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Mr. Thurnham : While the right hon. and learned Gentleman is in the Library checking on his other facts, will he look at The House Magazine for 28 September and refresh his memory? He said then that he did not begin to understand why the people of Bolton did not vote Labour. Does he agree that the people of this country will never trust such an unprincipled wriggler as he is proving himself to be today?
Mr. Smith : Since the hon. Gentleman has challenged me directly he will allow me to say that it is a curious idea that to vote against the motion that the Government have tabled is a move to betray the European ideal.
Mr. Oppenheim rose --
Mr. Gyles Brandreth (City of Chester) rose --
Mr. Anthony Coombs (Wyre Forest) rose --
Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Littleborough and Saddleworth) rose --
Column 300view of Europe. If the Opposition were foolish enough to vote for it we would endorse the opt-out from the social chapter, and that we are not prepared to do. It might suit Liberal Members, but for us it would be a betrayal of an important principle.
Mr. Oppenheim : I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his courtesy in giving way. May I suggest in a helpful spirit that he should celebrate his accession to the Labour leadership by changing the rather faded red rose symbol for a fig leaf behind which to hide what little is left of his party's integrity?
Mr. John Marshall : In 1971 the right hon. and learned Gentleman was seen as a man of principle because he put principle before party. This evening he is seeking to put party before country. Does he not realise that the fact that we are not in the social chapter makes Britain a haven for inward investment, as Monsieur Delors has admitted?
Mr. Smith : On the first point, I have already demonstrated that the motion before the House is not some rallying call for the European ideal, the Maastricht treaty or the European Community. It is a narrowly, carefully drafted motion which has more to do with the internal problems of the Conservative party than with the European Community.
Mr. Brandreth : I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his courtesy. To come to the heart of the matter, if the engineers, the employers, the motor car industry, the CBI and the chambers of commerce all say that they want Maastricht but not the social chapter, is the right hon. and learned Gentleman a Leader of the Opposition who listens, or is he simply the leader of the opportunists who does not give a damn what message his party sends to the world? At least the Liberal Democrats stand by their principles.
Mr. Smith : Once again I have given way expecting a question only to be given a speech. If the CBI's view is to be accepted, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will read some of its comments about the state of demand in the economy and the effects of Government economic policy.
Mr. Mallon : I take this opportunity to put to the right hon. and learned Gentleman exactly the same question as I would have put to the Prime Minister had I been given the opportunity. The right hon. and learned Gentleman and I know that in this House there is a majority in favour of Europe and of Maastricht. Can he explain how that majority has been whittled down to a potential minority? Secondly, can he explain why someone like me, in a minority party, cannot vote and deliberate on this issue on its merits but must debate it on the divisions in the Tory party and the contradictions in the Prime Minister's own position? Does not that border on an abuse of the House?
Mr. Smith : I understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but if he gets the chance on another occasion he should direct it to the Prime Minister. It is he who is responsible for the Government's handling of this and other legislation and it is he who drafted the motion before the House. I agree that it does not even mention the treaty.
Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) : Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman telling us that the vote tonight on the motion and on his even more carefully drafted amendment goes to the heart of Britain's policy towards Europe and that, if lost, it would lead to the resignation of the Government? Or is he telling us that this is a narrow and unnecessary motion whose defeat is neither here nor there?
Mr. Smith : I must ask the right hon. Gentleman and other Liberals to read the motion that they are attempting to vote for. All it does is note that there was a majority on Second Reading. It goes on with a few oblique references to subsidiarity and the Danes ; it reaffirms the Conservative view of Europe ; and it says that we should proceed with the Bill at some stage. I do not regard that as a touchstone of European policy, but what I will tell the Liberals is that they have been conned by the Conservatives and that they suffer from two great defects : naivety and self-importance.
Dr. Robert Spink (Castle Point) rose--
Mr. Dickens rose--
Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham) rose--
Mr. Dalyell : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. A reference was made a short time ago to a document that is apparently in the Library. When I went to ask Library staff they did indeed produce a document, but it seems fundamentally diferent from that to which the Prime Minister referred. [ Hon. Members :-- "Oh !"] The document that the Library gave me is a letter from Poul Schlu"ter to the Prime Minister covering Denmark and Europe. Whatever else it is, it is not recognisable as a report to the House of Commons. [Interruption.]
Mr. Smith : The Prime Minister is waving a document. I think that I have the same document before me. It is a letter from the Prime Minister of Denmark enclosing a document entitled "Denmark in Europe". It is merely the Danish proposals, yet the Prime Minister pretended to the House that it was a report given to us. [Interruption.]
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Tristan Garel- Jones) rose--
Mr. Garel-Jones : Yes. Further to the point of order raised by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), Madam Speaker. The documents available in the Library are a letter from Prime Minister Schlu"ter, a copy of the document issued by the Danish Parliament and a memorandum from the Foreign Office commenting on the Danish document. [Interruption.]
