the national central banks, and its council would have the exclusive right to authorise the issuing of notes within the Community—the only notes to have legal tender status according to Community legislation. The bank would be endowed with our foreign reserve assets by the national central banks. The whole would be subject to rulings of the European Court of Justice.

Fortunately, the detailed proposals for a central bank are in the Library for anybody to read. It seems extraordinary that something so fundamental—pages and pages of paper, technicalities and paraphernalia, which are of immense importance to the future running of this country—should be sitting in the Library and not getting the widest possible circulation. It is important that people take on board exactly those proposals amount to. They are not just a pile of paper, but power and authority, and they will affect the running of our economy and of other economies within the European Community. Combined with the information that I have been able to glean from other documents issued recently by the Commission on economic and monetary union, they amount to a totally new type of government for this country, for this Parliament, for our electorate and for Europe.

I was interested to read the letter written by Karl Otto Pohl to the president of the Council of the European Communities, which says that the statute—which I have in here, dated 27 November 1990— addresses Stage Three of Economic and Monetary Union". Then he refers to "this final stage" as the stage which would be referred to the intergovernmental conference. Time and again, we have heard that we shall go from stage 1, to stage 2, and then to stage 3. Why does Karl Otto Pohl refer to stage 3? So far as I can make out from the skeleton papers that I have seen on economic and monetary union, at the intergovernmental conference on EMU we are to be asked to agree to stage 3. That is not how the matter has been presented in the past few months to the House and to the people.

The issue is fundamental and raises the vital question of consent. Therefore, I repeat my earnest request that much more public information should be made available through the media, as well by the Government, to ensure that people know what is involved and the timing of it.

It is perfectly possible that my hon. Friend the Minister will say in reply, "Well, we don't have to worry too much, because we are not going to agree to it.". I understand that argument, but I have heard it before. Were it not for the fact that we have democratic accountability in the House and I am able to ask such questions and obtain the appropriate documents, many things would be approved to which we would not want to agree without prior discussion. The French operate by decree, and I should be surprised if members of the French national assembly had the opportunity to raise such matters in the same way as we do. I suspect that the same applies to other countries —for example, Spain.

Another problem with changes associated with EMU is that there are 12 different constitutions in the European Community. To assimilate all those in one homogenous arrangement to deal with questions relating to monetary, economic and fiscal policy is difficult to comprehend. We should be under no doubt that taxation with reference to the single market is included in the proposals—certainly the Commission's proposals to amend the treaty of Rome, which were submitted on 21 October. There are great advantages to be had from our ability to raise such matters in the House. I hope that other countries will be able to observe that, because I doubt whether they are able to get access to such information.

The other day, a French politician had lunch with me in the House. He led me to understand that he and his colleagues could not get their message across on radio or television because of the way in which the media operate. It is difficult for them to have the public debate for which I am calling.

Photo of Mr George Robertson Mr George Robertson , Hamilton

I am listening with great care, but one thought keeps recurring. If the hon. Gentleman is so worried about what he describes as creeping federalism, why did he vote for the Single European Act? The major decisions that we are now considering are a logical result of the process that was started in that Act. The hon. Gentleman had plenty of time to consider that when the Act was first discussed. If he did not vote against it then, why is he suddenly recounting such alarming scenarios now?

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash , Stafford

There is nothing alarming about the scenarios, but it is important that we know what we are doing and that we inform the public properly about what is going on. After all, the issue of consent depends upon proper information.

I have already explained why I voted for the Single European Act. At the time, I tabled an amendment to the effect that nothing in the Act should go against the sovereignty of our Parliament. The question of federalism is separable from that of majority voting on limited areas of competence which do not go to the heart of government, but deal with those issues which relate to commerce, convenience, competition, and so on, all of which I find perfectly acceptable. We want to co-operate in Europe, to be constructive and to be positive. We want a wider Europe but that is different from dealing with the questions which I address to the House this evening about the nature of government. The levers of government, economic power and monetary policy are different in kind. That is my point. To hand them over to a central institution is creeping federalism, not enlarging the opportunities for people to engage in the market place.

