Below is the text of Mr Major’s statement to the House of Commons on 29th June 1992 on the European Council in Lisbon.
The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major): With permission, Madam Speaker, I shall make a statement about last week’s European Council which I attended with my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. The conclusions of the European Council have been placed in the Library. The meeting took place on the eve of our presidency of the Community and dealt with a range of issues which the United Kingdom will now carry forward. These include preparations for enlargement, the future financing of the Community, the issue of subsidiarity and the Uruguay round. We also discussed the deteriorating situation in Yugoslavia. We agreed to reappoint the President of the Commission for two years. Thereafter, a new five-year appointment will be made of the whole Commission.
On enlargement, we secured agreement that work should start immediately on the negotiating mandates for the EFTA countries which have applied to join the Community–Austria, Sweden, Finland and Switzerland in the first instance. Much of the ground work has already been done. I hope that we can agree negotiating mandates by the end of our presidency, so that formal negotiations can start at the beginning of next year. The Community has also agreed to step up its dialogue with the countries of central and eastern Europe in preparation for their membership. We plan to hold a meeting with the Visegrad three at Head of Government level during the presidency. The Council also discussed the future financing of the Community. There was widespread recognition that the existing ceiling for the Community’s budget will be adequate for at least the next two years. The agreed language in the communique on help for the poorer countries of the Community reinforces that view. It makes no commitment to the doubling of resources that the Commission had proposed.
All Heads of Government reaffirmed their commitment to the Maastricht treaty. At Maastricht we won agreement to the principle of subsidiarity and its inclusion in the treaty. At this meeting, we have taken that a stage further. Under our presidency work will go ahead on how to turn that general principle into reality in the working practices of the Community. The steps immediately envisaged include : rigorous scrutiny within the Commission on whether new proposals are necessary–any such proposals must be justified–and examination of existing legislation to see whether it could be modified or even scrapped. The Commission and the Council will report to our European Council in Edinburgh on progress made.
The European Council reaffirmed its commitment to negotiating a successful conclusion of the Uruguay round. The remaining gap between the European Community and the United States on agriculture issues is narrow. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has calculated that a GATT settlement would give a boost to world growth worth $195 billion annually in extra world income. Over $90 billion of that would go to developing countries and former communist countries. I hope that those of our partners who are still hesitating about an agreement will reflect on the enormous advantages of success and the price of failure.
We also discussed the deteriorating situation in Yugoslavia. I proposed that all member states should make an immediate pledge of aircraft and transport personnel for the Sarajevo humanitarian airlift; that, with the help of the Commission, we should start to assemble humanitarian material at a suitable base now; and that we should demonstrate our condemnation of Serbian actions by not allowing Serbia to have part in any international organisations, including the CSCE.
With the Security Council about to meet, we agreed not to rule out the use of military means by the United Nations to achieve our humanitarian objectives. However, the United Nations has rightly been cautious about organising humanitarian operations in the absence of an effective ceasefire, and about trying to interpose itself in a civil war.
During the course of the weekend we have had discussions with the United States, the United Nations secretariat and others. The prospects for a ceasefire and for a humanitarian mission look slightly better than they did 48 hours ago, but the Serbian militia and others are numerous and well- armed. It would take only one ground-launched missile to cause serious loss of life. We stand ready to take part in a humanitarian airlift but will want to be sure that it can happen with the minimum risk to British and other lives. We adopted conclusions on a number of other foreign policy issues. These are attached to the conclusions which are in the Library of the House. I draw the House’s attention in particular to the statement on nuclear safety in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. The Community has committed itself to increase its help for improving the safety of nuclear power plants. Britain has taken a lead on this issue and will be seeking a co-ordinated initiative at the economic summit next week.
I also draw the House’s attention to the statement on Southern Africa, which calls on all the parties to resume negotiations in CODESA. We continue to be in close touch with the South African Government and the ANC on this.
Many of the conclusions of the Lisbon European Council constitute the agenda for the British Presidency, which starts on Wednesday. They are a huge challenge for the Community and a great responsibility for the United Kingdom.
All the issues on which I have reported to the House–subsidiarity, enlargement, future financing, the GATT round–will fall to us to manage and, we hope, to bring to a successful conclusion. Yugoslavia too will be very high on our agenda. Many difficult matters must be resolved in the months ahead.
The plain fact is that the future of Europe is at stake and it needs to be addressed with coolness, commitment, and with careful calculation.
Mr. Neil Kinnock (Islwyn): I begin by commending President Mitterrand’s initiative in going to Sarajevo. I hope that the action taken by the French President and the statement made by the Lisbon Council will have the effect, at the very least, of enabling humanitarian aid to be delivered, and maintained when it is delivered, to the wretched people of the area around Sarajevo.
We support the emphasis placed by the Lisbon summit on ensuring that any action taken in relation to the former Yugoslavia must be on the basis of agreed United Nations Security Council resolutions. Will the Prime Minister ensure that our country plays a full part both in providing humanitarian aid and in efforts to ensure the strongest possible United Nations stance against the continuing bloodshed and misery in what was formerly Yugoslavia?