Mr. Davies : It is a point of order, Madam Speaker. Is it not the practice of the House that if a document is tabled to condition a debate-- particularly if it is a report to the House on which a debate is purporting to take place--that document is listed on the Order Paper ?
Madam Speaker : I understand that it is not the document that has been tabled. [ An Hon. Member :-- "Oh. It has not been tabled."] If the hon. Gentleman would listen, I am sure that he could hear me. The document has been placed in the Library. I call Mr. Smith.
Mr. Smith : We are all clear about that, then : it is not a report from Her Majesty's Government to the House but a letter from the Danes with a few comments from the Foreign Office. That should put us all on our guard ; we should be very careful about accepting assurances from the Prime Minister.
Mr. Couchman rose --
Mr. Couchman rose --
Mr. Couchman : I asked the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) whether he would give way. He resumed his seat and I therefore assumed that he was giving way. That is quite natural, but
Column 303I am quite prepared to raise the point that I wanted to raise with the right hon. and learned Gentleman on a point of order. Would that be in order?
Mr. Dickens : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Like many hon. Members, I am having difficulty knowing what today's debate is about. May I ask you, because in the Opposition amendment, there is no mention of Maastricht whatever.
Mr. Smith : Let me get back to the subject of the debate, which is a motion tabled by the Government, which we are debating together with an amendment tabled by the official Opposition. I am surprised that I should have to tell the Government that, although such is their state of incompetence on other matters that perhaps I should not be surprised.
People will be wondering why we are holding the debate now, given that we know perfectly well that the earliest date at which the Danish referendum can be held is May 1993. The Prime Minister knows that as well as I do. When we look at the political situation, and the Prime Minister's predicament within his own party, we realise that this debate has far more to do with the right hon. Gentleman's problems than with the future of Europe. That is why we have had all the feverish activity of the past few weeks, culminating in the arm twisting of the past few days. Many devices have been used, including, most startlingly, the on-off threat of a general election. If the debate is only about the timing of the Committee stage of the European Communities (Amendment) Bill, why was it that, when the Prime Minister flew to Egypt on 24 October, the accompanying lobby journalists were briefed that the Prime Minister would hold a general election if his authority was further challenged? There is no question about it : the headlines in the Sunday papers carried the story. In The Sunday Times, we read :
"Major threatens general election if he fails to win Maastricht vote",
and in The Sunday Telegraph :
"Angry Major threatens an election".
On the flight back from Egypt, no attempt was made to dissuade people from believing the stories.
In an attempt to try to find a resume of those events that Conservative Members would find fair and impartial, I turned to The Sunday Telegraph, whose leader last Sunday summed up the matter very well. Let me briefly remind the House what it said :
"This newspaper tries to keep its readers abreast of events. At present, however, we suffer from a difficulty : a week is such an incredibly long time in current Conservative politics. Last Sunday we reported faithfully the assertion by No. 10 Downing Street that if the House of Commons turned out the Maastricht Treaty Mr. Major would call a general election. On Monday, Downing Street distanced itself from its own suggestion. As the week went on, it was reported, variously, that the Government would back down over the motion for the paving debate this week, that it would go for broke', that Mr. Major would make Maastricht an issue of confidence in him, that he would insist that it be treated solely, in his words, on its merits', that his tactic was to go for a bang and that it was to opt for a whimper. As we went to press last night we
Column 304understood that the Government had proposed a motion on Maastricht which, by not mentioning the subject, hoped to persuade the Tory rebels to back it. By the time you read this the situation may well be different again."
After that series of events--and we all watched them unfold--is there any hon. Member in the House naive enough to believe that the motion is only about the timing of the start of the Committee stage of the European Communities (Amendment) Bill?. [Hon. Members :-- "Yes. The Liberals."] Yes, there are some hon. Members but not very many. How can a motion that attracted the threat of a general election not be about the credibility, competence and authority of the Government? That has been evident in the statements made by Ministers in the past week or so.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) drew to the Prime Minister's attention the reply given by the Foreign Secretary at Foreign Office questions last week. As I understand it, the Prime Minister answered that my right hon. Friend had somehow been misled about the reply, which I shall quote so that the House can decide and so that the Prime Minister can correct me if I have been misleading myself in my reading of Hansard :
"The House will have to decide whether it wants my right hon. Friend to preside over that summit preserving and extending this country's influence over what happens in Europe or whether it does not"--[ Official Report, 28 October 1992 ; Vol. 212, c. 1004.] The House has to decide whether the Prime Minister does or does not do that.
Mr. Hurd : The right hon. and learned Gentleman gabbled a little bit that he did not want the House to hear. The point that I was making was not that the choice before the House was whether my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister would go to Edinburgh or not, because I took it for granted that he would. No, no. The choice before the House, as is clear from the bit that the right hon. and learned Gentleman gabbled, is whether my right hon. Friend would go equipped with all the possible influence that he could exert, or whether he would go weakened by the kind of twists and turns in which the right hon. and learned Gentleman is indulging.