Then there is the question of independence. Article 7 of the central bank's statutes makes it crystal clear that neither the European Central Bank … nor any member of their bank decision-making bodies may seek or take any instructions from Community institutions, governments of Member States or any other body. In other words, the bank would have total independence.

I saw the Governor of the Bank of England a few days ago on Channel 4. I did not think much of any of his other remarks, but he rightly said that the Federal Government of Germany had a degree of political control over the Bundesbank. That arose from articles 3 and 12 of the German Banking Act 1962. The bank has responsibility for currency stability, but that subject to the overall economic policy of the Federal Government. On several occasions—most recently on merger with east Germany —there was a difference of view between President Kohl and Mr. Pöhl, and Mr. Pöhl had to back down. When we talk about the general economic policy of the Federal Government we relate it to the policy of the Bundesbank.

Article 2 of the proposals for a central bank says: The primary objective of the System shall be to maintain price stability. which incidentally is undefined. It continues: The System shall support the general economic policy of the Community. That raises an important question. Whose economic policy? That of the Community. Who determines that economic policy? Which Government will determine it? Will it be a decision taken by the Council of Ministers? In line with the proposals of the European Commission to amend the treaty of 21 October, is it to be construed as the single institutional structure which is advocated, leading towards single Government and a single Parliament? I do not know the answer for certain, but there is an enormous amount of pressure in that direction. Anyone who cares to examine the nature of the single institutional structure that is proposed should be on his guard about where it will lead.

Once we talk about the general economic policy of the Community and draw on the analogy of the Bundesbank, which is under political control, yet another series of fundamental questions arise about the direction in which we are going. I have confidence that there are others who are alert to the questions that I have raised. I trust that we shall receive all the necessary assurances from the Minister that we shall not be drawn down that path. However, I am aware of the political difficulties which arise as soon as one starts to say, "Yes, we shall exercise the veto,"—as I have asked the Government to do. Not only shall we not have the central bank imposed on us—we may not have it at all. We will not agree to it.

There is another gloss that can be put on the matter. Initial consent based upon information is one thing. It is quite another thing to say, "All will be well. Once the treaties made by prerogative have been implemented by way of the signing of a further treaty, we can go to Parliament to ratify it. We shall therefore have obtained the consent to which the hon. Member for Stafford has repeatedly referred. Everything will be fine." To obtain consent in that fashion is not the same as obtaining consent to an ordinary Act of Parliament because it cuts at the heart of the ability of the House, on behalf of the electorate, to decide matters of genuine sovereignty.

The term "sovereignty" is easily misunderstood; sometimes I would prefer us not to use that expression. The real question concerns the allocation of functions, powers and authority in relation to the main levers of government. That is what it is all about. The House might be asked in future to agree to treaties on economic and monetary union and political union that pull the rug from under the feet of the British electorate. Such decisions can be made only on the widest possible basis of public information and following the fullest possible debate. They certainly cannot be made on the basis on which the Single European Act went through the House a few years ago.

Personally, I would reject the whole thing, because I do not believe that it is sensible. I hardly believe that this is the right moment for us to accept all this paraphernalia. The Bundesbank is driving up interest rates. There is the problem of absorbing east Germany. The amount of money available in the Community will not be as great as it has been. There is a recession and it is not confined to Britain. Problems are growing in France. When binding rules are imposed, capping the expenditure of countries running budget deficits, how will those countries find the money to implement the policies that their electorates require? Such countries could well be faced with civil disturbance. We must compare our economy with much more primitive economies in countries that are trying to develop a more up-to-date—

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash , Stafford

I am talking about southern Mediterranean countries in particular. They have major problems, and I foresee considerable difficulties ahead if the answer to those problems is to provide them with loans, financial assistance and grants involving the massive transfer of regional resources. I do not believe that the money is there, and I think that the paymasters—particularly in Germany and Britain—would have great difficulty in finding the money or, indeed, the will to provide it.

When we consider political union, we are faced with another series of problems. As we have been trying to sort out our economy during the past eight years, should we agree to the majority voting that is being proposed? I believe that the sort of democratic accountability that determines the policies of this country simply cannot be swept away by engaging in the sort of majority voting proposed in the series of measures put before the presidency in the past week.

