Orders of the Day — European Communities (Amendment) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:17 pm on 20th May 1992.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr George Gardiner Mr George Gardiner , Reigate 11:17 pm, 20th May 1992

We have been treated to some very eloquent maiden speeches, and may I be the first Conservative Member to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Duncan-Smith) on a maiden speech of considerable intellectual content. I am sure that we all appreciated his tribute to his predecessor, Norman Tebbit, and to Margaret Tebbit, both of whom suffered so much from terrorist outrage. Like his predecessor, my hon. Friend did not eschew controversy, and we hope to hear much more from him in the future.

I also congratulate the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Hoon) on an entertaining and interesting speech. I do not think that any of us who served in previous or earlier Parliaments will ever forget his predecessor, Frank Haynes. We appreciate what the hon. Gentleman had to say about Frank. He said that he had been enjoined to carry on the tradition established by Frank—he will have a hard job, but I am sure that in the end he will do so. I tell him only that he must develop the jabbing finger that Frank used to emphasise every point that he made to the House. We look forward to hearing further contributions from the hon. Gentleman.

I welcome back my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Robinson). It was not a maiden speech but an eloquent relaunch, in which he paid proper tribute to his predecessor.

Over recent months, I have often been surprised at the references in the press to myself as a Euro-sceptic. Throughout the arguments of the 1960s and 1970s, I was a firm advocate of Britain's membership of the European Community, and I do not repent that now. If not a Euro-sceptic, I am no Euro-fanatic either. I think that it was the Daily Mail that coined the term Euro-pragmatist, and I am happy to accept that label.

It is as a Euro-pragmatist that I utter a few words of warning. The European ideal for which I fought in the 1960s and 1970s was a genuine and open, free-trade, outward-looking Community, or common market as we used to call it, with such common standards for goods and the provision of services as were necessary to ensure effective competition to the benefit of all our citizens. We looked forward to greater co-operation on matters of common concern such as pollution and control of the environment.

The common agricultural policy was nonsense, but many of us were prepared to accept it in order to achieve the greater aim. We were confident that such idiocies would in time compel reform. That was the European ideal for which many of us fought. It was never any part of that ideal that we should be drawn into some sort of federal structure. That possibility was expressly ruled out when the issue of Community membership was put to the British people in the 1975 referendum. Yet there are those in Europe, especially on the Commission, who are trying to force the Community step by step into a centralised federal straitjacket, despite all the lessons of recent history on the fate of such super-states with centralised control.

The idea of a free community of nations is under threat from two directions—from those who want to propel us into a centralised federal structure and from a bureaucracy in Brussels that often seems hell bent on accruing to itself still greater powers. Often the two come together.

When, in her famous Bruges speech, Mrs. Margaret Thatcher warned of federalist ambitions, she was derided by many of her critics. They claimed that she was conjuring up a demon that did not exist. The past 12 months have shown how perceptive her warnings then were.

It is a tribute to my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer that at Maastricht they succeeded in halting the progress of federalism, and in some respects reversing it. Their great achievement at Maastricht was to open up other avenues for effective co-operation between nation states outside the existing institutions and hence their bureaucracy. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, in opening the debate, saw this as a change of direction, and I hope that he proves to be right.

It is worth recalling some of the ambitions that were expressed before the Maastricht negotiations. The federalists wanted our foreign policy to be decided by majority voting within the Council of Ministers, then passed to the Brussels Commission to implement. Instead, foreign policy will proceed on a unified basis only after all member states agree, with no role for the Commission or for the European Court.

The federalists, again, wanted our defence to be subordinated to the Council of Ministers and then implemented through the Western European Union. Instead, WEU will remain outside the Community institutions and fully compatible with NATO. The federalists also wanted a whole range of Home Office responsibilities to be decided by majority vote in Council and implemented by the Commission. Instead, a mechanism has been created for closer co-operation outside the institutions.

Most of all, the federalists wanted us to be bound by the social chapter, which would have allowed majority voting to determine our industrial relations law and other related matters. Instead, the other 11 states will implement those ideas through a protocol if they so wish, but Britain will be no part of it. Whether, in the end, the other 11 burden their economies with that albatross remains to be seen.

Maastricht was a disappointment all round for the federalists. However, they were halted but not defeated, and their hope is that the provisions on a single currency will bring economic, and hence political, federation into being in due course. I do not want to develop the arguments against that in what I hope will be a short speech, but 1 share the anxieties on that matter expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen). My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has done well to reserve the rights of this Parliament in that respect, but it remains a direction in which we would not wish this country—or, indeed, the remainder of the Community—to proceed. Thankfully, doubts are growing in a number of other Community countries.

We should congratulate the Government on what they achieved. They have shown how the Community can develop in ways other than by a steady drift towards a centrally controlled super-state—rightly described by Mrs. Thatcher as "yesterday's future". For Europeans, federalism is certainly a dated dogma.

Much still needs to be done to ensure that the Community develops as a community of nation states, where the principle of subsidiarity—on which much has been said this evening—is given real meaning, where the overweening ambitions of the Community are cut down to size, and where institutional barriers are erected to deter other nation states of Europe to the north and to the east from joining.

I have no doubt that the Government will get their majority tomorrow night, or that they deserve it. However, the feeling of a great many on the Conservative Benches is that, although my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister deserves full credit for what he has achieved, there is anxiety that some provisions could present grave dangers in the years to come.

The shadow of federalism has already fallen across the free nation states of the Community. It must be the Government's objective to push it back at every stage and at every Council meeting, developing instead greater co-operation outside the bureaucratic institutions of Brussels. With that understanding, I wish the Government well and will have no hesitation in voting for the Bill.