HC Deb 24 February 1997 vol 291 cc4-5
6. Sir Teddy Taylor

To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what role he has in respect of the co-ordination of Government policy for public information on European Union issues and statistics. [15522]

The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. Michael Heseltine)

My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary has overall responsibility for the Government's policy towards the European Union, including the presentation of that policy.

Sir Teddy Taylor

As we have a special problem in Britain because of divisions in both main parties on European Union, and as the public have less confidence in the words of politicians from either of those parties, would there not be some merit in responding to the rather alarming expensive EU propaganda by establishing an independent body to tell people the facts about how much the average family spends on the net contribution and how much that family spends because of the agriculture policy? Would there not also be some merit in telling people the truth about Europe and about the huge damage that the EU is inflicting, particularly on low-income families?

The Deputy Prime Minister

I am as keen as my hon. Friend on the dissemination of truth about Europe. I know that my hon. Friend will welcome the fact that we are attracting 40 per cent. of all inward investment into Europe, we have the fastest growing economy in western Europe and the City of London is still the prime financial market of Europe. Those are important aspects of the success of the Government's policy and involve our continued place at the heart of Europe.

Mr. Bermingham

Would not the Deputy Prime Minister have difficulty in answering questions on the subject when the Foreign Secretary says one thing, the Chancellor of the Exchequer says another and the Prime Minister another? Is not the reality that the Government have no fixed and clear policy on Europe, but are at sixes and sevens? Is it not time that they come clean and say whether they are for or against monetary union? To answer the question—of course I am for it.

The Deputy Prime Minister

I notice the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) nodding his head in enthusiastic agreement at the idea that there is unity in the Labour party.

Dr. Hampson

I endorse the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) that we need accurate statistics; the public need to know what is happening. There is an ever-increasing trend of trade from this country into Europe; more than 50 per cent. of our exports now go to Europe. There are people—who will not be named—who consciously try to mislead people about the situation. Our deficit with Europe is steadily falling, whereas our deficit with the rest of the world is increasing.

The Deputy Prime Minister

My hon. Friend makes important points, but the critical point is that we in this country continue to drive the European economy in the direction that has proved so successful to the British economy. The continuation of that drive requires the re-election of a Conservative Government and the avoidance of the social contract, the minimum wage and the restoration of privilege for the trade unions.

Mr. Prescott

In any review of the co-ordination of Government policy on European issues, has the Deputy Prime Minister taken account of the views expressed by the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) who, contrary to the Government's scaremongering claims, stated that the European social chapter posed no threat to jobs or British industry? Is that not a further example of the bitter divisions within the Government?

The Deputy Prime Minister

It will come as a surprise to the right hon. Gentleman that, on this rare occasion, my views on the minimum wage are more likely to be in keeping with his than with those of my right hon. Friend the former Prime Minister. The deputy leader of the Labour party was right when he said of the minimum wage that it would cost jobs and that any silly fool knew that".

Forward to