HC Deb 01 February 1995 vol 253 cc1065-7
1. Mr. Milburn

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on recent representations he has received on the European Union.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Douglas Hurd)

I receive from different sources quite regularly representations on the European Union.

Mr. Milburn

Is not it clear from recent interventions by the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) and Lord Howe that Ministers are simply caving in to the anti-European agenda of some Conservative Back Benchers and people in the Cabinet? Is it not obvious that Britain's interests in Europe are secondary in the Foreign Secretary's mind to the appeasement of competing factions inside the Conservative party? Why does not the Foreign Secretary stand up for what we all know he believes in rather than play footsie with those who clearly want him out of his current job?

Madam Speaker

Order. We have just finished Adjournment debates and we are now in Question Time.

Mr. Hurd

I am grateful, Madam Speaker. I thought it was becoming rather stale stuff. On the basis of the general principles which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister established in his speech at Leiden and which he has since elaborated, we are constructing specific and positive proposals which Britain will be able to put forward at the intergovernmental conference next year. That is the immediate task before us and I am sure that that is the right way to set about it.

Mr. Dykes

Will my right hon. Friend endorse and follow the wise advice of Alain Lamassoure, the French European Affairs Minister, who yesterday suggested that central bank governors should keep quiet on EMU, or at least say less, and leave the decisions to the politicians in the member states, particularly as the enthusiasm for EMU is growing everywhere, with the constitutional exception of Denmark?

Mr. Hurd

I do not agree. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister obtained freedom for this country to choose, yes or no, if and when the choice of a single bank and a single currency comes before us, which in our view will not be before 1999. For the moment, we have had enough purely political discussion of these points. What is now needed is a slightly more substantial account, perhaps not led by politicians, of the effect of the change—yes or no—on the freedom and prosperity of our constituents. The Governor's speech yesterday, which was analysed by some newspapers as being for and by others as being against the proposition, set out the pros and cons with admirable clarity.

Mr. Menzies Campbell

Which does the Foreign Secretary regard as the more accurate commentary on the Government's policy on Europe: that of the former Foreign Secretary, Lord Howe, who said that the policy is being dragged into a ghetto of sentimentality and self-delusion, or that of the former Minister of State at the Foreign Office, the right hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Renton), who said that certain Cabinet Ministers are behaving as if they were members of the Flat Earth Society?

Mr. Hurd

I do not think that either comment fills the bill.

Mr. Cash

Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that there is no question of any policies relating to Northern Ireland being constructed under the aegis or framework of a constitutional arrangement that gives effect to the proposals for an all-Ireland policy which would be consistent with any regional policy developed by the European Union?

Mr. Hurd

My hon. Friend is an hour in advance of his moment. That question could be properly addressed to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Mr. Robin Cook

Will the Foreign Secretary take this opportunity to repeat his description of the manifesto of the nine rebel Members of Parliament as containing ideas that were unreal? Did he read yesterday's statement by the rebels that the concessions by the Cabinet to those unreal ideas were encouraging, but that it must make more? How many more unreal ideas is he prepared to accept, or is it time for the British Government to base their policy towards Europe on the interests of the 60 million people of Britain, not on the careers of the nine Tory Members of Parliament?

Mr. Hurd

I am delighted if any of my hon. Friends, or former hon. Friends, are delighted with Government policy, which is not constructed on the basis of any document that they have issued. It is constructed on what the Prime Minister said at Leiden last November. In his basic statement on what the intergovernmental conference should be about, he said: The IGC must be the anvil on which we forge a stronger union. That is our view.

Mr. John D. Taylor

I pose this question specifically to the Foreign Secretary. Does he agree that the European Union is a club of sovereign states? If so, is it possible for one all-Ireland body to represent the views of two sovereign states'?

Mr. Hurd

I do not think that that is envisaged even in the thoughts that are being discussed by the British and Irish Governments, but I advise the right hon. Member, as I advised my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash), to put that specific point to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Mr. Yeo

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the vision that he and the Prime Minister have set out of a Europe of nation states, freely co-operating to mutual advantage on a wide range of issues, not only commands the support of the vast majority of the British people, but is entirely consistent with everything that the Conservative party has said on the subject for the past 30 years? Does he further agree that that consistency contrasts starkly with the chopping and changing of the Labour party, whose leader and present Front-Bench spokesman are espousing positions on Europe which are totally the reverse of those that they adopted just a few years ago?

Mr. Hurd

I may send my hon. Friend a wearisome sheaf of my speeches on the subject—he may have had a hand in some of them, for all I know. They bear out what he said. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I have, for several years, been emphasising the point that my hon. Friend summarised about the working together of nation states.

I share my hon. Friend's worries about the Opposition. The Leader of the Opposition has been billing and cooing all over Brussels. The other day, yesterday perhaps, the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) made a speech that he could have borrowed from one of my archives. It is a bit worrying to Conservative Members that the main Opposition party should be so sadly divided on the subject.

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