Treaty on European Union

Part of Orders of the Day — European Communities (Amendment) Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:15 pm on 4th March 1993.

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Photo of Mr George Robertson Mr George Robertson , Hamilton 5:15 pm, 4th March 1993

The hon. Gentleman would say that in any circumstance. He knows, perhaps more than most, that the only way in which we can have a debate of any sort —I am sure that he is not suggesting that we should avoid debate—is to table amendments that are in order. The only amendments that will be regarded as acceptable by the Chair are those that seek to delete parts of the treaty. That applies even to those parts of the treaty that we support. We are unable to debate the issues that are of concern to Parliament—the hon. Gentleman and I, as well as the wider world outside—without using the mechanism of amendments that seek to delete parts of the treaty. We are reflecting the reality of the procedures of the House of Commons, not posturing.

My right hon. and hon. Friends will appreciate that it is rather too easy nowadays to make fun of the disarray that is to be seen on the Conservative Benches. It is manifest to anyone. We have only to nod to the occasional Conservative Back-Bench Member in the Corridors, or even beyond them, to learn how deep is the discontent with the right hon. Member for Watford—which is pretty well a permanent tradition in the Tory party—and a much wider group of people, including the Prime Minister, whom Conservative Members voted in only two years ago.

Ministers are now coming out in the open; they are emerging from the closet; we are hearing confessions; there are admissions that the Maastricht strategy was wrong all the time. On Tuesday, in the Financial Times, the admirable Mr. Ivo Dawnay, who is soon to leave to become foreign editor of the Major-loving Sunday Telegraph, told a startled world that the Government have set up a high-level committee to draw up a British blueprint for reforms to the European Community institutions. It "reflects", he says, Mr. Hurd's growing conviction that the controversy over the Maastricht treaty is in part the consequence of 'reactive' as opposed to 'active' diplomacy. Now that the Foreign Secretary has got rid of the right hon. Member for Watford, he can afford to be honest about how the Government got it wrong.

If we continue to read the article, we come to the triumph of exaggerated delusion over bitter experience. It states: Mr. Hurd concluded that by promoting a British vision of 'a more flexible and decentralised Community', the Conservative party would be able to reunite after the internal strife provoked by the treaty. The final concession, mea culpa or ultimate self-condemnation comes in the final paragraph of this short but devastating article. It reads: A senior official said that Britain had failed to articulate its vision of the Community early enough in the policy-making process, fuelling the impression that 'we are constantly being shifted by foreigners'. I do not know whether that is a reference to the right hon. Member for Watford, whose foreign connections are well known and whose linguistic skills have been tested even in the European Parliament, but it suggests that there is a confession in writing that the Foreign Secretary admits that the entire strategy was wrong and that out of the closets of the Foreign Office will come the new solution, the new blueprint or the new vision that will unite the hon. Members for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) and for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) with those who sit on the Government Front Bench, who take the Euro-fanatical position. The problem facing the Government is that they are deeply centralising in Britain as they are in Europe.