The Lisbon summit made the beginning of formal negotiations about the enlargement of the European Community conditional upon achievement of agreement on the Delors 2 package. Given that precondition, how does the Prime Minister intend to pursue what he described as his highest priority of enlargement when he is opposed to Delors 2 or anything close to it? Remembering that it is not enough now to satisfy the condition of ratification of Maastricht but that he has also to gain agreement on Delors 2, how does the Prime Minister believe that he can go ahead with promotion of enlargement without the satisfaction of both of those preconditions?
We note with satisfaction that the Heads of Government at Lisbon urged member countries, in the words of the communique, to “pursue efforts in the social field as the necessary complement to the realisation of the Internal Market.”
The Prime Minister agreed to that section of the communique, but does it faithfully reflect his Government’s attitude to the social dimension when they refuse to adopt the social chapter and resist application of the social charter? Is there not an inconsistency between the Prime Minister’s words in the communique from Lisbon and his actions in opposing the social dimension?
In view of the decision, made at Lisbon, to increase substantially the resources devoted to actions in the context of common external policy, can the Prime Minister tell us what the substantial increase will be and what will be the basis for its calculation and the mechanism for its use?
On the question of subsidiarity, is the Prime Minister aware that no one can sensibly argue against the democratic principle that relevant and accountable powers should be exercised at national, regional and local levels of government? So, as he takes up the presidency of the European Council this week, can the Prime Minister tell us the main components of his concept of subsidiarity and how he would expect it to work in practice? Can he, for instance, tell us what emphasis he would put on achieving safeguards against some member countries’ lowering environmental standards, or following unfair industrial or economic policies, or reducing social and employment conditions and encouraging social dumping? I have no particular country in mind at this juncture, but we should be interested to hear the Prime Minister on the subject.
May I express surprise and disappointment that no time appears to have been given at the Lisbon summit to discussion of rising unemployment in the Community? Since Britain, under the present Government, has by far the fastest rising rate of unemployment in the Community, does not the Prime Minister think that he should have taken the lead in promoting such a discussion and in advancing proposals for co-ordinated action to combat the rise in joblessness? Will he give us now an undertaking that he will not allow any future summit to go by without ensuring that unemployment and the means of combating it are included on the agenda?
Finally, since the Lisbon summit has not really provided any further clarification of the political and legal status of the Maastricht treaty, following the Danish referendum result, is the Secretary of State yet in a position to say what form of report he will put to the House before there is any proposal to return to consideration of the European Communities (Amendment) Bill?
The Prime Minister: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for some of his earlier comments, and I agree with his remarks about the courage and vision of President Mitterrand’s visit to Sarajevo. It was an excellent initiative, and I thoroughly commend it. On that subject, I should say that General MacKenzie, the chief officer of UN forces in Sarajevo, has recommended within the last couple of hours that the United Nations should take control of Sarajevo airport on the basis of assurances he has received from the Serbs. We shall need to see if those assurances are matched by others–notably the Muslims, who were shelling Sarajevo over the weekend while President Mitterrand was there. But the development clearly improves the prospects of the United Nations humanitarian mission, and I thoroughly welcome it.
On the question of enlargement, the condition to which the right hon. Gentleman referred is one that was set at Maastricht some time earlier. We propose to proceed by preparing the Community mandates, which must be prepared prior to the opening of formal negotiations between now and the Edinburgh summit. The target and the expectation are that we shall be able at that summit to reach agreement on future financing. The way would then be open for us to continue negotiations with the EFTA countries on a more formal basis.
With regard to some of the areas of substantially increased expenditure, one of which relates to the increased expenditure that will undoubtedly be necessary in the Community and beyond to assist countries in eastern Europe to deal with the very difficult problem of their nuclear establishments, the Community has committed a substantial sum–from memory, I think, 150 million ecu thus far. Clearly, there will need to be further commitments, and it is impossible at this stage to know precisely how far we shall need to go. This is largely because we do not yet know what contributions might come from the United States, from Japan, from Canada, and perhaps from other sources. I anticipate that that will be discussed further at the Munich summit in a few days’ time.
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we agree with the social dimension, but we do not agree with the social charter itself. [Hon. Members :– “What is the difference ?”] If hon. Members understood the difference, they would understand the point of that. The present treaty allows adequate progress on social issues. Twenty-five of the 38 measures tabled under the social action programme have been agreed–including measures on health and safety, the free movement of labour, training practice, equal opportunities and employee rights. The United Kingdom has not blocked a single proposal under the social action programme.
On the point about subsidiarity, we agreed at the summit to examine in detail how we turn the principle into a working, living practice within the Community, with examples during the period of the British presidency. There are areas in the Community where subsidiarity is not appropriate, and we should recognise that.
If we wish to have a single market with a level playing field, as we have frequently said in the House in recent years, there is a need for some action at a Community level. What we are saying about subsidiarity is that, where there is unnecessary intrusion, it must cease. We were no longer alone in our pleas for that at the European Council; we were joined by a number of other member states.
On the question of employment, and as a straight matter of fact, the unemployment rate is rising faster in Spain than it is in Britain. Nevertheless, it is rising faster here than we would wish. The point about GATT, is that the growth in trade would especially help with the problem of unemployment, not just in this country but in a number of other countries. Unemployment was mentioned in that context at the summit, but not as a specific subject.
