Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

HL S [European Communities (Amendment) Bill]

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Lords
Source: Hansard HL [546/560-66]
Editorial comments: 1537-1622.
Importance ranking: Key
Word count: 3250
Themes: British Constitution (general discussions), Parliament, Employment, Elections & electoral system, Trade, European Union (general), Economic, monetary & political union, European Union Single Market, Foreign policy (International organizations), Law & order, Race, immigration, nationality

3.57 p.m.

Baroness Thatcher

My Lords, when I came to this House it was somehow under the impression that things were less lively here, much more courteous and much less robust. I find that it is not so and I am delighted. First, perhaps I may make one or two remarks about what my noble friend the Lord WakehamLord Privy Seal said. He referred very much to the importance of trade and said that Europe is an excellent export market for us. We are of course an even better import market for the rest of Europe. We have had a great deficit on trade ever since we entered.

The answer is not in the Maastricht Treaty, but for Europe to negotiate firmly and quickly under the GATT arrangements, which negotiations Europe is at present holding up. It is stopping the very thing that we need. Perhaps I may also say this to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead: will he do me the honour of reading through the speech to the end? He will see that I said that perhaps Lord Attlee was right, that there was a place for a referendum when that is the only way of putting an important single constitutional issue to the people. Otherwise, having two main parties, we vote on a general manifesto, and there is no way of putting an important constitutional issue to the people, except by a referendum. That is why we have had referenda on Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. They were constitutional issues.

I very much agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Tonypandy. Let me make it quite clear that we are now debating whether we go further with the Maastricht Treaty. I agree with his fundamental underlying assumption; namely, that it is that treaty which takes us over the top to a new political entity, a European union, which we have never had before. Before that, we had never gone that way but had kept quite a bit of sovereignty, and it is the last lot that we are in danger of losing.

Therefore, it follows that even if we were not to endorse Maastricht—and I am very much aware of the rules of this House—we are still members of the Treaty of Rome; we cannot break it. We are still members of the Single European Act; we could not break that. We do not break our treaties—and if ever we did, no one would ever sign one with us again. So even if we did not endorse Maastricht, we would still be part of Europe. And if we did not, it would be the others who would have to reconsider matters and go ahead. I firmly believe that there are more important matters going wrong with Europe which we should consider at the moment—some things at the Court are very much to our distaste, as are some aspects of majority voting. We should be considering some of those matters rather than having this treaty, which is a fundamental change forward.

Perhaps I may revert to the speech that I had intended to make. I shall try to cut it down a little. I believe very much, with the noble Viscount, Lord Tonypandy, that it does not matter where we sit in this House; it does not matter where we work in the [column 561]country or what our party politics are; it is our country's future that is at stake. It is our parliamentary institutions. It is our court of law. We called ourselves “free people” long before we had a universal vote in this country because we had the most excellent rule of law—and that matters to us very much.

If one looks back and tries to view things in a broad sweep, one finds that there have always been two views of Europe: one is of nation states freely co-operating together with an effective veto either by unanimity or by the Luxembourg Compromise—and, of course, majority voting did not start with the Single European Act; it is right in the Treaty of Rome. That is why de Gaulle had the Luxembourg Compromise—because he quarrelled with something which would otherwise have been done by majority voting. The Luxembourg Compromise acted as a veto. That view was always compatible with what is called “the new world order” —the United Nations, the GATT and the IMF. It was compatible with that view because those institutions were perfectly all right for all small nations. By joining them, no small nation lost its identity. Each retained its identity in those institutions. So, that first view of Europe was compatible with that order.

The second view has always been towards an integrated European union. That is why the phrase an “ever closer union” was put in the Treaty of Rome—not clothed with meaning. We always had the assurance to which my noble friend referred. There was always an assurance that we would keep our identity and our veto but gradually, little by little, it went and everything came in stages. Whatever you said in the Community, it had to be the first stage of something which led to one destination, a European union. You did not have any other alternatives. You were either on a slow train or a fast train, but you were on the train to that destination—and if you do not want to go to that destination, it does not matter at what speed you go. You do not want to be on it at all. I suggest that we do not want to go any further on that train.

Everything is a stage. I remember when we put forward the hard ecu in the Council of Ministers as a possible common currency. Yes, they would consider the hard ecu, but would I not tack on to it as a stage towards a single currency? No, I would not. It was simple staging but the same destination. That is what Maastricht is all about—that destination—and it very nearly gets there.

