Speech on the European Communities Bill
Margaret Thatcher, 14/07/1993
Category: European Union (General)
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Blake for introducing this amendment with such clarity and such knowledge. I shall confine my remarks under three headings: first, the erosion of the power of Parliament and of our courts; secondly, some comments on the referendum; and, thirdly, the democratic deficit.
Because of all the debates which I have attended in total silence, I have learnt that some people think that some phrases began at Stuttgart. They did not. I have, therefore, in order to see the sweep of what has happened, been through all the debates, all the legal advice and much of the Committee stage, to see how the powers of the Community have gained against the powers of our Parliament. I have been absolutely astonished at the extent to which things are moving towards the Community and against our Parliament and against our courts.
I should say that, like many other people, I started out as an idealist on the European question, in the sense that the separate countries of Europe have developed the accepted standards of civilisation. They also developed the method of how to bring the advantages of science to the benefit of people in the industrial revolution. So I started out an idealist in philosophy, an idealist in practical terms, feeling that we had so much to give and that, therefore, we should try to co-operate together to give it. Then, of course, as always, idealism has to be tempered by the knowledge that Europe has infact spawned the two worst tyrannies the world has known. So we must not give up our defences or our strengths lest that should happen again.
Looking back, I have seen that the pattern has been that many, many vague phrases in preambles and in things like declarations have, all of a sudden, been given authority when we thought they were harmless. For example, as long ago as at The Hague in 1969, before we were in the Community, it declared its intention of moving towards economic and monetary  union. In 1972, at the very big meeting just before we went in, which our representatives attended, a great deal of the idealism was taken further when progressive realisation of economic and monetary union was decided on. There was also a decision to reform the whole complex of the relations of member states into a European union before the end of the decade.
All this was decided. It was in Eurospeak before we entered in 1973. So often, when the new Eurospeak declarations came up, and I said, “I want to get that out”, they said, “You can't. Your Government has already agreed it”. We then had to concentrate on seeing that Eurospeak never came into the substantive clauses of our law.
In 1978 the European Monetary System was started and we joined thennot the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, but the European Monetary System. These things went steadily on. Then cameand it has so often been referred to today that I must refer to itthe Single European Act. I was surprised to hear my noble friend Lord Howe say that it was not really one of our objectives to have the Single European Act. If I may say so, the Common Market was one of the things which I believed we were joining Europe for. We wanted our industrialists to have as large a market as Americans had so that they could compete; so that we could get prosperity. We also wanted to be an example of getting down internal barriers in Europe, not to put them up outside the edges of the European Community, as is happening now, but as an example to the rest of the world to get their barriers down. So there was right in my belief as to what the Community was for: that and the genuine co-operation, voluntarily given, in order to build not only a new Europe but a new internationalism and a new world.
So I came next to the Single European Act 1986. I thought we could do it without an inter-governmental conference. Indeed, I voted against an inter-governmental conference. But then of course it is by simple majority, and I am afraid that we had to get into it. But it was to get the internal market. We would not have got that internal market unless we had gone to more majority voting. We could never have got our insurance companies into Germany. They would not allow it. We could never have got cabotage for our lorries or our ships. They would not allow it. So because we wanted something we had to give something.
We gave majority voting strictly for the purposes of the internal market and nothing else. It had already been in the Treaty of Rome for a very long time. Of course the price that we had to pay in the Treaty of Rome for wanting the Common Market was the common agricultural policy and the common commercial policy. So, yes, we did give more qualified majority voting for a strict purpose. We did give many assurances and were given many assurances. The Council of Ministers decided that some matters were so important that they must be decided by unanimous voting: tax matters; relationships between employer and employee; and immigrants from third countries moving across Europe. The Council of Ministers decided thatnot qualified majority voting but unanimity. And we went away in good faith. Then what happened?
I suppose I made a fundamental error which my tutor often told me I should not do. He said, “You know, sometimes when you are negotiating, you tend to put yourself in someone else's shoes. Never do that. Make the assessment of the man opposite you as he is in his shoes, and you will get a very, very different view”. I thought that perhaps our idea of good faith and what the Council of Ministers had decided about unanimity would be upheld by the Commission. After all, they were European. Not a bit of it. That has not been used merely to get free trade and free goods moving about the Community; it has been used to get all kinds of social things which are no business of the Commission or the Community but which should be for us to decide here.