The right hon. Gentleman’s final question related to the political and legal status of Maastricht. It is too soon to decide in what form we will report to the House. We will be having the routine six-monthly debate on Europe later this week. That is separate from the debate promised by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, which will be held at a later stage when we have a clearer indication, most notably from the Danes, of how Denmark proposes to deal with its problem.
Several Hon. Members rose–
Madam Speaker: Order. Now that we have had the opening statement and questions, may I seek the co-operation of hon. Members’ Many hon. Members wish to put questions to the Prime Minister, but that can be achieved only if each Member puts just one question, and does so briskly– and, please, if the Prime Minister gives a brisk reply.
Mr. Terence L. Higgins (Worthing): Is my right hon. Friend aware that no renegotiation of the Maastricht treaty is likely to produce more favourable terms for the United Kingdom than those that he has already achieved? However, if we are to protect the principle of subsidiarity, some renegotiation of the Single European Act and the treaty of Rome is needed.
Has my right hon. Friend noted the appalling inconsistency of those who are now advocating a referendum? They did not do so when we joined the Community, they voted against one subsequently, and they certainly did not suggest one when they were forcing the Single European Act through the House.
The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, and I agree with what he has said. It has traditionally been the position of the Conservative party that we do not accept referendums. That was our position when my right hon. and noble Friend led the Conservatives into the Lobby in 1975. I recall that she quoted Lord Attlee’s view of referendums as a device of demagogues and dictators.
On the question of subsidiarity and the Single European Act, I cannot do better than echo what my right hon. Friend has said.
Sir David Steel (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale): Does the Prime Minister agree with the definition of subsidiarity given by the Danish Foreign Minister–that member Governments should decide what goes up to European Community level, not that the European Commission should decide what comes down to Governments?
In view of the near-hysterical remarks of the right hon. Gentleman’s predecessor on television yesterday, will he make it clear that his definition of subsidiarity includes institutional reforms, more openness, more accountability and more decentralisation–and where better to begin than in Edinburgh?
The Prime Minister: I am intrigued to hear what the right hon. Gentleman has to say, and I substantially agree with him. I am not entirely sure that the leader of his party agrees with him, but I put that to one side. We must examine all the opportunities for subsidiarity. There is no doubt that there will be different views on that matter within the Community. There is equally no doubt that we shall need to define subsidiarity very carefully because there are areas that would ensure that the Community did not function in any way unless they were dealt with at the European level. The whole House has seen illustrations of that.
Mr. John Biffen (Shropshire, North): Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Court of Auditors described the recent MacSharry proposals accepted by the Agriculture Ministers as “a recipe for fraud”? In those circumstances, is it not clear that the mechanics of administering the common agricultural policy are wholly in disarray? Do they not need the application of subsidiarity to bring about better control? Will every effort be made during my right hon. Friend’s presidency of the European Community to establish ways in which the CAP can be recast consistent with his ambitions concerning subsidiarity?
The Prime Minister: As my right hon. Friend knows, at Maastricht the Court of Auditors was made a Community institution, so it is now under better control than it was previously. The common agricultural policy has been substantially reformed–a remarkable achievement on the part of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture. We will continue to study whether further improvements can be made. No aspect of Community activities will be ruled out of discussion by us while we review subsidiarity.
Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney): Having returned yesterday from Copenhagen, in that democratic country of Denmark, I assure the Prime Minister that there is not the slightest prospect of the Danish people changing their minds about Maastricht before the end of this year. That being so, what is the point of writing into the opening paragraphs of the communique the importance of ratifying the treaty so that it can come into force on 1 January 1993? Is that just hot air, or is it something more sinister–an attempt to override article 236 of the Rome treaty?
The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman should not see plots where none exists. He makes his own judgment of what may happen in Denmark. We must wait to see what events actually occur there, and what action the Danish Government take–either saying in concrete terms to the Community, “We cannot and we will not ratify the treaty”, in which case the treaty cannot proceed ; or explaining to us how they intend to proceed with the ratification of the treaty. Once the Danish Government do that, we will be in a position to proceed with the ratification here.
Mr. Michael Alison (Selby): As my right hon. Friend charts the course ahead for Maastricht, will he recall that the majority of right hon. and hon. Members–certainly on this side of the House–endorse his vision of Britain at the heart of Europe? With my right hon. Friend at the heart of Europe, we shall have not a weak heart, a hard heart, or a bleeding heart, but a stout heart–which won my right hon. Friend the last election, and which he shares with his predecessor as Prime Minister. Like him, she won many important improvements to the basis of our membership of the Community.
The Prime Minister: I agree with my right hon. Friend that, while we remain a member of the European Community, there is no alternative to our being at its centre and exercising influence. It may be the ambition of some to leave the Community, in which case they should say so and make their position entirely clear. If that is their position, they should also explain what would happen, if we left the Community, to inward investment, jobs, prosperity, and much else. If we are to remain in the Community, it is the overwhelming view of the House–and I believe of the country–that we need to be at its centre, exercising our influence and determining by our own efforts the direction in which the Community goes. I for one am not prepared to see this country sit on the sidelines of the European Community while other countries take decisions that determine its direction and the livelihood of every person in this country.
Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North): The declaration on South Africa rightly drew attention to the dreadful massacre in Boipatong. Does the Prime Minister accept, however, that simply asking the people to back the Conference for a Democratic South Africa is a weak response? Is it not time for a fundamental reappraisal of policy on South Africa, to compel President de Klerk to negotiate in a genuine fashion?
The Prime Minister: My understanding is that President de Klerk is prepared to negotiate, and we want negotiations to start again. In the context of what is now happening in South Africa, it is not helpful for all kinds of miscellaneous advice to appear suddenly and gratuitously, spreading the blame on one side or the other. What we need is a resumption of the talks as soon as possible.
It is all right for some to hawk their consciences around, but the impact of what happens in South Africa affects the people who are poorest. South Africa has 40 per cent. unemployment, 2 per cent. population growth and 0 per cent. growth in gross domestic product. That will not be corrected until the talks are successful, and those who sit here thinking otherwise had better examine the situation with greater care.
Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills): How does my right hon. Friend reconcile what I think the country wants–a return of powers from Brussels to Britain–with his insistence that we go ahead and legislate for the dead treaty of union? Why does he not suggest that we withdraw the treaty now, and build on his proposals for the return of powers to Britain?
The Prime Minister: As my hon. Friend knows, much in the Maastricht treaty moves in the direction in which he would have the country go. It is perfectly true that both the Maastricht treaty and the Single European Act involved institutional changes; but at Maastricht, for the first time, we also secured language establishing the value of intergovernmental co-operation outside the treaty of Rome and outside the concept of the European Court of Justice. That was not in the Single European Act, but it is in the Maastricht treaty.
We also secured the formalisation of subsidiarity, on which we are still seeking to put flesh–a test to be applied to all Community competence issues. Let me repeat that : the test will be applied to all Community competence issues. That, too, was not in the Single European Act. The Act does, however, contain many of the things about which my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), and some of my other hon. Friends, now complain.
Mr. Giles Radice (Durham, North): What progress did the Government make at Lisbon in ensuring that the Eurofed would be situated in the United Kingdom?
The Prime Minister: There was a discussion about sites over dinner, but the hon. Gentleman will be interested to know that no agreement was reached.
Sir Peter Hordern (Horsham): One of the good things to come out of the meeting was the failure to accept the European budget proposed by Mr. Delors. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the European Commission will have plenty to do in cleaning up its own house and keeping an eye on the amount of fraud that is now taking place in the Community? Will not the proposals for a new parliamentary commission of the European Parliament, under the provisions of Maastricht, help in that process, and do not those proposals–and the proposal for subsidiarity–make a very good case for the House to ratify the Maastricht treaty?
The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, and I entirely agree with him. There was strong opposition, not just from the United Kingdom but from a number of European states, to the Commission’s over-ambitious proposals to increase own resources to 1.37 per cent. of gross national product by 1997. I am certain that those proposals will be rejected, and equally certain that there will be no increase in the 1.2 per cent. ceiling, at least until 1995. Other options were discussed, including a longer period for the future own-resources perspective–perhaps seven years instead of five. A range of views was expressed in a lengthy discussion at Lisbon. The matter will need to be determined over the next six month, but we are clear about the fact that there is now plenty of room within the existing ceiling without an increase in own resources.
Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington): If the Prime Minister lost Maastricht in the House, would he consider resigning?
The Prime Minister: We shall not be losing it in the House.
Mr. Quentin Davies (Stamford and Spalding): Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be more than a little perverse for anyone concerned with national sovereignty to promote in one Parliament the Single European Act that made no provision for subsidiarity and in the next Parliament to attack the Maastricht treaty, which does include subsidiarity, as “a treaty too far”?
The Prime Minister: I think I am able to agree with my hon. Friend.
Mr. Derek Enright (Hemsworth): In the context of subsidiarity, did the Prime Minister discuss how to counteract the centralised and bumbling bureaucracy that is the British Board of Trade, which has delayed RECHAR for far too long already? Did the Prime Minister go on to say that he would put that down to local government to implement?
The Prime Minister: Stressing more control over British institutions is hardly subsidiarity.
Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey and Waterside): With regard to the level playing field that my right hon. Friend mentioned, does he acknowledge that, both at Maastricht and at Lisbon, he managed to move the goal posts in favour of Britain without upsetting our European partners, to the extent that they now believe that it was they who invented subsidiarity? Must that not bode well for Britain’s presidency, when we shall be able to set the agenda for future meetings?
The Prime Minister: It is perfectly clear that the principle of devolving–“subsidiarity” is, we can all agree, an ugly word–means ensuring that we have a less intrusive Community and making sure that as much as is appropriate is done at the national rather than the European level. That means that the test should be that, if it cannot be done at the national level, perhaps it should be done at the European level. If it can be done best at the national level, it should be done at the national level.
Mr. Denzil Davies (Llanelli): Will the Prime Minister assure the House that the concept of subsidiarity that he is particularly fond of will be applied to the heart of the Maastricht treaty–that is, to economic and monetary union?