A vast range of matters have now been raised. I am sure that the Minister will say, and I entirely concede, that they are preliminary issues with which we shall be presented. We shall consider and discuss but probably reject most of them. But there is a tremendous momentum behind the proposals and the other countries are trying to push us along. I look to my hon. Friend the Minister for some assurance that we will be quite clear in our resistance to that pressure.

The issue of accountability and the relationship among the Members of Parliament, the Minister and the Council of Ministers is real in this Parliament. We have Question Time, Prime Minister's Question Time and Select Committees. There is a genuine involvement and a reasonable scrutiny process in both Houses. We have now set up the three new Committees before which Ministers will appear in the fairly near future to answer questions relating to the European Community.

What a contrast between that process and the conference that the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) and I attended in Rome, where 250 votes were taken in three hours without a word of discussion about any of them. That is simply not the way to run a Parliament. I understand that that organisation, however it describes itself, which I do not believe had any legitimacy or authority, has taken upon itself to present the farcical declaration to the intergovernmental conference as if it had some authority. I was present as a Member of Parliament from this House and was certainly not speaking on behalf of other Members. I hope that the declaration is treated with the disdain that it deserves.

Over and over again the issue of subsidiarity is raised. It is regarded as a critical issue that lies at the heart of the Community's development, but the Minister and the Government must give full attention to that principle, which I do not think is necessary. Articles 2 to 7 of the treaty cover The approximation of laws to the extent necessary for the proper functioning of the Common Market. There is no reason to incorporate the principle of subsidiarity in the treaty, as it already contains those provisions.

Underlying the blancmange of subsidiarity there is an assumption that the upper tier of government—the macro-economic levers of the central bank and all that goes with it—is already regarded as implicit, and thus not subsidiary. So we shall end up with a meaningless expression that already concedes the tiers of government, which we say we shall not accept, but attaches to economic and monetary union. That would be selling the pass, and it would be unwise and unnecessary.

If people want to amend a treaty, let them get down to discussions. That is a matter of political will, not legal definition. We should put in the words that we want and take out those that we do not. If it is suggested that treaty amendments on the central bank be made now but not come into effect until an unspecified future date, that will not do either. We would then be irrevocably bound to those amendments, as part of the momentum to which I have already referred. We should have no way of ever extracting ourselves from them later. If we are to avoid this, let us not engage in a method of dealing with it which concedes the principle in the first place.

Subsidiarity would also be fatal because of the problem of interpretation by the courts. The courts do not want the concept anyway because it would hand over to them political decisions that they do not want and with which they could not cope. That would be manifest nonsense.

Much of what lies at the heart of the central bank proposal and all that flows from it is based on economic defeatism—we cannot sort out our own problems. We would abdicate our political responsibilities if we engaged in that sort of retreat from the freedoms on which the House has insisted for so long. Our democracy would be —it already is—under serious threat. Elections do not in themselves create democracies. The countries of eastern Europe, after an appalling period of neglect and difficulty, have emerged and had to recreate democracy for themselves. It would be ironic if we went in the other direction.

I have confidence in the Government and in the knowledge that this House will not countenance the proposals now being heaped upon us, but there are tremendous pressures on us to adopt them. The best we can hope for is the belief that we shall be well led in the negotiations, and that recession and Germany's experience of absorbing east Germany may cause EMU to be still born, for the simple reason that it cannot work. If that assessment is fair, it follows that we should try to get that message across to the other member states.

I sincerely hope that the difficulties that I have mentioned will prevent us from being led down a path that will render this House incapable of performing the functions that it has carried out for so long on behalf of the electorate of this country. We have reached the stage at which we should make a decision, and the sooner we grasp the nettle and make that decision the better. We must not allow ourselves to drift inexorably towards the proposals that are in the papers to which I have referred. I look to the Government and the House to protect our people from the difficulties that would arise from following such a route.

Photo of Mr George Robertson Mr George Robertson , Hamilton 1:55 am, 19th December 1990

The hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash) has entered an area of profound importance and all hon. Members, small as the numbers are in the Chamber, recognise that the issues that he raises are well beyond our areas of interest. This is an absurd and unreal time to debate the matters about which the hon. Member for Stafford in his glory speaks endlessly. It is five minutes to 2 o'clock in the morning, and that is not a suitable time for three exhausted Members to attempt to deal with the subject.

