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European Union (Accessions) Bill

Volume 558: debated on Tuesday 1 November 1994

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3.9 p.m.

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a third time.— (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey.)

My Lords, this is a most welcome Bill bringing four admirable countries into the Community. Even more admirable is the fact that, according to the papers, three out of four of those countries will in fact be net contributors to the Commission and to the Union. I welcome this Bill and I hope that it will pass very quickly.

Bill read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.— (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey.)

My Lords, I believe I am correct in saying that one makes comments at this stage about whether or not one likes the Bill and wants it to pass. Although I set down no amendments at Committee or Report stages—and nor did any of my colleagues or anyone else in the House—I would not want the Minister to believe that I have changed in any sense the view which I expressed at Second Reading that this Bill is not a good Bill but a bad one in that it will extend the number of countries which belong to the European Union, Community, or whatever we are now supposed to call it.

The fact is that the European Community is already far too big. We can already see the results of the things that the European Community is doing. We already know (because Christopher Booker and Mr. North made a calculation of the costs) how much the Community costs this country and the people of this country in direct contributions, in loss of trade—or at least in me increase in our adverse trade balance—and, indeed, in increased food costs. We already know that membership of the Community has done Britain no good at all.

What is more, I believe that the larger the Community becomes, the more difficult it will be to control and the more bureaucratic it will become. Indeed, we have already seen how difficult it is for the new President of the Commission to allocate the jobs which already exist and the problems that that has caused to Sir Leon Brittan and presumably to the Government. As I have said, the larger such an institution becomes, the more bureaucratic it will become and the more difficult it will be to control. Therefore, I say again that not only am I opposed to the accession of those four countries, but I believe that the present institution of 12 nations is not serving Britain well, has served us very badly and the sooner we get out of it, the better.

My Lords, before my noble friend comes to reply to the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, might it be in order if I were to put a gloss on the noble Lord's question because he has stated that in his view the Community will be more difficult to control? My question to my noble friend is: does she believe that the expansion of the Community by having more member states will add power to the centre of the Community or, as Her Majesty's Government claim, will that power become more diffuse and more widely spread among all the members in future?

3.15 p.m.

My Lords, since the original introduction of the Bill, a number of developments have occurred which have made me change my views considerably, and I regret to say that they have become more extreme than previously. Your Lordships will have noted from the Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill that:

"The Union will finance a range of expenditure programmes in the new Member States. This will require an increase in the financial perspective and the Community budget. But the increased financial perspective will continue to respect the limits on expenditure imposed by the Community's own resources ceiling".
Since those words originally came to the notice of your Lordships, there have been a number of developments in the European Community, particularly on the financial side, which have caused widespread unease not only in your Lordships' House and another place but also in the country at large. I refer to the quite disgraceful way in which the finances of the Community are dealt with by the Commission of the European Communities and in particular to some of the facts that were revealed for the first time by the publication of your Lordships' Select Committee report on fraud and mismanagement of Community resources.

The first point to note when reading those words in the Explanatory Memorandum is that the new expenditure programmes,
"will require an increase in the financial perspective and the Community budget".
However, we have been told in other explanatory memoranda dealing with the enlargement of the Community that so far as the United Kingdom is concerned there will be relief in its net contribution. The Government originally put that relief at some £300 million per annum. We now know, however, as a result of the issue of later memoranda that the benefit will be limited to £350 million spread over a period of five years. There is not very much relief in that.

The other point that your Lordships may have noted in the course of the debates that have taken place in your Lordships' House is that any reference to the Community budget anywhere in the Explanatory Memorandum or elsewhere is a complete farce because there is no control at all over the Community budget. There is certainly no control over it in the Parliament of Westminster since the expenditure levels were set at the 1992 Edinburgh conference with the inter-institutional agreement which sets the ceiling over the next five years. We already have it on the record in evidence from experts that that ceiling is, in practice, equivalent to the budget itself, except for some minor tamperings.

Therefore, when we pass this Bill on European Union accessions, we should bear in mind that in 1992, without any consultation either with another place or this House and without any frank debate on the matter, we committed ourselves to increases in expenditure over the next five years. That was done without any consultation with or assent from the British Parliament. Those are not propitious symptoms for the development on successful lines of an enlarged European Community.

