HC Deb 01 February 1995 vol 253 cc1073-5
7. Mr. Colvin

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what measures he is taking to prepare the United Kingdom for an expanded European Union.

Mr. Hurd

One of our most important objectives in the rest of this century is the expansion of the European Union to the east. That will require the countries of central and eastern Europe to adapt their economies to the demands of the single market, but it will also involve fundamental reform of existing European Union policies, in particular the common agricultural policy and the structural funds. We shall be pressing for that.

Mr. Colvin

Does my right hon. Friend share my view that no Conservative Member is against enlargement and that the more we enlarge the more remote becomes the possibility of a single currency? Conservative Members also share some scepticism about the European Union, although none of us wants to leave it. Is there not a united party strategy on Europe which is very much in accord with the views of the British people? Is that not in sharp contrast with the Opposition, who are not only inconsistent about Europe but split three ways?

Mr. Hurd

I have already made a puzzled comment on the position of the Opposition. My hon. Friend is perfectly right. There is much more common ground on such matters than commentators would like to believe. That will emerge as the immediately past tumult dies down and the serious policy work goes forward.

We need to remember that the European Union is greatly attractive to those who live in the centre and east of Europe, as their strong interest in joining it makes clear. As my hon. Friend has said, we have always believed that the European Union's door should be open to those who wish to join the rest of Europe and are able to do so.

Mr. Skinner

Why does the Foreign Secretary not understand that, out there in Britain, the centre of gravity in relation to attitudes to the Common Market has shifted dramatically in the past few years? From Brightlingsea to Shoreham, the Cornish fishermen and all the rest around Britain, it is significant that, after 21 years of the Common Market and 16 years of the Tory Government, people are fed up to the back teeth.

Mr. Hurd

I understand the hon. Gentleman's motives in this matter, but his rant should be directed at the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr. Cyril D. Townsend

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, within the expanded European Union, there will be great scope for much better co-ordination of defence policy? Is it not absurd that industries are co-ordinated but that defence industries are specifically excluded? Does that not play into the hands of the United States, where competition is intense?

Mr. Hurd

My hon. Friend may have read the admirable speech on defence policies in Europe made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence in Brussels the day before yesterday. It was a painstaking and thorough analysis with some very interesting thoughts in it, to which should certainly be added the consideration that my hon. Friend has brought forward.

Ms Quin

The 1996 conferences will, presumably, prepare the way for enlargement. In that connection, the Secretary of State for Employment is recorded as saying that there are three matters on which members of the Cabinet have already agreed to use their veto. Will the Secretary of State confirm those three matters? In particular, in respect of powers to the European Parliament, does that mean that the Government will even veto any measures to allow the Parliament greater control over the European Commission?

Mr. Hurd

No, nor has anybody said anything to that effect. On the contrary, we believe that if the new European Parliament, which was elected last year, really wants to establish a reputation with the citizens, it should concentrate precisely on dealing with those matters which national Parliaments cannot reach. In particular, it should use to the full the powers given to it to deal with fraud.

Mr. Hendry

Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that he will continue to argue for Britain to opt out of the social chapter within an enlarged European Union,'? In particular, will he draw attention to the report from the European chambers of commerce, which was published yesterday, on 120,000 firms in Europe? It showed that British firms expect to create more new jobs than firms in any other country in Europe, and that German firms expect to create fewer because of the horrendous social costs that they face.

Mr. Hurd

Yes, indeed. There was more evidence to that effect during Prime Minister's Question Time yesterday. It is perfectly true that employers, particularly on the continent, have been rather slow to raise their voices against the distortions and uncompetitiveness that have been imposed on Europe by some legislation. It is important that we should be clear that the arrival of a Labour Government, with the one policy on which Opposition Members are all agreed—the imposition of the social chapter—would be pretty disastrous for jobs in this country.

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