Photo of Mr George Robertson Mr George Robertson , Hamilton

I did not count the Government Whip.

Photo of Mr George Robertson Mr George Robertson , Hamilton

We should also count the Clerk and other people who are not forced to concentrate on the thinking of the hon. Member for Stafford. The way in which the House organises itself is ludicrous. We should not have such debates at such ridiculous times. The important issues raised by the hon. Member for Stafford should be debated at a more appropriate time.

The hon. Gentleman said that more information is needed about the grave constitutional issues that will arise from the intergovernmental conference. At least I agree with him on that, because there is a sad dearth of information about the European Community. More and more decisions are being taken at European level and it is sad that the amount of information and the dissemination of that which was available in the early days of the debate on the Community is not now available.

The Government should take that on board and, as we enter this new and important phase of the intergovernmental conference, they should look carefully to see whether the Central Statistical Office or the information section of the Foreign and Commonwealth office should provide some stimulus to ensure that our people are made aware of how much is done and how much is expected of Ministers at European level. People should know the precise implications for the constitution and the effect on their daily lives of the intergovernmental conference.

The hon. Member for Stafford looks with nostalgia at these issues. As I said in an intervention, much of what is being considered at the intergovernmental conference is not new or fresh. Much of it flows almost directly from a process that was started by the Single European Act. During the many hours of debate on that legislation, Opposition Members warned Conservative Members that we were embarking on a momentous and different process. Therefore, hon. Members voted with their eyes open, and whether they tabled amendments is almost irrelevant. When they voted for Second Reading, on amendments in Committee and on the guillotine for Third Reading, they knew what they were voting for. Therefore, we should all now be aware that, whether we like it or not, we started a process, and the logic of that is coming home to us.

The Labour party warned of what would happen, and we voted against the Single European Act, but we recognised, once it was in place, that it was part of the treaty, and we had to live with it. We have done so, and we have attempted to find a new role and a new policy that embrace the provisions of the Single European Act and we have tried to live with the logic of it and the mood from then on. To look back nostalgically to the grand days of the past, when this Parliament ruled supreme and alone, is to look back to a world that will never be reality again. Whatever side of the House we sit, and whatever side of the argument we take, whether the argument is about political or economic or monetary union, we cannot reverse the process and pretend that we can go back to the days when sovereignty and independence meant something.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash , Stafford

The hon. Gentleman must concede that my main point was about consent, and the accountability and democracy that go with it. I am sure that he will not throw doubt on the importance of that, which is at the heart of this argument. Should we not be fighting to ensure that we maintain it, because that is important?

Photo of Mr George Robertson Mr George Robertson , Hamilton

That is the kernel of the hon. Gentleman's argument, although it took him a long time to make it. I agree that the question of consent is an important one, and one to which the House will have to return time and time again. The problem for the hon. Gentleman is that many of the powers over which he waxes eloquent have already left the House. Some of these sovereign powers went by the conscious decision of the House, through the European Communities Act 1972 and European Communities (Amendment) Act 1986. Some have gone by policy decision. Decisions on agriculture are taken at a European level because it was felt that that was better than taking decisions on the domestic level.

Other decisions have gone through force of circumstance. We are considering economic and monetary union, and integration on economic and monetary policies because such decisions are not taken by Parliament, the City of London, or financiers, but at a European level. Economic and monetary union is an attempt by the politicians to take back some of the sovereignty that has been lost because of the change in circumstances. It is right and proper that we are concerned about consent, but it has to be seen in the context of the political framework with which we have to live.

This week, we embarked on the process of the intergovernmental conferences. One of the most distressing aspects of our starting on this process is the fact that the Prime Minister announced to the House yesterday that the Government were ready to table their draft amendments to the treaty so as to embrace their idea of the hard ecu. That is a highly commendable proposition, and I hope that the House sees the draft amendments before they are submitted to the intergovernmental conference, because that was the only assurance that the Prime Minister gave.

