HC Deb 26 July 1990 vol 177 cc719-25 2.29 pm
Mr. Brian Sedgemore (Hackney, South and Shoreditch)

I begin by expressing my genuine delight to see the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones) at the Dispatch Box for the first time in his new job at the Foreign Office. Not only does he have an exquisite taste in art, but he is a true internationalist. Should I, in unaccustomed fashion, make any criticisms of the Government during my speech, I wish to make it clear that I absolve the hon. Gentleman from all blame, for he is a good man.

Adolph Hitler looked for scapegoats and found the Jews. Enoch Powell looked for scapegoats and found the blacks. Our Prime Minister and her advisers looked for scapegoats and found the Germans. Thus does the carousel of history go round in a frightening circle.

History will record that 1990 was the year when "the German question" returned to Britain and when a Cabinet Minister and Prime Minister, in dealing with it, were found to be cruelly lacking in judgment and statesmanship. The former Cabinet Minister and Prime Minister for the time being demonstrated that the British establishment at the highest levels could be spiteful and vindictive and capable of pursuing a vendetta against an ally not for decades but for generations.

The Prime Minister and former Cabinet Minister showed that they were prepared to let their own sclerotic psychological hang-ups damage Britain's national interest and the future of European co-operation, and no amount of smiling through clenched teeth by European diplomats and Foreign Ministers, anxious to put on a brave face on the crisis in Anglo-German relations, can hide that.

Even so, I congratulate Chancellor Kohl and Germany's deputy Foreign Minister, Frau Irmgurd Adam-Schwaetzer, on the cool and sensitive way in which they handled the matter. Their behaviour was a credit to the new democratic Europe in which Germany plays a leading role. To be fair, our Foreign Secretary did not do badly, either, in trying to minimise the damage caused by the Prime Minister.

Civilised leaders around the globe, from President Bush down, have looked on open-mouthed as Britain has made itself look ridiculous. At home, the only people to benefit from the debacle are the anti-European rumps in both major political parties. Temporarily they have been provided with oxygen. Fortunately, in the parliamentary Labour party we have managed to marginalise our Dad's Army anti-European rump by demonstrating that there is more sound and fury than argument and substance in what they say.

But what of the Government and the Prime Minister? She seems intent on building up the strength of her Dad's Army anti-European rump. One of the tragedies of modern politics is that she would like to be the leader of the Bruges group of Tory dinosaurs. As such, she is clearly out of tune and out of place in the modern world. While she obviously thinks that she comes to these matters with the unconscious realisation of effortless British superiority, we all know that in fact she is the mad Queen.

What exactly is it that Britain wants Germany and the Germans to do to become equal partners in a modern, free Europe? Are we driven by the politics of envy, angry that the Germans should be able to handle the democratic process better than the British? Surely we do not want the Germans to copy us by debauching their currency and achieving British levels of inflation. Do we really want to see the streets of Cologne and Frankfurt strewn with rubbish, like Westminster and Tower Hamlets? Do we want the people of Dresden to be as uncultured and uncivilised as the people of Worthing? Do we really expect schoolchildren in Hamburg to be taught mathematics as badly as children are in Barnet? Surely we cannot expect German citizens to reduce their standard of living to ours.

I believe that Anglo-German relations should be based on five principles. First, Britain should wholeheartedly support German economic and monetary union. Secondly, we should applaud German unification and think about it in positive terms as a stabilising force in a new enlarged, democratic Europe, east and west. Thirdly, we should back Chancellor Kohl in his plan to help buy time for perestroika by providing aid and credit to Russia. Fourthly, we should commit ourselves at the intergovernmental conference in November to joining Germany and Europe in the drive for European monetary union and the creation of a single European currency. That means that we should give up our own batty proposals for a hard ecu. Fifthly, we should work together with Germany and our European partners on a policy of collective security. I hope that, by the time the 21st century arrives, the Warsaw pact and NATO will have disappeared and have been replaced by a pan-European defence and security system.

As regards German economic and monetary union—yes, it is going too fast; yes, it has caught up with West German domestic politics; and yes, there will be a short-term price to pay in higher unemployment in East Germany. But it will succeed and so will German unification. My own view is that GEMU will succeed with only a small rise in inflation in Germany and with little adverse effect on interest rates in the rest of Europe. I am reinforced in that view by having the agreement of the formidable Frau Schneider-Lenne of the Deutschebank. Ironically, the Prime Minister was in favour of German reunification right up the point when it became a practical proposition—when, sick with fear, she backed off as her anti-German phobia came to the surface.

