HC Deb 12 February 1997 vol 290 cc326-8
6. Mr. Kevin Hughes

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how many civil servants in his Department are currently working on issues relating to economic and monetary union. [13959]

Mr. David Davis

No Foreign and Commonwealth Office official is assigned exclusively to EMU issues, which are dealt with alongside other EU policy matters. EMU bears on the responsibility of a number of FCO departments.

Mr. Hughes

That is a pity, because such officials might have warned the Foreign Secretary and his Minister about the problems. The chairman of Unilever warned today that, if the Government did not sign up to the single currency, the company would reconsider its investment in this country. Given that Unilever employs some 21,000 people, should not the Foreign Secretary reconsider his comment on Radio 4 last week that we might stay out, even if the terms are right?

Mr. Davis

I do not know whether we need an official for that, but the hon. Gentleman needs a new research assistant. He has not noticed that this country has received maximum inward investment in the past decade, compared with the rest of the European Union. That investment has come here for a variety of reasons, and we are the number one destination for German overseas investment. That is true this year, as it was last year and the year before, and the investors know our policy on monetary union.

Mr. Wilkinson

Can officials and Ministers in the Foreign Office find time to read the admirable letter from Brian Reading in today's Financial Times, which suggests that there is little likelihood that the Federal Republic of Germany will ever, in the foreseeable future, achieve the proportion of national debt to gross national product that is required under the Maastricht treaty? Is it not clear from the recession and unemployment levels in Germany and elsewhere that economic and monetary union is not working?

Mr. Davis

I thank my hon. Friend for his recommendation. Similar analyses were the reason why my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary said that it was unlikely—not impossible, but unlikely—that EMU could safely proceed in 1999. That is an issue that must be faced by all those who say that it can proceed. We do not have monetary union at the moment, but the other European countries have a different social model, which has led to the tragic circumstances—we cannot take any pleasure from them—of an increase of 500,000 in the German unemployment figures in a month and a total unemployment figure of 4.6 million. That is the result of a different approach to competitiveness, and I do not recommend that we follow it.

Mr. Robin Cook

Can the Minister confirm that two officials in the Foreign Office who are working on EMU are the special advisers to the Foreign Secretary? The Sunday Telegraph reported that those advisers had drawn up 12 different positions on the single currency, from which Tory Members could pick the policy of their choice.

Are there any other examples of ministerial advisers helping Back Benchers to express their opposition to departmental policy, rather than their support?

Did the Minister hear the chairman of the 1922 Committee state to the world that he had been assured by the Prime Minister that Tory Members of Parliament are free to pick the policy of their choice on the single currency for their election addresses? Does he not recognise that a party that has abandoned any attempt to require its members to support the Government is a party that has lost the right to continue in government?

Mr. Davis

I could make a couple of points if the right hon. Gentleman wants to talk about election addresses. I recommend that he addresses his question to the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore), who pointed out that scores of Labour Members would take their own view on monetary union.

It is amazing, brazen cheek for Labour to take this line. The most famous election address in history is that of the Leader of the Labour party in 1983, in which he undertook to leave the European Union, to abandon the nuclear deterrent and to continue nationalisation—all issues that Labour would be embarrassed to take on today.

Ten days ago, the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) said on television: if it goes ahead and if it succeeds, in other words if it is stable then you cannot stay out". That is Labour's view on monetary union, and, in the unfortunate event of there being a Labour Government, that is exactly what would happen. Every Labour Government have presided over increases in unemployment, expenditure and inflation and reductions in the value of sterling, so they could not stay out.

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