Perhaps the Minister will tell us whether the House of Commons, for which the hon. Member for Stafford has been standing up so strongly, will get a sight of the alternative treaty that the British Government already have on the desks on Ministers. Will it be made available to the House of Commons before it is tabled in Brussels in the intergovernmental conference? We have been told by ther Prime Minister that the document exists, that it will be tabled and that it will form part of the general debate economic and monetary union IGC.

The political union IGC started on Saturday as well, and so far we have not heard a word about the Government's agenda for that. Given the nature and importance of the issues and the time scale that is being discussed for that IGC, as well as the obvious need for the Government to establish a strong negotiating position at the beginning of the process, we should have as early as possible the formal, concrete proposals that the Government will put to the IGC. There is general concern about that as the process starts, and a question that needs to be answered. Perhaps the Minister will seek to respond and to answer it even at this ungodly hour. I concede, however, that it is perhaps unreasonable to ask him to do so, given the lateness of the debate. If he draws the matter to the attention of the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the right hon. Member For Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones), on his return from Rome, perhaps we shall receive a response through the post.

The hon. Member for Stafford mentioned subsidiarity, a concept which has crept into our language. It was mentioned by the Foreign Secretary in the debate which took place on 6 December. I was surprised that it was. He said that subsidiarity would be raised by the British Government in the IGCs. The right hon. Gentleman said: We shall have to look for a way of spelling out subsidiarity in the treaty; then we need to find a way of enforcing it. It will not necessarily have to be enforced by the European Court of Justice; There are other ways of enforcing it.—[Official Report, 6 December 1990, Vol. 182, c. 485.] Today, at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, the Minister of State, the right hon. Member for Watford, went beyond that and said that there would be a committee of wise men to decide on issues of subsidiarity.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash , Stafford

indicated dissent.

Photo of Mr George Robertson Mr George Robertson , Hamilton

I see that the hon. Member for Stafford shakes his head. Perhaps he does so in dismay, but I am only reciting the views that have been expressed by Ministers who are members of his party.

An interesting Pandora's box has been opened that contains more than the issues about which the hon. Gentleman spoke. It includes, for example, questions about the internal government of the United Kingdom. Although the Government see subsidiarity solely in terms of a division of responsibility between the Community and national Government, the concept of subsidiarity arose from a debate between the German Lander, with their powers being compromised by a dialogue between the Community and the federal Government of Germany. The Lander wanted a specific notion built into the working of the Community relating to their role within the decision-making process.

The Government are embarking upon a path that will embrace a much wider debate about the way in which our over-centralised country will be governed in future. It is a healthy development, but there is a movement in a direction that the Government have not yet taken fully on board.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash , Stafford

The hon. Gentleman may be interested to know, and so may my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, that a paper has recently been written by Mr. Andrew Tyrie, who is now a fellow of Nuffield college, Oxford, and who was a special adviser to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, in which he has vigorously attacked the concept of subsidiarity. He was privy to the papers that I sent to my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) when she was Prime Minister, and the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, in April, shortly before the Dublin summit. They included an opinion from a most eminent Queen's counsel in matters relating to European law, in which he roundly condemned the concept. There is no doubt, and it is on the record, that it is a highly dangerous concept with which to play around.

Photo of Mr George Robertson Mr George Robertson , Hamilton

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman was talking to me, but I am sure that the Minister will have heard what he said. I am simply drawing the attention of the House to the fact that this is an item that the Government have chosen to put on the agenda for the political union intergovernmental conference. If the Government think, as the previous Prime Minister thought, that subsidiarity would be a way to reign back powers from the Community, they should look carefully at the way in which it is constructed. I hope that areas of this country such as Scotland will be able to find, through the debate on subsidiarity, a role within the developing European Community.

I know that the Minister does not keep up with the Scottish press. Indeed, I am sure that he finds it difficult to keep up with the English—the so-called national—press. If he wishes to take the argument further, he should read the Glasgow Herald and The Scotsman of the past two weeks. His colleagues in the Scottish Office, including a former Foreign Office Minister who has just joined the Department of Transport, have been engaged in a fierce debate about how Scotland should be represented within European Community institutions. The new Secretary of State for Scotland has come down strongly on the side of a robust Scottish presence inside the Brussels hierarchy, articulating a view on behalf of the Scottish Office and Scotland. That contrasts with the view of members of the former team. There is a wide open debate, and it is interesting that it should be the foreign Secretary who has identified it as a major issue.