Hovering over Britain's relations with Germany are Germany's relations with Russia, where the psychological traumas run even deeper. Chancellor Kohl wants to help President Gorbachev to buy time with aid and credit for perestroika. The Leader of the Labour party, my right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) discussed a Marshall plan with President Bush recently to help Russia. The EC, the International Monetary Fund and the World bank have been asked to help at two recent summits—one in Dublin, one in Houston. It is the British Government who have been dragging their feet. We should now recognise the need to help both Russia and Germany in this sphere. It is surely in our own self-interest and in the interest of peace in Europe to do so.

As regards European monetary union, I have no doubt that the next Labour Government will find it easier than the present Government to move forward with Germany and France and our other European partners. Labour's Back Benchers reaffirmed this week their wholehearted support for European monetary union in a report from the Select Committee on the Treasury and Civil Service. Our Front Bench spokesmen and women are moving carefully and intelligently in the right direction. In my view, nothing would do more to repair the damage in British-German relations than a commitment by our Government to support European monetary union at the intergovernmental conference in November. EMU makes much more sense than simply joining the exchange rate mechanism.

The Government should drop their half-baked, hard ecu policy, which has been described by the president of the Bundesbank, Karl Otto Pohl, as too complicated and likely to create uncertainty. As Pohl has said: When the problem that bedevils the Economic Community is the existence of 12 currencies, a British proposal for the creation of a 13th currency is unhelpful". Mr. Pohl also said: The Europe central bankers considered and rejected a proposal similar to that of the hard ECU some time ago. He added that perhaps a country like Britain, with 9.8 per cent. inflation can learn a lot from a country like Germany, with 2.3 per cent. inflation.

Yesterday, as I listened to the Chancellor unfold his hard ecu plan in the Grand Committee Room to the Select Committee on the Treasury and Civil Service of which I am a member, I realised that it was literally touched with lunacy and would create chaos in the money markets of Europe if it were put into effect. The Germans, the French, the Italians and others would have to be barmy to adopt the hard ecu proposal.

My personal life seems to have been bound up, at critical moments, with the life of Germany. As I told the House a few weeks ago, my father died in 1939, when I was two years old and the German battleship Scharnhorst sank HMS Rawalpindi. My mother was six months pregnant with my sister then, so times were difficult; but neither my sister nor I was brought up to dislike Germany, let alone to hold grudges down the decades.

When I left school I lived in Germany for two years, and I have fond memories of both the country and the people. When the Treasury Select Committee recently visited Frankfurt and East Berlin, it was impossible not to be caught up in the excitement, the apprehension and—yes, perhaps the hysteria of German economic and monetary union and German reunification. Next week, a friend is coming from Berlin to stay with me for a while. I ask the Minister: what message do I give her? Is she coming to a friendly country with a friendly Government—a trustworthy ally—or is she making a visit to perfidious Albion?

Let me conclude—thus giving the Minister five minutes more than he expected—by asking the Government and the Prime Minister, in whom so much animosity has been stirred up, to heed the words of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer: from envy, hatred, and malice, and from all uncharitableness, Good Lord, deliver us. I ask that in the name of Britain, in the name of Germany and in the name of Europe.

2.41 pm
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones)

The House will be aware that I have led a rather sheltered life for the past eight and a half years, and, if there is nothing else for which I can thank the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Sedgemore), I can at least say that his remarks, which are always on the one hand characteristically urbane and on the other characteristically thuggish, have today brought me back rather abruptly to the seamier side of political life. I am also grateful for the personal comments with which he began his speech—although I must add that he had better not go on like that, or my stay at the Foreign Office is likely to be brief as that of Mr. Patrick Gordon Walker.

As the whole House knows, the hon. Gentleman is far too intelligent to believe a great deal of what he said at the beginning of his speech—and, for that matter, a great deal of what he said at the end. Accordingly, I propose to do him the courtesy of addressing the subject that he tabled on the Order Paper: the current state of Anglo-German relations.