Perhaps your Lordships will look back to 1972 when we went in and at the assurances and the referendum assurances. They are all there for everyone to see. As I expected, the Single European Act has been much mentioned already. Right in the heart of the Treaty of Rome is the need to have a common market. That was how we were going to get our prosperity up; that was how we were going to have more jobs; that was how we were going to compete the world over because we had a large enough market to compete with the American market and a large enough market ultimately to compete with the Far East. [column 562]

So, yes, we wanted a common or single market but it was a long time before the Community got down to it. Eventually in 1985 we started to prepare for this single or common market and to get rid of the massive number of both tariff and non-tariff barriers that were needed. I was at the forefront of that campaign because I believed that we wanted it. At first, I thought that we could get it without any changes in legislation. I thought that if there was reasonable goodwill, we could have it. But there was not reasonable goodwill and we had to have an inter-governmental conference. And the point is this: we would never have got the single market without an extension—not the beginning, but an extension—of majority voting. We could never have got our insurance into Germany—where they promptly kept it out—unless we had majority voting. We could never have got a fair deal for our ships in picking up goods from other ports as others could pick up from ours. We could never have got a fair deal for our lorry and transport business because our lorries had to go over there full and come back empty as they were not allowed to pick up on the way back. Yes, we wanted a single market and we had, in fact, to have some majority voting.

But as noble Lords will see if they look back at the debate on that Single European Act, we were very careful indeed to say that some things are so important that they must be subject to unanimous voting. Those were—and I quote—

“fiscal provisions, free movement of persons and the rights and interests of employed persons” .

All of those required unanimous voting. For other things for which we did not have unanimous voting but majority voting, we kept intact the Luxembourg Compromise. My noble and learned friend Lord Howe gave those assurances and my noble friend Lady Chalker gave even firmer assurances, if she looks back, than the ones that I have given, but we had those assurances. And, let it be said, we believed that the Commission would honour those assurances. We believed that they would honour the unanimity that is in the Act; they did not. We believed that they would not pile on excessive regulations because of the extra cost to industry (and if we were to compete in the world, that would be a very silly thing to do); they did pile on extra regulations. Our good faith in them was not justified—and it is written on my heart.

The Commission deliberately chose to evade the unanimity rule and to bring in, for example, the 48-hour working week regulation under a qualified majority heading, such as health and safety. As soon as the other place passed this Bill, the Commission put the 48-hour working week through on a qualified majority—against Britain. Now, fortunately, our Government have referred it to the European Court. I shall say a few things about that in a moment. The courts have previously upheld qualified majority on the part of the Commission against unanimity. When they have had a choice, there have been occasions when the courts have upheld their decisions to go by qualified majority. [column 563]

Yes, we got our fingers burned under the Single European Act. We still needed it, but that qualified majority was for one purpose only, and it is specified in the Act. It was

“with the aim of progressively establishing the internal market over a period expiring on 31 December 1992” .

That was all that the extra majority voting was for, and yet the Maastricht Treaty is much, much wider. The Maastricht Treaty extends the powers of the Commission from 11 to 20 areas of government and provides for 111 new occasions when decisions can be by qualified majority. This is a massive extension. In our case, it will be only about 100 occasions unless we were to go into the single currency, which I hope we never do. Some of those majority occasions include decisions in economic and monetary policy. This is an overwhelming centralisation of decisions by bureaucracy at the expense of democracy and at the expense of accountability to the electorate. In view of what happened under the Single European Act when we got our fingers burned, it surely is time to heed Kipling 's warning:

“And the burned Fool's bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire” .

Do not let ours be that bandaged finger.

Perhaps I may say a word about subsidiarity, a topic to which my noble friend referred. The treaty talks about subsidiarity, and then it immediately confirms the present corpus of law (the acquis communautaire). So subsidiarity does not go to any regulations or directives which are already in commission. The Commission's view on subsidiarity is put very interestingly in a long document presented to the Council and Parliament. The Commission points out in that document:

“The enshrinement of subsidiarity in the Treaty (of Maastricht) … provided an opportunity to stress that subsidiarity cannot be used to bring the Commission to heel by challenging its right of initiative and in this way altering the balance established by the Treaties” .

The Edinburgh Summit communiqué said something similar. It said:

“The principle of subsidiarity does not relate to and cannot call into question the powers conferred on the European Community by the Treaty as interpreted by the Court … The application of the principle shall respect the general provisions of the Maastricht Treaty including maintaining in full the acquis communautaire and it shall not affect the primacy of Community law nor shall it call into question the principle set out in Article F(3) of the Treaty … according to which the Union shall provide itself with the means to attain its objectives and carry through its policies” .

I suggest respectfully that that is another assurance that will turn out not to be an assurance at all, but a great move, as the noble Lord said, towards much greater centralisation.

I shall say a word about the European Court because it has had a great effect upon the powers that we have relinquished. It has by its decisions greatly extended the powers of the centralised institutions against the nation state. Its methods of interpreting the law are totally different from those of our courts and nothing like so exact or so good. The court draws upon the objective of European integration to inform all its rulings by which over a period of time it has therefore furthered decisions towards a unitary European state. [column 564]

The court has also overruled specific legislation passed in good faith through Parliament recently (the Merchant Shipping Act 1988) which was framed to stop Spanish fishing vessels from quota-hopping; that is, taking part of our fishing quota under the common fisheries policy. That Act went overboard because by same strange device the court said that Community law overrode it. Even though it was recent, we did not prevail. The court has also reinterpreted the derivative rights directive. It is busy reinterpreting so many things to give itself and the Community more powers at our expense.