I am going way beyond the time limit that I originally set myself. I wish to make just one more point, which I think is important. The hon. Member for Stafford mentioned consent, and the power of the British Parliament to call to account Ministers who participate in legislating in the European Community and the Council of Ministers. It is a serious issue. The House recently reformed some of its procedures to accommodate the greater amount of European legislation, and I believe that more will have to be done. We floated the idea of a European Grand Committee, based loosely on the model of the Scottish and Welsh Grand Committees. I still think that it is worth considering that idea, so that hon. Members can fairly and properly deal with the amount of legislation and the amount of activity in which Ministers are engaged.

Some of the practical details of how we come to grips with that are also important. I understand that the Government have now agreed that Members of Parliament will be allowed to telephone at public expense to the European Commission in Brussels and the European Parliament in Strasbourg. It is remarkable that it should have taken so long to agree to that. Given the amount of legislation at European level, to have been prevented even from telephoning those institutions clearly went against the interests of hon. Members and the House.

It is a ludicrous constraint on hon. Members that we are unable to travel to Brussels, where so many activities directly impinge upon our constituencies. It is possible to visit Scapa Flow or to fly to Benbecula or Land's End on parliamentary business, but it is not possible for Members of Parliament, including those who have Front-Bench responsibilities, to go to Brussels, where laws are being enacted that sometimes intimately affect the welfare of our constituents.

I visited Brussels on Monday with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and two other members of the shadow Cabinet. Following an important and somewhat controversial Commission meeting, we met Mr. Delors. We also met Commissioners Papandreou, Milian, Ripa Di Meana and others during that day, and we learned in some detail of proposals that will be made within the Commission for future legislation by the Council of Ministers.

It is ridiculous and indefensible that we should have had to scrabble around looking for private funds in order to buy airline tickets to go to Brussels to be engaged in activities that are so directly our responsibility as Members of the House representing people in Britain. I put it seriously to the Minister that those procedures must be looked at as a matter of urgency if this Parliament is to do its job.

The hon. Member for Stafford has raised an important series of issues. I do not share his alarm and despondency about the way in which the debate is going because I believe the there is a mood in Europe that is healthy, inevitable and, in many ways, desirable. But he is right to say that British parliamentarians must make their views known and should have a chance to make their views known. I hope that in the coming months, at a more reasonable time of the day, more Members of Parliament will have that chance, and we shall have a healthier democracy as a consequence.

Photo of Mr Mark Lennox-Boyd Mr Mark Lennox-Boyd , Morecambe and Lunesdale 2:16 am, 19th December 1990

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash) on commanding the attention of the House even at this late hour. It is important that these matters are properly scrutinised, and scrutiny late at night is better than no scrutiny at all. I take issue with the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) because, although there may not be many hon. Members present, I can assure him that these debates are taken seriously in the Foreign Office and full consideration is given to them in the formation of policy.

Both hon. Members spoke of the need for more information to be published by the Government on all these matters. The Government are considering closely the question of a White Paper. In fact, two White Papers on developments in the EC have already been published and the next one is due in February or March. I hope that that will address some of the major questions under debate in the intergovernmental conferences.

The House will recall the full debate on European Community developments on 6 December before the Rome European Council when many of the points made today were raised and dealt with at some length by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and the Minister of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones). I shall deal first with the points relating to the intergovernmental conference on political union.

The task of that conference is to adapt the Community to the changes taking place in Europe. The United Kingdom will play a full and central part in all the debates on the future of the Community.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash , Stafford

It was during that debate that I decided that if I was lucky enough to be able to initiate a debate on this occasion I would raise these questions, because we were specifically told then that we were not dealing with the question of economic and monetary union and it was only touched on in the debate. It was for precisely that reason that I wanted to draw attention specifically to that aspect, on the lines that I have done today. However, I detect that my hon. Friend is moving swiftly down the path of political union.