Yes, we got our fingers burntfirst, because they produced a whole rash of regulations that they should never have had; and, secondly, because they did not honour the unanimity rule. It is something that I will never forget. Yes, we got our fingers burnt. Do not now go back to that same fire with a much bigger treaty with many more powers and get both your arms and perhaps your head burnt as well. That is the lesson to be learnt from that.
We had then been very careful still to keep the objective of European union carefully in the preamble. We did nothing further in the Single European Act. I would not have it. I knew, as did my noble friend Lord Lawson, who made such an excellent speech, that we had always regarded that as the backdoor to political union and the European Union. And we did nothing further about European union. But what did European union mean? I was very happy to say that I agreed totally with the noble Lord, Lord Wilson, when he was Prime Minister, who said he was quite happy to agree in theory to European union. What did it mean? He said:
“It is a very desirable objective, but there was no agreement on what it meant at the Paris summit two years ago. At the meeting of Foreign Ministers “ [in Germany] at Easter, my right hon. Friend [the Foreign Secretary] asked each of the other eight what they meant by it. There was no agreement about the meaning of that phrase. It means what individual countries or individuals want it to mean. Therefore, we were quite happy to go along with the reference to European union”.
Of course it had no particular meaning. On that I agreed with him. But what we were unaware ofor insufficiently aware ofwas that people had put in those words and phrases with the intention of clothing them with a federal meaning at the earliest opportunity. That indeed is what has happened.
So we come to Maastricht. Some people say that Maastricht does not have a big constitutional issue attached to it. Let us look at what the treaty itself says:
“By this Treaty, the High Contracting Parties establish “ a European Union “ This Treaty marks a new stage in the process of creating an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe”.
It creates the Union. It gives it all the structures of a sovereign state. That is why we have citizenship, European and monetary union, common defence policies, common foreign policy, and so on. It is something quite different. In addition, it adds many more powers which can be decided by qualified majority voting. One should be very careful before extending those powers, except for a specific purpose. With qualified majority voting, the Commission has the only powermonopoly powerof proposing legislation. No one else has it. Only the Commission can propose legislation. It can do it by a simple majority vote: nine votes to eight. It can bring forward something to go to the Council of Ministers. The Council of Ministers is under majority voting; and there are 111 other examples of areas in which majority voting can apply.
In order to stop that, if our Parliament does not want it, or we do not want it, we have to find a blocking minority of one big country plus three small ones. It is more and more difficult to do it. There are 111 new areas of qualified majority voting. More and more legislation will not be made in open and free debate in two Houses of Parliament, but will be made behind closed doors without any debate; behind the Commission and the Council, without people knowing precisely what is being discussed. More and more decisions will be made which are contrary to the will of our representatives of the people and of this Chamber too.
So, yes, the degree to which that is happening and the speed at which it is happening is such, and this new European Union is sufficient, in my view, to ask the people: “Is this what you want?” What we are saying to the people is: “Look, it is no good coming to question our Members of Parliament (or me, when I was there) about this. We have given away that power to legislate. I disapprove of that law. But I am no longer accountable to you, the elector. I have given away your accountability. I have given it away”. And what is more, under the treaty, and under the way in which the courts are interpreting their powersthey are taking more and more interpreting powers and they are taking them wider and wider. Who would have thought when we had equal pay in the original Treaty of Rome that the court would interpret it not only as equal pay but as equal rights to redundancy, equal rights to pension, equal rights in private pensions and equal age of retirement? That is a colossal extension of meaning without the precise words in the treaty.
So we are again not only giving away the power to make legislationparliamentary sovereignty is being diminishedbut we are giving away more and more as the courts interpret a bigger and bigger treaty. So, as well as legislation behind closed doors, we are getting justice behind closed doors. You do not get justice behind closed doors. There are 13 members of the court and only three have had previous judicial experience. They sit behind closed doors, whereas our courts sit in the open. They have only one decision; you never get a dissentient judgment. That is not justice to us. This is a very serious matter indeed. There comes a time when you have to stop it.
