Orders of the Day — European Communities (Amendment) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:26 pm on 21st May 1992.

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Photo of John Butterfill John Butterfill , Bournemouth West 7:26 pm, 21st May 1992

Many of my hon. Friends, and other hon. Members, may be enthusiastic about the European ideal, but they have become nervous about the steady accretion of power to the centre in the European Community. It seems to have become an inexorable process for the Commission to find ways to extend its competence, ways that we did not always imagine were possible when we approved treaties in the House.

A good example of that process is the 48-hour week currently being proposed. We thought that that would be subject to unanimity, but apparently it is to be dealt with under health and safety provisions. We thought that frontier controls were subject to the Luxembourg agreement and that member states would be able to retain them, but we are not told that supplements to treaties that were formally signed do not mean anything at all even though their preambles may mean everything. That is cause for considerable concern to hon. Members. If we are to sign another treaty, we need to be sure that we will not be subject to further accretions of power to the centre which we did not envisage at the time of signing.

The other issue of concern is our budget contributions. Again what we thought we had agreed is being attacked. The remedy to that problem is not for us to have to fight for the rebate that we gained under Mrs. Thatcher, but a thorough-going review of the whole system of budgetary contributions. It is absolutely crazy that only two countries—Britain and Germany—have been net contributors to the Community budget when the others, some of whom enjoy high standards of living, have been net recipients. The whole basis of budgetary contributions needs to be renegotiated.

It may be to Britain's advantage to makc common cause with Germany to ensure that the other wealthy countries of the Community make a fair contribution. It has been said that Germany wishes to dominate Europe, but there is no evidence of that. On the contrary, the thrust of German policy has been to subsume its national identity and to gain a European indentity. That is why Germany has been so eager to push us into ever greater union with our Community partners. It has been prepared to pay a heavy price for that in terms of its budgetary contributions.

I am reassured by the treaty because, for the first time, there are changes in the Community's view that everything needs to be centralised. For the first time, alternatives to increasing centralisation are built into the treaty. There are three principal alternatives. First, not all states are required to follow the same path. For example, we can agree or disagree about when or whether to join monetary union and we have decided that we will not be part of the social chapter. Whether hon. Members think that that is good or bad in itself, it must be good that not all members have to agree to everything and follow the centralising path.

Secondly, matters relating to European union do not have to be subject to the competence of the treaties, the Commission and the European Court of Justice. For example, Home Office policies, policies on policing, foreign affairs and defence are now subject to entirely separate agreements between the Governments of member states. That is an encouraging precedent.

Thirdly, there is the principle of subsidiarity under which the interests of member states are paramount. Only if matters cannot be satisfied by the member state are they passed up to the level of the Community. Again, that gives us grounds for optimism. I would prefer it if disputes on subsidiarity were not to be settled by the European Court of Justice. There should be some other body, perhaps a senate of the Parliaments of member states, that would settle such disputes. I believe that that would be more likely to uphold the rights of member states. However, that is for another treaty at another time.

If we are enthusiastic about the new approach, we need to demonstrate that it can be progressed efficaciously. On monetary union we must adopt a rigorous approach to reduce inflation, to improve the elimination of budget deficits and to converge the economies of the Community. However, the latter will become extremely difficult, and I doubt whether it will be possible to achieve it in the time scale suggested in the treaty.

We must take the initiative on cross-border policing, on co-operation between police forces, on hot pursuit and on the competence of courts. There must not be a haven for terrorists or criminals simply by crossing Community borders. On defence, we must act to promote the Western European Union as the European arm of NATO. On foreign affairs we must be much more active in securing joint action when we need to act in crises. Our initial behaviour in the Gulf crisis was poor.

In Yugoslavia, we have been tardy in responding to an enormous crisis. We have been slow in condemning Slobodan Milosevic for the appalling policies that he has pursued in Serbia and the aggression that he has pursued in the other states of the former Yugoslavia. As I am speaking, Sarajevo is under siege. It is defenceless and is being shelled by guns from the former Yugoslav army. We are doing nothing about it. When we are asked for assistance by the democratically elected president of Bosnia, we should provide it. If he needs arms to defend himself, he should get them.

We must ensure that the advances and the new approach being made in the treaty will be enshrined for the future. Only by having the flexibility that is inherent in the Maastricht treaty will we be able to accommodate the expansion of the Community that so many of us wish to see. If we are to take in different states with different traditions and problems, we cannot afford to be hidebound as we have been in the past. The new approach offers great encouragement to those states. Indeed, I believe that it is the reason why some states, such as Switzerland, that have held back in the past now feel able to put themselves forward as members. They see that there is now a flexibility that was not there before. It is entirely appropriate that that flexibility should exist when so many of the emerging democracies in eastern Europe urgently require our assistance.