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Intergovernmental Conference

Volume 264: debated on Thursday 19 October 1995

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To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if Her Majesty's Government will seek at the 1996 intergovernmental conference to have the declaration on border controls in the Single Act changed to be a treaty clause; and if he will make a statement. [36506]

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I have repeatedly made clear that we will take whatever steps are necessary to maintain our frontier controls. We see no need to decide now to take action at the intergovernmental conference, but if at any stage we think that a desirable course to take, we shall not hesitate to do so.

As a senior Commission official has stated that the declaration was added simply because the British needed something to take home with them, and as I cannot find anyone outside the Government who thinks that it has any legal standing, will the Home Secretary state clearly what the position of Her Majesty's Government would be if the European Court determined that our remaining border controls within the European Union were contrary to article 7A?

I repeat to my hon. Friend what I said a moment ago: the Government will take whatever steps necessary to maintain our frontier controls. That applies as much in the hypothetical circumstance referred to by my hon. Friend as to any other circumstances that might arise.

Despite the Secretary of State's reply to the question by his hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor)—I am not sure what on earth it meant—is it not a fact that when he and the rest of the Tory Government signed up to what is now article 7A of the treaty of Rome of 1986, they opted hook, line and sinker for a regime that means that we will be forced to give up our ability to control our frontiers? We will have to give up the means to combat drug runners, international criminals and the gangsters who control illegal immigration. Other than continue to display governmental indolence, what will the right hon. and learned Gentleman do to ensure that we continue to maintain our frontier controls as we should?

The short answer is, no that is not true. I am not aware that, at the time, the Labour party was opposed to that particular article. I do not recall that the Opposition expressed any concern about it. The hon. Gentleman's hypothesis is quite untrue. We will take whatever steps are necessary to maintain our frontier controls.

Is it not the case that, in stating that the Government would do whatever is necessary, the Government committed themselves to ensuring that those border controls remain? Is it not also the case that the words from Opposition Members are totally out of standing, especially when they would commit to virtually every European policy that is thrust upon us?

My hon. Friend is, of course, absolutely right. It may well be necessary, if we are to maintain our frontier controls, for us to be isolated in Europe, but that is the thing that the Labour party has said that it never would be. Labour Members never would be isolated in Europe. They never will exercise the veto. They will never stand up to defend our frontier controls. Only Conservative Members would be prepared to take the action that may be necessary to achieve that.