That court does not have constitutional checks and balances to temper its power. What was tolerable in a few cases is not bearable on the scale it is happening now, and it will accelerate under the massive opportunities provided by Maastricht to which I have referred, thus undermining the basis upon which we require people to obey the law; namely, that either it is consecrated by time and custom or it has been made with the assent of the people's elected representatives. That is the whole basis upon which we do not ask people to obey the law; we require them to obey the law. That basis is diminishing gradually. With increased majority voting, many more laws will be made, possibly against the will of elected representatives, and Parliament could not do a thing about it. It may be all right for a few, but not for the massive extra number.

Moreover, only three out of the 13 judges of the European Court have judicial experience in their own countries. Perhaps that explains a lot! They all have legal qualifications: some have been Ministers; some have been senior civil servants. But we are used to having proper judges. Further, one judgment only is issued. We do not even know whether any judges dissented—we are not allowed to know—let alone upon what grounds. We, with our ancient court traditions and ancient rule of justice have far more to lose in this matter than any other country, many of which we doubt will respect some of the Community laws in any respect.

Perhaps I may make some additional comments on the Maastricht Treaty before coming to the referendum. It starts in clear terms:

“By this Treaty, the High Contracting Parties establish among themselves a European Union … This Treaty marks a new stage in the process of creating an ever closer union” .

There it is—straight out: a new stage. It is a very important big step, because it seeks a new political entity, something we have never had before. It creates a European Union. Later, Article 8 creates a citizenship of the Union, something totally new. It establishes it. It applies to every person holding the nationality of a member state.

The article refers to rights and duties and spells out the new rights which can be extended. Moreover, if there is a citizenship, you would all owe a duty of allegiance to the new Union. What else is citizenship about? There will be a duty to uphold its laws. What will happen if the allegiance to the Union comes into conflict with allegiance to our own country? How would the European Court find then? The Maastricht Treaty gives this new European Union all the attributes of a sovereign state. [column 565]

I shall go through those attributes quickly. What are the attributes of a sovereign state? First, there is citizenship. It gives the right to conduct foreign policy and assert its identity on the international scene (the whole of this treaty has that); and the right to frame a common defence policy which in time could lead to common defence (the treaty has that). It has its own Supreme Court of Justice, the guardian of its constitution. It has its own external boundaries. It manages its own economic and monetary policy. It will have its own central bank, ultimately including a single currency, hopefully not including us, although we have signed up to the idea of a single currency. It has a single market. It conducts its international trade negotiations as a unit. We have no authority to conduct trade negotiations. We lost that in 1972. We have signed up to the objective of a high level of social protection. I wonder whether the social chapter will be brought in by the European Court to apply to Britain, because we have signed up to that high level of social protection. There is an embryo government in the Council of Ministers (the European Council); there is an executive in the Commission; and there is an elected European Parliament. All of that is “the single institutional framework” to which the treaty refers.

The voluntary alliance of 12 nations that we joined is being turned gradually into a new political entity—a European super state. I doubt very much whether the people realise what is happening. Unification is supposed to be the natural direction of development.

There is a review promised in 1996 by the treaty. There is always a relaunch. One reaches one stage and then there is always a relaunch. Now there is a relaunch and a review. The review of 1996 is in the treaty. It is not an open review. As Article N points out, that review must be in accordance with the objectives of an ever-closer union which is set out in Title (1).

I could never have signed this treaty. I hope that that is clear to all who have heard me. The Bill will pass considerable further powers irrevocably from Westminster to Brussels, and, by extending majority voting, will undermine our age-old parliamentary and legal institutions, both far older than those in the Community. We have so much more to lose by this Maastricht Treaty than any other state in the European Community. It will diminish democracy and increase bureaucracy.

M. Delors knew well the importance of his words when he spoke to the European Parliament in 1988. He said:

“Ten years hence, 80%; of our economic legislation, and perhaps even our fiscal and social legislation as well, will be of Community origin” .

He went on, and this is not so generally known:

“In 10 countries, though” —

we were excluded—

“there has been no realization of this, and in these same 10 countries there is no co-operation between European parliamentarians and national parliaments” .

Then he went on:

“What I am afraid of is that some of these national parliaments are going to wake up with a shock one day, and that their outraged reaction will place yet more obstacles in the way of progress towards European Union” .

[column 566]The national parliaments are entitled to have an outraged reaction. They will soon be little more than an agency for the Commission and for the European Council.

Finally, the referendum. No elector in this country has been able to vote against Maastricht—none. It has been impossible to do so. I think that when one looks at the extent of the powers which are being handed over, it would be disgraceful if we denied them that opportunity. Yes, we waited with bated breath for both Danish referenda. They thought that people were bullied out of their first decision. So much for the unanimity rule.

Further, in the other place less than half the honourable Members voted for the treaty. The electorate has not been able to vote and half the honourable Members in the other place—less than half; 292 out of some 650—voted for the treaty. We are in the Rome Treaty and in the Single European Act and we stay there. I believe that to hand over the people's parliamentary rights on the scale of the Maastricht Treaty without the consent of the people in a referendum would be to betray the trust—as guardians of the parliamentary institutions, of the courts and of the constitution—that they have placed in us.