The Prime Minister: As the right hon. Gentleman knows, that is a decision for this House, and it will be placed before this House. Whether we go into economic and monetary union, a concept well understood in this House, will be determined by this House at an appropriate time.
Mr. George Walden (Buckingham): Is my right hon. Friend aware that, every time the word “subsidiarity” is used in this House, we lose 99 per cent. of the audience outside, who are confused and apprehensive about its meaning? As someone who is confused and apprehensive about its meaning, I would encourage my right hon. Friend to fight for a legally binding clarification of the Maastricht treaty so that we can understand what it means.
In order to dispel the confusion and apprehension about the treaty itself, I would also suggest that my right hon. Friend should keep an open mind to a referendum on any entry into a single currency which may come about, as that is a very clear, specific and momentous issue–by far the most important part of the Maastricht treaty. Whereas I agree with my right hon. Friend that there is no case for–
Madam Speaker: Order.
Mr. Walden: I am just finishing, Madam Speaker. Whereas I agree with my right hon. Friend that there is no case for a referendum on the present treaty, should there ever be any question of entry into economic and monetary union, the people must have a say on that very specific and very momentous issue.
The Prime Minister: Subsidiarity is already a legally binding issue under article 3b of the treaty. What we are seeking to do is to set out how in practice that will work, rather than simply waiting for cases to go to the European Court of Justice and for rulings at that stage. The concept of making it legally binding is already there in the Maastricht treaty. I repeat what I said a moment ago about economic and monetary union : I believe that that is a matter for Parliament and for a future Parliament.
Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West): In view of the need for a more considered response to the baronial intervention by his predecessor, who called for a referendum on the treaty of Maastricht, does the Prime Minister not realise that he could probably keep most people happy by agreeing to hold a referendum in return for agreeing to implement the suggestion by the Tory chairman of the European Movement : that he should appoint Baroness Thatcher as Governor of the Falkland islands and dispatch her there forthwith?
The Prime Minister: I believe that we already have a governor.
Mr. Peter Temple-Morris (Leominster): Does my right hon. Friend further accept that now is the time to build on and to consolidate the achievements of Maastricht rather than constantly to carp and criticise, which some people are all too inclined to do? On the question of subsidiarity, may I impress on my right hon. Friend the urgent need to get a position out of the Commission and a decision out of the Council as soon as possible–preferably under his leadership during the British presidency?
The Prime Minister: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend on the latter point. That is precisely the remit that we have obtained. Equally, he is correct on his former point.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North): On an issue that is so vital to the sovereignty of our country, why is the Prime Minister so reluctant to allow a free vote on this side of the House? Is the reason because he is fearful of– [Laughter].
The Prime Minister: If the hon. Gentleman wants a free vote on that side of the House, he had better discuss that matter with the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Foster).
Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire, South-West): On the question of a referendum, does my right hon. Friend recall that his predecessor, in opposing a referendum in 1975, not only prayed in aid the dictum of Lord Attlee but argued strongly that a referendum was contrary to parliamentary sovereignty?
The Prime Minister: I did not have the privilege of being here on that occasion, but I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing it to my attention.
Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray): In considering the potential for the enlargement of the Community–a goal that many of us believe is not only desirable but achievable–will the Prime Minister advise us whether the Council considered that additional protocols pertaining to accession to the European Community will be written into the Maastricht accord, and, if so, will they be based solely on economic criteria or will other factors come into play?
The Prime Minister: No, that point was not discussed in the enlargement discussions. What was discussed was the method of preparing the mandates immediately for the Eftans and the position to be taken in respect of other countries–most notably the Visegrad countries–such as Turkey, Malta and Cyprus that have expressed interest in joining the Community. We are proposing to take all those matters forward in different ways. We must wait and see how that turns out for Hungary, Poland and Czechoslovakia, or perhaps the Czech Lands and Slovakia. I hope that we will have a meeting between the presidency and those countries later in the year. It will clearly be many years before they are ready to become full members.
Sir Peter Tapsell (East Lindsey): Did my right hon. Friend remind his fellow Heads of Government in Lisbon of the historic fact that, during the 1939-45 war, the Germans had to keep nine divisions in Yugoslavia, six of which were in Serbia alone, and yet still were able to maintain control of only the main roads? Comforting talk about humanitarian aid, attractive as it seems when one sees the appalling scenes in Sarajevo, should not blind any of us to the grim reality that we can hope to restore order in that part of the world only with a massive military intervention, which would inevitably lead to large-scale casualties.
The Prime Minister: I think that that point was very much in the minds of a number of us in the discussions that we had on Yugoslavia. Although concern predominantly is centreing on getting humanitarian aid into Sarajevo airport, unless there is a ceasefire that is likely to be an extremely hazardous and difficult operation. But even if the humanitarian aid arrives in the airport, that is not the end of the matter ; it will then have to be taken, presumably by the Red Cross, to areas where it is needed, and military escorts may be needed to safeguard the position of the Red Cross. This is an extremely difficult and hazardous undertaking and it is being discussed by the United Nations–I believe, even as we speak.
Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill): Notwithstanding the difficulty of putting large numbers of troops on the ground, does the Prime Minister agree that the establishment of a sky shield–an area free from bombardment for civilians–would be one way of trying to save lives? Would not he like to see an extension of his idea of safe havens for the Kurds? Will he discuss that with his European colleagues? Did President Mitterrand discuss his visit to Sarajevo with the Prime Minister before he left?
The Prime Minister: I believe that he discussed it with none of the other Heads of Government, as far as I am aware, before he left. I am certainly not aware that he did so.
The idea of air cover is certainly one that has been considered. It is, of course, extremely hazardous. The bombing and mortaring of people in and around Sarajevo is being done from the land, not from the air, so air cover would not necessarily prevent it. However, air cover would be a juicy target for missiles from the ground if anyone were tempted to aim at them. It is an extremely difficult proposition. Of course, we also considered the prospect of an air drop of supplies, but that also has great logistical difficulties, and we were not advised to proceed with that course.
Mr. Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West): Will the Prime Minister confirm that the agreement on European money was a mere holding operation? Will he also confirm that, if there has to be a continuance of a fixed exchange rate moving towards a single currency, it demands convergence, and that convergence in its turn demands the free movement of people–namely, the abolition of all immigration controls within the European Community and a massive increase in regional and social funds?
The Prime Minister: If my hon. Friend believes all that, I can understand why he is so opposed to it. I do not believe all that. As for it being a mere holding operation, it was an agreement that there was no agreement to be had. We and others could not agree the proposals put forward at the weekend, and we must now discuss them to see whether agreement can be reached by the time of Edinburgh. That is the way one normally reaches an agreement–through negotiation over time.
Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East): Since the Prime Minister now claims to champion the principle of subsidiarity, will he explain to the House why he does so so enthusiastically for the United Kingdom within the European union while ignoring it completely for Scotland within the British Union?
The Prime Minister: We are a single united kingdom.
Mr. Tim Devlin (Stockton, South): Will my right hon. Friend reflect on the fact that it has taken this country about 50 years to be accepted as a leading player in the European Community? Is it not sad that, on the very eve of our taking the presidency, in our best position for years, with the twin themes of subsidiarity and enlargement on our lips as we do so, there are still those among us who wish to hark back to the glorious days of Britain’s history which are no longer relevant in the late 1990s?
The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I think that there are very few Conservative Members and, I suspect, very few–if any– hon. Members who want to see a centralised European Community and the nightmare prospect proposed by some of a central European state. We do not want it, it will not happen and it is an unreal prospect–the stuff of nightmares for a few people–but if we wish to build the sort of Europe that this House wants, we can do so only if we play a full part in the decision-making process and do not, by our own actions, marginalise ourselves on areas of discussion where decisions need to be taken now.
Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South): Will the Prime Minister explain, if he believes in honest negotiation, on what basis he will negotiate with the four applicants, Switzerland, Finland and so on–on the basis of Maastricht being agreed or on the basis of Maastricht not being agreed? If it is the former, why does he not have the courage to put the Bill before the House now, or is he merely playing for time?
The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman clearly was not listening earlier. The preparation of the mandates is on the basis of Maastricht being agreed. That is the working assumption under which all the negotiations will take place. In due course, when Maastricht is agreed, the official negotiations can start. It is quite possible that not only the mandates but unofficial discussions towards accession to the Community can take place before ratification of the treaty, but the formal accession of any new state could not take place until after the Maastricht treaty is ratified.
Sir Jim Spicer (Dorset, West): Does my right hon. Friend accept that the whole House would wish to thank him and his right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary–[Hon. Members– : “No.”]–the whole House–for pointing out the dangers of the situation in Yugoslavia? He has made it clear that command and control in Yugoslavia is vested in the United Nations. During the months of the presidency, will my right hon. Friend ensure that that is made clear to every member of the Community? We are all working in the same army for the same aim, but under one single command and control.
The Prime Minister: I will seek to make that clear. As my hon. Friend said, we may not carry the whole House with us, but perhaps we carry the whole of the thinking part of the House with us.
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): While, Muggins-like, Britain goes along with sanctions against Libya, the Italians cheerfully turn a blind eye to their relations with Libya and to any obligations they have given. What consideration is the Prime Minister giving to the letter from Mr. John Lace, the managing director of Babcock and Wilcox, who argues that thousands of jobs may be involved in various propositions from the British engineering industry in Libya? Why should we lose out on them when our partners are not keeping to any agreements that may have been made?
The Prime Minister: Without necessarily accepting the premise on which the hon. Gentleman launched his question, I have seen the letter from Babcock and Wilcox to which he refers. I will take the opportunity to discuss that with the new Italian Prime Minister, Mr. Amato, when I meet him at Munich in a few days’ time.
Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North): Given that the people of this country have no faith or confidence whatever in the pocket Napoleon who has been running the Commission for the past eight years, is it not insensitive, to say the least, for our European colleagues to force him on us for the next two years? Or is Machiavelli at work–are they trying to ensure that the British people throw out the wretched treaty with the referendum which is becoming increasingly desirable, necessary and relevant?