Photo of Mr Mark Lennox-Boyd Mr Mark Lennox-Boyd , Morecambe and Lunesdale

As a result of my hon. Friend's rather lengthy contribution, I do not have much time left to make my speech, so perhaps I had better get on or my hon. Friend will have no idea what I have to say.

Our objective is to preserve and to promote the national interest, and to build an open, confident, outward-looking European Community with influence in the world. I am sure that my hon. Friend agrees that that is in our national interest, as well as in the interests of Europe as a whole. For that reason, we shall enter both intergovernmental conferences intending to make them a success, equipped with our own ideas for bringing about that success, and willing to discuss the ideas of others.

The European Council meeting in Rome on 14 and 15 December agreed conclusions setting out a range of issues that the intergovernmental conference should consider. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said at the time, that is a menu. The work of the intergovernmental conference is to decide which items on that menu are acceptable to all delegations.

My hon. Friend rightly made much of consent. He knows that any amendments to the treaty of Rome can be agreed only by unanimity, and will require ratification by Parliament—by this House. The conclusions did not commit member states to accept any particular reforms, nor do they prejudice the outcome of the intergovernmental conference.

As to political union, our objective is to maintain an open, liberal and free-market Community with efficient and accountable institutions. It is important that my hon. Friend should acknowledge that we have our own proposals for revising the treaties to make the Community more effective and shall present them in the course of the negotiations. It is acknowledged by all member states that political union is a process and that it is not appropriate to define the ultimate goal.

Fundamental national identities and institutions must, and will, be preserved. The Government remain firmly opposed to the idea of a federal European Government or a centralised European superstate. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said, the Community is not a glacier which moves inexorably in a preordained direction.

I made mention of next year's White Papers, and I remind my hon. Friend that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister promised to report all matters of substance to the House so that it has an opportunity, during the conferences, to consider what is being undertaken on the country's behalf.

One of the main issues under discussion is the democratic legitimacy of Community institutions. That is not a matter of the superiority of one institution over another, or of transferring sovereignty from one to another. Accountability in the Community rests on twin pillars. Ministers meeting in Council are responsible to their individual national Parliaments, and the Commission—acting on behalf of the Community—is responsible to the European Parliament. We should like to strengthen the partnership of European and national Parliaments so that they can most effectively ensure democratic accountability in Community processes.

The hon. Member for Hamilton raised the subject of travel and of telephone conversations, and I will ensure that his points are communicated to my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office. As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, when my hon. Friend the Minister of State wound up a debate some weeks ago, he said that he would be holding wide-ranging discussions in the House about ways in which the House could involve itself directly in the Community on behalf of constituents, and in respect of right hon. and hon. Members' other responsibilities.

There will be wide-ranging discussions on that, and I hope that the points that he has made will be taken into those discussions.

We have proposed that the European Parliament's powers of supervision over the Commission, notably on financial questions, be strengthened. We would like to see a recognition of the important role of national parliaments in scrutinising Community legislation and would encourage the establishment of closer links between European and national parliaments. My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford attended the assizes in Rome at the end of last month. Perhaps that was an attempt to make a faltering start and was not wholly successful. We certainly recognise that more ideas are needed.

Some ideas and suggestions were made by hon. Members in the debate on 6 December, and the Government will be following those up. However, we are not persuaded that the legislative powers of the European Parliament need to be strengthened. That would certainly upset the existing institutional balance, which it is important to maintain.

Subsidiarity has been mentioned by both contributors to this debate. As my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford said, it is a difficult question because it is a mixture of politics and the law. We believe that subsidiarity should be considered most carefully, and should apply in all areas of Community life—not just new areas of Community activity, but existing ones.

The Community should act only where, and to the extent that, it is strictly necessary. I must make one matter fundamentally clear—provided that we can get a satisfactory and agreed definition of subsidiarity, which is the important thing, we shall wish to see it incorporated in the treaty so that it can be most effectively enforced.

I know that the House will support another aspect of the Government's policy, which is to seek better implementation and enforcement of Community legislation in all member states. That is essential if a level playing field is to be achieved. We shall be pursuing the case for strengthening the Court of Justice's powers to ensure compliance, and we shall also be pursuing whether or not it should have the power to fine member states for persistent failure to comply with Community legal obligations.