The relationship between British and the Federal Republic of Germany is of the utmost importance to Her Majesty's Government. It has helped to ensure security and stability in Europe for 40 years. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, addressing the Königswinter conference in Cambridge on 29 March this year, described the close Anglo-German partnership at the heart of NATO and Europe as essential to the success of both; she recalled the considerable part that Britain had played over the past 40 years in creating the conditions in which German unity could be achieved in freedom—for example, in Berlin and through the British forces in Germany. But, as she said on that occasion, our relations with our German friends have not been a one-way process. The federal republic has been the staunchest of allies in NATO, and we shall always be grateful for the strong support that we have received from successive German Governments for our membership of the European Economic Community. The Anglo-German summit on 30 March was also highly successful, and our relations with the federal republic have continued to be close and warm. This is the culmination of work that has taken place over many years.

Neither country will forget the tragedy of the two wars that have devastated our continent during this century, but, through the common desire of our two countries to make a new start and to create a new stable and democratic Germany, we have built a strong friendship.

The federal republic is a democratic state of over 40 years' standing. This will not change after unification. We are proud of the part that Britain has played in helping to build a prosperous and democratic German state. We have constantly advocated the right of self-determination by the German people. We have long believed that a united Germany was of profound importance to Europe as a whole. Anthony Eden spelled this out even more specifically in 1955 in Geneva when he said: as long as Germany is divided, Europe will be divided. Until the unity of Germany is restored there can be neither confidence nor security in this continent.

Mr. Sedgemore

indicated assent.

Mr. Garel-Jones

I am glad to see that the hon. Gentleman assents to that proposition.

In common with other western countries, we have worked to create the conditions in which German unity could be achieved in freedom.

The strength of Anglo-German co-operation is well shown in the current discussions on unification. We have been working energetically within the two plus four framework to achieve an early resolution of the external aspects of unity—the termination of four—power rights and responsibilities and an overall settlement; Berlin; borders; and discussion of certain politico-military issues. Good progress has been made in all these areas.

On borders—in particular the issue of the Polish-German border—the foundations for a satisfactory outcome have been laid. Both German states have said that they will respect the existing Oder-Neisse border, and it has been agreed that there should be a legally binding treaty between Poland and a united Germany that confirms that border.

On politico-military issues, there have been differences of opinion between the west and the Soviet Union on Germany's membership of NATO. We, in common with our NATO allies, argued for a united Germany belonging to NATO. Germany had the right under the Helsinki Final Act to decide whether to belong to an alliance, and has chosen to remain a member of NATO.

The breakthrough registered between Chancellor Kohl and President Gorbachev at Stavropol on 16 July was a remarkable achievement for both men and for good sense. President Gorbachev has accepted the prospect of a united Germany in NATO. That is a great personal success for Chancellor Helmut Kohl. The outcome can be attributed in part to NATO's lead in adjusting to the changing face of Europe, as the NATO summit conference in London on 5 and 6 July and the London declaration showed.

It shows also that in President Gorbachev we are dealing with a very different kind of leader of the Soviet Union than those we have known hitherto. The changes made possible through his vision and courage have enabled the alliance to extend the hand of friendship to eastern Europe in the way in which the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch referred. The London declaration helped to persuade the Russians that a united Germany in NATO poses no threat.

As for the EC aspects of unification, Britain supports the German Democratic Republic's fullest integration in the shortest time. It will not be a simple matter to agree on which derogations from EC law will be needed for the ex-GDR after unification or on how long they should last. There is much detailed work to be done within a short time, but we believe that the integration of the GDR will bring real advantages to the EC as a whole.

In all these areas, we are working closely with the Germans towards the fulfilment of a common goal—the establishment of a sovereign, democratic and united Germany. We are confident that we shall soon see a single unified Germany taking its place in the family of nations.

We work closely with the FRG on European Community issues. We have fought hard and successfully together to keep the Community open to its world trading partners in avoiding a fortress Europe, and have co-operated on many specific pieces of single market legislation—for example, last year's important second banking directive. The records of the United Kingdom and Germany on implementing EC legislation are at the top of the Community league table.

There is much else in our continuing relationship. Bilateral trade between our two countries has long been of great importance to us both. Germany is Britain's main European trading partner. The opening up of East Germany provides an opportunity not only for all Germany but for British business. We hope that British business men will seize those opportunities and take maximum advantage of them.

Trade flows are not the only form of interdependence. Overseas investment flows between our two economies have drawn them even closer together. According to the federal Ministry of Finance, German companies had more than £3 billion of direct investment assets in the United Kingdom at year-end 1987, and direct investment assets by United Kingdom firms in Germany were more than £4 billion.