The Prime Minister: There was only one candidate for the presidency of the Commission. There was no other candidate around who was credible and who would have been likely to have the support of any other nation state at the summit. It would have been perfectly possible, if we had thought it desirable, for us to put forward a different candidate. He–[Hon. Members :– “Or she.”]–or she would have had no prospect of success, and he or she would have needed to be an existing member of the Commission. There is no point is getting out of the frying pan and stepping straight into the fire.
Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough): The House will have noticed the Prime Minister’s reply to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition in relation to unemployment. Will he not accept that it is hardly any solace for those losing their jobs to learn that the rate of unemployment is rising faster in Spain than it is here, or that the only Government proposal to bring down unemployment is the successful conclusion to the GATT round? As the presidency begins on 1 July, will the Prime Minister give the House a categorical assurance that he will make the fall of unemployment a high priority within the exchange rate mechanism?
The Prime Minister: I am not quite sure what that last point means. I simply corrected the point of fact made by the Leader of the Opposition, and I also made the point, if I remember accurately, that I did not necessarily suggest that we had unemployment rising at the rate we would like. Clearly we would like to see it fall ; I do not deny that for a moment. I was correcting the simple factual point about unemployment. Although it is an important matter, it falls within a wide parameter of policies. It is not necessarily a matter that can be determined by Europe-wide policies at a European Council meeting.
Mr. Ray Whitney (Wycombe): Can my right hon. Friend confirm that his exchanges with his colleagues at Lisbon further demonstrated that there is growing support throughout Europe for the concept of a Community which is effective and united, but which is not unnecessarily centralist?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend has defined precisely the sense of the meeting at Lisbon on Friday and Saturday. There is a strong feeling, not just among politicians, people in this country and people in Denmark, but in a number of other countries, against excessive centralisation. That was reflected in our debates in Lisbon.
Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South): The Prime Minister has told us that he is seeking a definition of subsidiarity. Does he agree that such a definition should be inserted in article 3b? Contrary to popular belief, it is not yet there. Does he agree that, to make it a practical reality and to make it justiciable, as it must be in the end, there must be some suggestion of a separation of powers? However, is not the separation of powers the hallmark of a federal constitution, which the Prime Minister says he wishes to avoid?
The Prime Minister: The definition is there in article 3b, as I said earlier. It is therefore justiciable, and I am happy to confirm that again to the hon. Gentleman. We have the definition. We are seeking to put flesh, in practical working terms, on the definition that already exists and is already justiciable.
Sir Ivan Lawrence (Burton): Is my right hon. Friend aware that the one thing that my constituents are very clear about is that they do not want to see the surrender of any more important powers by the Westminster Parliament to the European Community? If that is what we mean by subsidiarity, is it not time that it was better and more clearly defined, so that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will take the British people with him at the end of his successful presidency?
The Prime Minister: As I said a little earlier, I share my hon. and learned Friend’s implicit view that “subsidiarity” is not a very attractive term. We need to find a way of expressing it that will make it readily understood by people up and down the country so that they are aware of what it means and how it will operate. I am open to any helpful proposals on that point, but we shall be considering it further.
Mr. Peter Hain (Neath): When the Prime Minister bullied the Baroness Thatcher into signing the exchange rate mechanism or the European monetary system, did she insist to him then, as she did yesterday, that the pound was set at far too high a level?
The Prime Minister: I can only assume that the hon. Gentleman has not met my noble Friend.
Mr. William Powell (Corby): The emphasis that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister laid upon the successful conclusion of the GATT round is most welcome. Does he agree that nothing would give the world economy a greater boost or boost confidence as well as economic activity than the successful conclusion of the GATT round? Therefore, will my right hon. Friend urge the French President to show the same generosity in solving the GATT problems as he is showing in trying to solve the difficulties in Sarajevo, by reaching a satisfactory compromise over 300,000 tonnes of grain?
The Prime Minister: That is an extremely fair point, which has not been lost upon the European leaders. The point has been made to those holding up the agreement at present. Quite apart from the growth of world trade that would follow and apart from the helpful effect that that would also have on unemployment, it would be an immense help to the developing countries and the less-developed countries to have a GATT agreement that opens the richer markets of the west to those countries. There is no point in us handing out sums of aid with one hand and effectively taking them away with closed markets with the other.
Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby): With regard to Yugoslavia, is the European Community sure that, although the sanctions against Milosevic are justified and may bring about a change in Serbia, they will lead to peace in Bosnia-Herzegovina? Do not Presidents Izetbegovic and Tudjman have some responsibility for what is happening in that part of the world? What pressure is the Community placing on them–or is the even-handed approach by the British Government before 19 January being thrown away in order to achieve concessions on Maastricht?
The Prime Minister: There are two points in relation to the important points raised by the hon. Gentleman. First, we are putting pressure on President Tudjman as well. Secondly, we are seeking to persuade the Serbs to assert control over the Serbs in Bosnia. That is the substantive point.
Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch): Does my right hon. Friend accept that his comments in his opening statement about coolness and commitment are widely shared by a high proportion of his colleagues alongside and behind him? Does he agree that the cacophony of inconsistency from down the Corridor is a sign that very rarely are the best wines made with sour grapes?
