Treaty on European Union

Part of Orders of the Day — European Communities (Amendment) Bill – in the House of Commons at 8:45 pm on 4th March 1993.

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Photo of Alan Simpson Alan Simpson , Nottingham South 8:45 pm, 4th March 1993

Th at is a very fair point. It raises for me a huge set of questions about what we are signing up to. Nothing dented my perception that the nature of the beast was that the institutions are unelected, unaccountable and undeterred in their forward planning by the debate taking place in the Committee and in the House. The presumption is that this is a minor distraction which has to be entertained before the real business of centralised planning can take place in a European context.

I am not wholeheartedly opposed to that. If I believed that this was planning for a socialist Europe, I would be in favour of it. But it is not a socialist Europe. In that sense, I differ from my colleagues on the other side of the Committee. I see the terms of this treaty as signing us up to a set of arrangements in which the primary function of the institutions in Europe will be to respond to the interests of European capital. The terms of reference of the European bank make the subservient role of nation states very clear.

It would be a huge millstone around the neck of an incoming Labour Government to attempt to buck the rulings of the central bank about borrowing limits, interest rates and debt ratios. If we were faced with the institutional rules and framework to which we are signing up, how would we adjust the economy to deliver a socialist programme? The question which must be addressed, by those on the Opposition Front Bench as much as by those on the Government Front Bench, relates to how they wish to run the economy. We are signing up to a millstone for a socialist Government, rather than some back entrance to a socialist utopia.

In terms of the enhanced role proposed for the European Parliament, hon. Members who doubt the extent to which powers will be given to the European Parliament are absolutely right. A facade democracy would be constructed. The democracy would have no power. It would struggle itself to be accountable, or to have any significant influence in the key decisions which would be made behind closed doors in European institutions. What would be the role of hon. Members with regard to the institutions and the framework which we are setting up?

9 pm

One of the saddest things I must say to the Committee is that we have sold the pass in terms of our responsibilities to the electorate, and in terms of the institutions of Europe. A couple of years ago, I wrote a book forewarning people about the consequences of signing up to the Single European Act and its implications for industry and race relations in Britain and Europe. One of the most frustrating things is that, when I tried to find out what was going on, in terms of international negotiations in which the United Kingdom was involved at a European or intergovernmental level, I was not able to find out anything.

The House of Commons has ceded large tranches of democratic decision-making powers to Ministers, and Ministers have trotted off to take their decisions behind closed doors in Europe. The House has betrayed its democratic responsibilities and the British people. It is no good bleating that we see European institutions looming even larger and saying, "But we never knew." It was written large in the Single European Act for everyone to see. We did not have to wait for Maastricht to know what sort of writing was on the wall.

I went to Brussels with a specific local agenda. I wanted to know from Sir Leon Brittan what action the Commission would take to halt the dumping of Chinese bicycles in Britain. The issue has been raised on the Floor of the House, and I have tried to raise it with the Department of Trade and Industry. Sir Leon Brittan told me—the answer was clear—that it has been handed to Europe. The decision will be made in Europe. Britain is powerless. The Department of Trade and Industry has, it seems, already opted out—and handed its responsibility over to Europe. All I was able to get from the Commissioner were comments similar to those made by the Prime Minister this afternoon, which was basically: "It wasn't me," and, "I wasn't there."

When I saw Sir Leon Brittan, I hoped that the Commissioner responsible for foreign relations and trade would be able to say, "This is the line that we are taking in Europe on anti-dumping policies." What did we get? We got a "maybe". It was clear that hon. Members from both sides of the House, who were pressing the Commissioner hard on this issue, had no leverage at all. The decision may or may not be made, but it will be whimsical, unaccountable and unchallengeable.

I came away saying to colleagues on both sides of the House what I now say to the Committee: how would a British Parliament defend its industry in such circumstances? How would the House defend jobs in Raleigh in my constituency or the cycle industry in Britain as a whole? If it wanted to halt the dumping of bikes in the United Kingdom but found that the decisions had been handed over to a European level, what would it do? The powers to intervene, economically, in our national self-interest will career away at a rate which we will only ever live to regret.

My hostility to the treaty is that the framework given to political and administrative institutions does not say that the remit is to re-create full employment in Europe. It says that everything will be subject to the interests of price stability. At best, we will see only jobless growth in Europe; a growth focused entirely on money interests. That is what institutions such as the European Parliament, the Commission, the Court of Justice and the European bank will be required to deliver.

It is sad that it has taken until now for the Committee to realise how much we have sold out the interests of British people. We will not be forgiven for surrendering ourselves to such a shabby deal from which the people of Britain and people in Europe will gain nothing.