There will be other occasions on which it will be possible to return with perhaps even slightly more detail—and even more embarrassment to the Government—than has been produced so far, so I shall refrain from making any further comment upon it. However, this much I warn the House—perhaps I should say that I venture to warn the House: when the House really knows of the sordid transactions that have taken place at Commission level in regard to this whole affair, the House will be appalled. Although I do not question in any way the personal integrity or endeavour of the Minister, for whom I have the utmost respect, I venture to suggest to your Lordships that the passing of this Bill today will mark an occasion which in due course this country and other countries in Europe will have cause to regret.

My Lords, I think that it would be most unfortunate if, as a result of what has been said, a message were to go out from this House that the new members were not welcome in the Community. I wish therefore strongly to support my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter in saying how glad we are that they are joining us. We believe that they will add to the strength of the Union. We believe that they will make a most valuable contribution and we look forward to their joining our company in the European Union.

My Lords, on a simple point of information, I wonder whether my noble friend the Minister could clarify the rather peculiar phrase in the Explanatory Memorandum, "in the financial perspective". I am not quite clear what that phrase means.

My Lords, I support the views on this matter expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Cockfield. An extraordinarily insular point of view has been expressed this afternoon by the noble Lords, Lord Bruce of Donington, Lord Pearson and Lord Stoddart. There is an old Scottish saying that, "Everybody is oot of step except oor Jock". We are at the final stage of the Bill. Other countries in Europe similar to ours have been queueing up desperately anxious to join the European Union because the whole experience so far has been that the unity and integration that it promotes have been in the interests of the citizens of Western Europe.

We have these countries forming a queue to join the European Union—not a free trade area—and yet here in your Lordships' House on the Third Reading of this important Bill there seems to be a tone that urges the view that the Union should not welcome those friendly countries, and the motivation of the speeches is that, instead of those countries joining the European Union, we in the United Kingdom should take urgent steps to withdraw from it. It is most extraordinary that we should have such unrepresentative views on the Third Reading of this important Bill.

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I wonder whether I may correct what the noble Lord has just said about my intervention.

My Lords, I simply asked whether my noble friend thought that the addition of new members to the European Union now, and in future, would add to the power of the centre of the Union or whether it would make it more diffuse. That is a very important point.

My Lords, perhaps I might just speak one or two sentences. I had not intended to speak today, but I would be very unhappy indeed if the two voices from the Bench immediately behind me were thought to represent the views of the Labour Party. They do not. The Labour Party is committed to this enlargement. We believe that it is in the interests not just of the Community as a whole but of the United Kingdom. Not only that, the fact that the enlargement is to take place is one of the great moments in the development of the integration of Europe. So far as concerns the Labour Party —not my noble friends sitting behind me—we welcome it.

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Richard, for what he has. just said. It would be easy at this final stage of the debate to get the whole matter out of perspective. Since we are talking about perspective, let me turn immedmtely to the questions asked by my noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke and the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, and say that we have not agreed to any increase in spending by the present 12 member states beyond that which we have already agreed at the Edinburgh European Council. So the implication for the financial perspective is that the Community will finance a range of expenditure programmes in the new member states, but much of that increase will come from three of the four applicant states, as my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter said.

Further, I was asked by my noble friend Lord Pearson of Rannoch about whether there would be more power to the centre the more countries that join. I happen to believe that there would be less power to the centre. Having spent the whole of this weekend looking at the need to have a more efficient Community—one which monitors its spending far better, as the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, would wish—I am convinced that the more countries which are part of this Community, the more we shall have proper subsidiarity and the proper monitoring of expenditure—something with which I fully agree.

I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Cockfield. I agree with him: it would be very bad if the Bill were to pass from your Lordships' House giving the impression that we did not wholeheartedly welcome the enlargement of the European Union to include these four prosperous countries, with their long democratic traditions. That can but benefit not just the United Kingdom but the European Union as a whole. In turn, these countries will benefit from being part of a dynamic and prosperous European Union. I am sure that they will play a full part in shaping its future. But this enlargement is more than that.

We must begin to look to the next round of enlargement—an enlargement which will include countries of central Europe which have so long been denied the political freedoms and economic prosperity that we enjoy, as the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, said. That will be one of the greatest challenges to the European Union. I believe that one of the safeguards of the European Union will be a Union based on a partnership that uses the talents of all the member states to grow into a truly European Union which will help ensure stability and prosperity for all the citizens of Europe. That is why I urge that the Bill do now pass.


On Question, Bill passed.