The Prime Minister: We need to look very carefully at precisely how we carry the debate forward. It is critical that we get the right conclusions from the debate and that we ratify a treaty which for the first time begins to turn back a centralising trend which was evident in the treaty of Rome and in the Single European Act, and which became more evident as time passed. We are now in a position to begin to turn that tide back. It would be folly if we were to sideline ourselves when we have an opportunity to achieve that.
Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin): Further to the question by my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), the Prime Minister must have seen weekend reports that, if Maastricht were not ratified by the House, he would resign. I am sure that he agrees that it would be quite wrong to raise the hopes of the British people on the basis of a false premise, but, in view of the right hon. Gentleman’s determination to sweep away the cobwebs of government, will he come clean on this matter and tell us whether, if Maastricht is not ratified, he will resign?
The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman raises his question on a false premise, which is exactly what he said he would not wish to do–it is going to be ratified. As one of my hon. Friends indicated a moment ago, the hon. Gentleman may have overlooked it, but we had the largest single popular vote in the previous election that any Government have ever received.
Sir Teddy Taylor (Southend, East): While the Prime Minister and our new friend Mr. Jacques Delors may be entirely confident that this matter is going to go through without difficulty and with the free will of members, does he accept that there is an important democratic issue when a Bill is put through without a free vote, without a referendum, and without the people of the country being told what is involved when there is a major surrender or a major passing over of freedom and liberty? If he doubts that, should we not take a message from the sad countries of eastern Europe about the tragedy of forcing people to go into a single centralised state with common citizenship and without frontiers, without being consulted at all? Surely there is a case for at least looking at telling the people and asking their views.
The Prime Minister: No one fights more fiercely for parliamentary control in this country than my hon. Friend. With my great respect for him, I find it inconsistent that such a firm advocate of the parliamentary system should also be an advocate of referendums. I believe that the parliamentary system is right. It is the way in which we took through legislation in the past on constitutional matters. It is the way in which we took through the treaty of Rome and the Single European Act. This Bill has already been debated, before I went to Maastricht and after I came back, for a longer period than that spent discussing the Single European Act, and that is before we enter the Committee stage.
Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend): In the context of subsidiarity, will the Prime Minister confirm that there is no truth in the rumours that environmental policy is to be repatriated to the nation state and that, instead, in his presidency he will give priority to the creation of a European environmental agency to make sure that important, cross-boundary environmental matters are properly tackled?
The Prime Minister: It is agreed that there should be a European environmental agency, and it has been for some time. What has not been agreed is where the European environmental agency should be sited. That, too, failed to find itself a matter of agreement over the weekend.
Mr. James Paice (Cambridgeshire, South-East): May I welcome my right hon. Friend’s dedication to the concept of enlargement of the Community, so that, one day, we will get to the stage at which Europe really means Europe? Is it not clear that a Community of 15 or 20 more states can exist only on the basis of individual agreements and pillars– precisely the sort of Europe envisaged at Maastricht?
The Prime Minister: Yes. They have agreed to apply on the basis of the Maastricht treaty being agreed. That opens, of course, the option of intergovernmental agreement, as I said earlier, rather than simply agreement under the treaty of Rome. No doubt, over time as the Community enlarges, there will be further agreements and, no doubt, further institutional change. We must make sure that we are sufficiently influential in the Community to ensure that the institutional change that takes place and the future agreements that may be necessary are agreements and changes of which we approve.
Mr. Jimmy Boyce (Rotherham): Would the Prime Minister be kind enough to tell us whether, when he refers to workers’ rights, he means an end to the practice of employers unilaterally de-recognising trade unions, reneging on properly negotiated rates of pay and pay rises, and coercing workers into signing new contracts of employment that mean that they have to work longer hours for basic rates of pay?
The Prime Minister: None of those matters was discussed over the weekend.
Sir Michael Marshall (Arundel): Would my right hon. Friend confirm that the discussions that have taken place about the parliamentary assize, the group of the 12 Parliaments plus the European Parliament, is a process that will be pursued during our presidency? Does my right hon. Friend accept that that should be an added safeguard in the matter of subsidiarity?
The Prime Minister: Yes, we shall certainly process the prospect of a further meeting of that sort. Agreements between Parliaments, rather than just between members of the European Parliament and individual Governments, is an attractive way to proceed. I do not anticipate a meeting of the assize during the next six months, but we shall do the ground work and preparation for one to take place thereafter.
Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East): The Prime Minister will be aware that his predecessor has called subsidiarity “gobbledegook”. Early-day motion 240 gives a more sophisticated analysis of what is wrong with subsidiarity. If subsidiarity is to begin to have a constitutional meaning and legal definition, and is not simply to be determined by the courts in a broad sweep, its definition comes close to the concept of federalism.
The Prime Minister: As the hon. Gentleman will know, we have spent some time in the past hour discussing precisely that point and the necessity of ensuring that a proper definition of subsidiarity is more clear-cut to everyone, including the man and woman in the street, than the definition found in article 3b of the treaty.
Several Hon. Members rose–
Madam Speaker: Order. We must move on.