HC Deb 09 November 1999 vol 337 cc876-7
8. Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest)

What representations he has made to the Chancellor of the Exchequer regarding the impact of a single European currency on the Scottish economy. [963521]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Dr. John Reid)

I am a member of the Standing Committee on European Monetary Union, which is chaired by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. As my right hon. Friend has made clear, the determining factor underpinning any Government decision on the matter is whether the economic benefits to the United Kingdom of joining are clear and unambiguous.

Mrs. Laing

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. We heard his answer to an earlier question, so I wonder whether I can tempt him to admit that the pact he has made with the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish nationalists to start a campaign to scrap the Scottish pound is misguided. As opinion polls clearly show, the only party that represents the views of the majority of Scottish people on that subject is the Conservative party, which believes that Scotland, like the rest of the United Kingdom, should be in Europe but not run by Europe.

Dr. Reid

That was a good try, but I find myself able to resist on this occasion. I cannot respond to the point about what Tory Members of Parliament represent on any Scottish matter, because there are no Tory Scottish Members; however, as soon as the Tories produce one, I shall listen with great care.

As for the policy of the Scottish National party on the euro, it has a range of policies to appeal to a range of floating voters. In 1997, the SNP said it would have a separate Scottish pound, pegged at parity to Sterling". By March 1998, that position had changed: the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) said that a Scottish pound could float down to a competitive level—in other words, a devaluation. Never content without revising a policy, Mr. Fergus Ewing said in June 1998 that an independent Scotland could enter economic and monetary union straight away. Finally, as I said earlier, the hon. Member for North Tayside (Mr. Swinney) has had the novel idea of having a differential interest rate for the Edinburgh area. I shall let the people of Scotland choose which of the SNP's four policies is the right one.

Mr. Malcolm Chisholm (Edinburgh, North and Leith)

Is not the European Union the second largest market for Scottish exports, with the largest market being the rest of the United Kingdom? Do not those facts support the European and constitutional policies of the Government and make nonsense of both the anti-European policies of the Conservative party and the anti-United Kingdom policies of the SNP?

Dr. Reid

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Like the rest of the House, he knows that only last week we heard the Leader of the Opposition tell us that we should embark on a trade war with France—a country to which the Scottish whisky industry sells 127 million bottles a year. Such a trade war would do irreparable damage to a range of Scottish industries, including agriculture, textiles, salmon, telecommunications and high technology. I suspect that the right hon. Gentleman was driven by the anti-Europeanism of the extremists on the Benches behind him.

However, was it not noticeable that, at Prime Minister's Question Time last week, although he had 30 minutes in which to do so, the Leader of the Opposition suddenly decided not to follow the route of urging a trade war? That route had been exposed as a thoroughly irresponsible course for any opposition party to take. That is why the right hon. Gentleman was silent last week—the first Member of Parliament to go chicken on beef.