The authority has been extended in Maastricht over 11 new areas. The Commission has authority over 11 new areas of government. Of course all of them were very pleased about it. I would never have given it to them. They have enough powers already. Their powers should be diminished in many ways.
The situation will get worse if we do not stop it or ask the people about it. It is their sovereign powers that are being diminished. It will get worse by the review in 1996. It is not an open review. It is a review to bring about a much closer European union and a much closer federal state, only they will not come out openly with it.
Let us have a look at the second point: the case for a referendum. I must say that I share the view of the noble Baroness, Lady Castle. I am horrified at the number of people who say, “Oh, the people will not understand”. If noble Lords can explain clearly, the people can understand clearly. So let us improve the explanation and not shroud the Eurospeak in a drizzle of strange meaning. The people can understand. I begin to wonder how they ever decide how to vote in an election. Of course they can understand. So let that bit of arrogance and conceit be put away. Of course we can get a referendum up and running if need be.
My thesis is the degree to which things are running away from parliamentary sovereignty and our form of justice, so that this House, this High Court of Parliament, is no longer the deciding factor on many matters of law. Indeed, consider laws such as the merchant shipping law: when that law was passed, no matter how high the legal advice or the attorney's advice, no one said that it was inadequate for the task. No one said that. But when their Lordships properly said that we must ask the European Court whether this rule, this new law passed by Parliament, will prevail or whether European Community law will prevail, they were told that European Community law would prevail. That will happen more and more.
My noble friend spoke of many things concerning referenda. I confess that I still do not like having a referendum regularly. When you come to a constitutional matter, you can recognise one; you can recognise when the erosion of parliamentary powers and justice powers is so great. It is very difficult to describe but you can recognise it. You can take each one and say, “This is suitable for a referendum and more than suitable because it is the powers of the people that are being eroded. We should have one and we can have a special Bill”. It is much better to accept that the referendum is an appropriate instrument and the more powers go away, the more we have in fact to ask the people.
I do not think that there is really any difficulty. It is not a matter of confidence in the Government. Have we not debated for long enough in this Chamber and the other place to know that this issue goes straight across parties, right across parties? As a matter of fact I believe that it would probably have helped all parties if there had been a referendum much earlier. It is not our fault that there was not one. It would have been a very great help and we would have got a clear decision from the people when we should indeed have had one.
There is the third point: the democratic deficit. Everyone accepts that there is one. We are used to having full democracy. We fought two wars in order that democracy might survive and extend. We are diminishing democracy, diminishing our parliamentary sovereignty, diminishing our parliamentary institutions, diminishing the significance of the vote, if Members of Parliament are not accountable, diminishing the significance of the Member of Parliament, diminishing the significance of the parliamentary institutionsdiminishing democracy and substituting bureaucracy for it.
Who are we to go and lecture people about the benefits of democracy when we are going the other way? We are boasting but, heaven knows, on the other side of the old Iron Curtain they have got rid of their bureaucracy. Here we are increasing ours in western Europe. It is ridiculous. It is no good saying that parliamentary sovereignty and parliamentary supremacy is going on in the same old way. It is not. That is a major change and the people are the sufferers.
Just before I came to the House I was very interested to read Vibert's evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee in 1992 about the effect of Maastricht. He was for it. He said:
“Members should be aware that the end result of the Commission proposals would be the eventual reduction of national parliaments to performing essentially agency roles for the central authorities”.
What do we need 650 Members of Parliament foror a Second Chamber such as this? But that is the objective of many who are aiming at a federal state. The people must be warned and asked in time. They can understand the big points when they are put clearly. I think we have a duty to do that.
Over the centuries the people and the character of our people have shaped our parliamentary institutions, and not the other way round. People have been the great bulwark against over-mighty rulers and the surest defence of the rights of individuals. Their powers are the heart of our nationhood. The majority of our people want Britain to be in Europe, and so do I. They want to keep intact our Parliament too and they do not want to diminish its powers or its authority or its prestige. In my view, we have surrendered too many powers already. We should surrender no more unless the people wish it. It is the people's turn to speak. It is their powers of which we are the custodians.