A vast range of non-governmental contact between our two countries enhance the fabric of Anglo-German relations. I mention trade, but there are in addition family ties and friendship, mentioned by the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch, tourism, art and culture. I am particularly pleased to inform the House that my own constituency of Watford formed a twinning link with the German town of Mainz as long ago as 1956.

The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch made derogatory remarks about the inhabitants of Worthing, but I assure him that neither they nor the residents of Watford consider themselves uncultured or uncivilised. I recognise that it is part of the arrogance of socialist intellectuals such as the hon. Gentleman that he will look over his shoulder at my constituents and those of my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins). In any event, over the past 35 years, my constituents have travelled to and from Mainz, building up their networks of friendship and understanding with the people of that town—which, as the hon. Gentleman will know, happens to be in the Rhineland Pfalz, that is, in the constituency od which Chancellor—

Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Cleethorpes)

My hon. Friend will be strengthened in his argument to know that Cleethorpes is twinned with the town of Köonigswinter, and that only six weeks ago, Glandford, which I am also privileged to represent, was twinned with Landkreiss Gifhorn. That emphasises my hon. Friend's contention.

Mr. Garel-Jones

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's intervention. Königswinter symbolises the efforts made not just at constituency-to-constituency and town-to-town level, but at governmental level—and even at the level of intellectuals, such as the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch—through the Königswinter conference. My constituency is a precursor in establishing such links, which have helped to build up the friendship and trust that now exist between our two countries.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs has met his German colleague Herr Genscher no fewer than 27 times since the beginning of this year, and Herr Genscher will be his guest at Chevening this weekend. My hon. Friend the Prime Minister will receive Herr Genscher on 30 July, and she hopes to see Chancellor Kohl again in the near future.

I hope that my remarks have shown the hon. Gentleman and the House the variety and importance of British-German relations, and the significance that the Government attach to them. Our friendship is durable and our partnership with the German republic is broad and deep. Britain and the federal republic are important to each other in four significant areas of policy. With the approach of unification, there is potential for an even closer co-operation, and the Government certainly look to the future with confidence and enthusiasm.

The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch, as I said in my opening remarks, has two modes: at times, he poses as a revolutionary thug, and at others he is a thoughtful, but sometimes rather excitable, contributor to our debates. I prefer the latter mode. Today we have had a flavour of both. The House had the opportunity to see him in the more thoughtful mode on 15 June, when he initiated an interesting debate on the European Community, in which he announced his Pauline conversion to the European cause. This came as something of a shock to his hon. Friends who normally accompany him on the Bench below the Gangway—the hon. Members for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), and for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer), who, alas, are not in their places today.

Conservative Members would simply say, "Welcome to the club," to the hon. Gentleman. Although we note that, with a characteristic excess of zeal, which would have made Talleyrand turn in his grave, he has gone over the top because—if I understand him correctly, and I read his speech on 15 June with care—he wants a single currency tomorrow.

Mr. Brian Sedgemore

1997, actually.

Mr. Garel-Jones

The hon. Gentleman believes that Mr. Delors is the greatest living European—greater even than the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock), the Leader of the Opposition. I suspect, having become a convert to the European cause, the hon. Gentleman regards the Leader of the Opposition and his other comrades on the Opposition Front Bench as belonging to that Dad's Army which he referred to, and from which he is such a recent, but distinguished deserter.

When the hon. Gentleman opened the debate on economic and political developments in the Community, he again made a reference to his father, which both touched the House and did credit to him. I suspect that those who suffered during the last war or who, like the hon. Gentleman's father, gave their lives in that war, would welcome the new Europe to which Anglo-German friendship and co-operation have made and continue to make such a notable contribution.

I am exceedingly grateful to the hon. Gentleman for having brought me back from the quiet, rather spiritual world to the hurly-burly of the House. We are delighted that, after a lifetime of campaigning with the Labour party against British membership of the European Economic Community, he has come to us—and he is very welcome.

We do not agree with him about a single currency. The British Government are advancing their own proposals for the hard ecu, but, without being patronising, I think that the hon. Gentleman will be listened to with greater respect if he manages to eliminate the element of thuggery from his interventions in European debates. I was especially sorry that the hon. Gentleman felt it necessary to begin his speech by speaking as he did about my right hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) whose contribution to public life, to the House and to the European cause is both distinguished and long-standing in a way in which, I am afraid, the hon. Gentleman's is not.