HC Deb 20 May 1998 vol 312 c947
Q1. Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East)

If he will raise at the next meeting of the European Council the level of unemployment in the EU.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair)

Before answering the question, let me say that I gather, Madam Speaker, that today is your anniversary of 25 years as a Member of Parliament. On behalf of the whole House, congratulations.

Promoting employment and tackling unemployment are key features of our presidency and will be a major focus of our discussions at the Cardiff European Council in June.

Sir Teddy Taylor

Do not the horrific levels of unemployment in the European Union of more than 15 million in each of the past six years—it is now 10 per cent. compared with 4.6 per cent. in America and 3.6 per cent. in Japan—show that the EU and its policies are not a recipe for job creation? As every previous currency experiment in the world has ended up in disaster and more unemployment—[Interruption]—yes, they have, and that is a fact—could the Prime Minister at least give the people of Britain an assurance that, if they opt against the euro clearly and decisively in the referendum, he will honour his pledge and look for a new arrangement with Europe rather than bringing forward a repeat referendum?

The Prime Minister

On the last point, we are not actually at the stage of having a referendum yet. I should not want to bind the hands of a future Parliament. On the hon. Gentleman's first point, I simply say to him that I believe that there needs to be economic reform in Europe. That is one of the reasons why we put this on the agenda for the Cardiff European Council. I also point out that there are a variety of levels of unemployment in Europe. Some of the countries that want to join monetary union have lower levels of unemployment than we do.

I understand the hon. Gentleman's position on monetary union, but it is a position that is against monetary union whatever the economic consequences. The truth of the matter is that, after yesterday's speech, the Leader of the Opposition has joined with the hon. Gentleman and his shadow Secretary of State for Trade and Industry against the former Chancellor of the Exchequer. I think that that is an interesting decision.

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