However, we have already made it clear that we are not persuaded of the case for extending Community competence or qualified majority voting. Suggestions have been made by other member states which we shall examine on their merits, on a case by case basis, as will apply to all proposals tabled at the intergovernmental conference.

We believe that it is necessary for the Community's voice to be heard more clearly in the world. Therefore, we support closer co-ordination of the Community's foreign and security policies in political co-operation. The Twelve have already discussed certain security questions, and those discussions will be more clearly defined and strengthened. For example, they will cover work carried forward in the conference on security and co-operation in Europe, and might also co-ordinate policies on the export of arms and weapons technology.

I emphasise, however, that none of that will affect the right of a national Government to take individual initiatives on questions of national importance. Moreover, we consider that defence is a distinct and different matter. There is a clear need to build up the European pillar of the North Atlantic alliance, and that has already been discussed in NATO and in the Western European Union. The matter has also been raised in the context of the IGC, but we do not believe that the Twelve are the right basis upon which to build a European pillar.

Time is short, and I shall move on to economic and monetary union. In this area, our policy remains unchanged. That was clear to our colleagues in Rome last weekend. Even Signor de Michelis, the Italian Foreign Minister, noted as much when he said after the Council hearing: British positions are basically unchanged: they are legitimate positions. It's not just London which has differing views. We shall try to deal positively and constructively with those differences. That is the spirit in which we approached the first session of the intergovernmental conference on EMU last weekend; it was also the spirit in which the Governor of the Bank of England participated in the discussions among central bankers on the European system of central banks. My hon. Friend referred to that. Those discussions were subject to the following reservation: The Governor of the Bank of England records that the UK authorities do not accept the case for a single currency and monetary policy. It is important for my hon. Friend to appreciate that fundamental point.

We have all signed up to stage 1, which began in July. We all agree that the overriding objective in regard to monetary policy must be price stability; we all agree that excessive budget deficits and monetary financing must be avoided. It cannot be doubted that there is common ground, or that we are committed to the process. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) has said, and as has been said on many occasions, we have often reiterated our commitment to the progressive realisation of economic and monetary union. That is a wonderful phrase, but what are the next steps in the process?

The United Kingdom has produced comprehensive proposals for the next steps, and—as the House has been told—we shall table draft texts to give our proposals treaty form very soon. Their technical viability has not been seriously disputed by our European colleagues. Politically, we believe that an approach along our lines is the only viable way of moving beyond stage 1. Our approach allows the twelve to move ahead together, working with the grain of the market rather than attempting to distort it by imposition, and working with the assent of national opinion rather than against it.

We need only look at the practical proposals advanced by the Spanish, for example—and by a number of other Community member states which are currently talking in rather vague terms of hardening the ecu—to see that our economic reservations are accepted and agreed with by many and that others, too, are looking for a practical way forward.

With regard to the arguments advanced by other member states about a single currency, we do not believe that this is the right way forward. A single currency would have major costs—the cost of losing national control over monetary policy, the cost of jobs lost and localised depression if the transition were anything other than gradual and market-led, and the cost of paying, in effect, compensation to the peripheral states which would demand it to mitigate the disruptive effects on their economies of such a regime. The Government do not believe that the benefits of the proposal for a single currency outweigh those costs and disadvantages.

Without defining any final structure, however, we think that we can still move ahead to the next stage by establishing a European monetary fund to manage the hard ecu. People would start to use the common currency. The market would then decide whether or not the common currency should become the single currency. It certainly could do so, if that is what peoples and Governments so choose.

The key is not to decide now on what the market will tell us soon enough. It is vital not to run ahead of public opinion, as expressed in this House. Clearly we need to think hard about how to gauge that opinion. Recent debates have made it abundantly clear that the democratically elected representatives of the British people would not support the imposition of a single currency. The speed of progress on monetary issues must run with the market, and with market opinion, rather than against it. We must work with the grain of opinion in the House and in the country at large. There is no need now to bind ourselves to a final destination. The Community's interests will be served by setting up new economic and monetary arrangements for the next steps, which will be evolutionary.