HC Deb 15 January 1998 vol 304 cc475-6
7. Mr. Timms

What representations he has received about the steps he is taking to prepare business for EMU. [21057]

Mr. Gordon Brown

We received a large number of representations as a result of our decision in October on economic and monetary union. We have set up a business advisory committee, and a Treasury committee is examining the preparations for EMU. The president of the Confederation of British Industry, the Governor of the Bank of England and the president of the chambers of commerce are involved in discussions on these matters. This country is committed to making those preparations now.

Mr. Timms

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Does he agree that it would be wholly contrary to the British national interest for this Government or any future British Government to rule out for ever taking part in the single European currency? That is what Mr. Michael Portillo proposed yesterday, and he was apparently reflecting the views of many Conservative Members.

Mr. Brown

There are two positions that can be understood and are credible, and neither of them is held by the Conservative party. The first is to support the principle of monetary union, and the second is to oppose it. This side, supported by Lord Howe and many others, supports the principle of monetary union, whereas the other side cannot tell us what it supports. At least we now know what Mr. Portillo supports: he is totally against the principle.

Mr. St. Aubyn

Will the Chancellor tell us what he would support if there were a conflict, perhaps in the near future, between the needs of monetary policy in this country and the need for a sensible and competitive exchange rate? Which need would come first for him?

Mr. Brown

The steps that we are taking are right for Britain. The tests of economic and monetary union that I set out, and which were contained in a Treasury paper that was put before the House, will be applied by the Government according to what is in the national economic interest. The problem with the Conservative party's position is that it cannot tell us whether it would support joining the single currency if that were in the national interest. Even if the economic consequences were entirely beneficial, the Conservative party would probably oppose it.

Mr. Grocott

The Chancellor's clear statement that our decision on membership of the single currency would be made on the basis of what was in this country's economic interests was derided by Conservative Members. Surely my right hon. Friend's view is self-evident to anyone who has examined this issue from a neutral position, and is shared by most people in this country. Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that anyone in the modern Conservative party who takes that view, including senior members such as former Chancellors, former Prime Ministers and former Deputy Prime Ministers, is described by the current Tory leadership as a has-been?

Mr. Brown

I agree with my hon. Friend. Lord Howe's letter was signed by many others, including several hon. Members, a former Prime Minister, a former Deputy Prime Minister and a former Chancellor in the last Conservative Government. They said that they support Tony Blair and his colleagues in making the right decisions on the difficult challenges which lie ahead. A large number of senior members of the Conservative party support the principle of monetary union and the Government's policy. Mr. Michael Portillo now says that he is totally against it as a matter of principle, and the Conservative Front-Bench spokesmen cannot tell us whether they are in favour of it or against it in principle: they say that they will wait 10 years before making their decision. That is typical of the utter opportunism of the Conservative Opposition. They were not fit for government, and they are not fit for opposition.

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