The Foreign Secretary said that the House will have to decide whether the Prime Minister will or will not. Let me be charitable to the right hon. Gentleman and take his alternative explanation, that it is about the authority of the Prime Minister when he goes to the summit, which is further evidence that it is not about the Bill.
Mr. John Hume (Foyle) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. On the question being discussed, given that the House has already approved the Second Reading of the European Communities (Amendment) Bill on the Maastricht treaty, can you tell us whether this debate is a necessary part of the constitutional process of endorsing that treaty? If not--which is what I expect you to say--this debate must be for some other purpose.
Madam Speaker : That is hardly a point of order for the Chair. The hon. Gentleman knows that formal proceedings on the Bill will not be affected by the outcome of the result today-- [Interruption.] Order. Hear me out. The Committee stage of the Bill will remain among the Remaining Orders.
Mr. Tim Devlin (Stockton, South) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. The amendment on the Order Paper in the name of the Opposition calls for a four-week delay in consideration of the Bill, until after the Edinburgh summit. First, that is surely at odds with your ruling. Secondly, is it not at odds with the Leader of the Opposition's speech, which seems to be about confidence?
Madam Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman and the entire House should not anticipate what will happen at the end of the debate and should allow it to proceed normally. Hon. Members are seeking to speak, and I think that the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Devlin) is one of them, so let us make some progress.
Mr. Smith : Some Conservative Members seem to be reluctant to engage properly in this debate, but I am doing my best. Even if there are another 10 bogus points of order from the Conservative side, I will refer to the statement made by the Secretary of State for Wales in "On the Record" on Sunday. He warned Tory rebels that they were playing with fire and told Mr. Dimbleby :
"We have to show our confidence, not only in the Government, but also in John Major."
That was a sort of double whammy confidence motion.
The third--perhaps even more ominous to the Prime Minister--was the President of the Board of Trade, who said on ITN on Monday : "The Prime Minister is entitled to our confidence now. " The right hon. Member also chooses his words with care, so I do not believe that the qualifying " now " was accidental--now, but not necessarily for ever. That was not the only effort by the right hon. Member, the Lord President. I beg his pardon : he has an even grander title than Lord President of the Council ; he is President of the Board of Trade. I think that, for short, we shall call him Mr. President during this exchange. He told BBC radio presumably he was addressing Conservative Back Benchers as he used direct speech : "if you vote against the Prime Minister and the Government on Wednesday, on Thursday you have a policy vacuum at the centre of British decision making of incalculable destructiveness." Gosh, what an awful prospect that would be.
After all the clear and decisive leadership of the past few weeks, after all the consistent and determined implementation of long-established policies, well and clearly understood, how could we cope with the black hole of a policy vacuum? Perhaps Mr. President could reflect that the Government's basic problem is not the threat of a policy vacuum, but the stark reality of such a vacuum, which extends right to the heart of the Government.
Only this week, with singular appropriateness, the Governor of the Bank of England referred to a policy vacuum at the heart of economic policy.
The Prime Minister : Yesterday the right hon. and learned Gentleman quoted the Governor of the Bank of England. I gather that he misquoted him, and that the Governor will be writing to him about that. So he had better not pursue the point.
Column 306Bank of England I was told that the quote was from a question and answer session with foreign journalists and that the Bank was unable to provide a text. I shall look with interest at what ends up in the Library.
If we had any doubt over what the debate is all about, we could have resolved it by looking at the terms of the motion. There are no ringing declarations about the future of Europe, which would rally the troops under the Maastricht banner. There is no declaration of principle of any discernible kind. I have already drawn attention to some of the hallmarks of the motion, which has the Prime Minister's style all about it. It is the product of the internal machinations of the Conservative party, and it is designed for internal Conservative party purposes. Only someone of enormous naivety--
Sir Peter Hordern (Horsham) rose --
Mr. Smith : I should have been delighted to give way to more hon. Members if there had not been so many organised points of order. I have to get on with my speech. If the hon. Gentleman has a complaint, he should take it up with his hon. Friends.
Only the most naive of people would believe that the motion is some touchstone of loyalty to the treaty. The truth of the present situation and the background to the debate, as the whole country knows, is that an increasingly angry and bewildered nation is watching with astonishment and dismay as the Government stumble from one disaster to another. They recollect the Prime Minister's bland assurance--that is why they would not want them to be propped up or given a motion of confidence of any kind-- that if they were only to vote Conservative on Thursday, recovery would continue on Friday. Not merely has there been no recovery, but the Government's economic policy was blown to smithereens on black Wednesday.
In the motion, the Government have the nerve to refer to the promotion of "employment, prosperity and investment". Do they know what is happening in this country? When the Prime Minister emerges blinking from his bunker, does he not see the destruction that his economic policies have caused? Bankruptcies and home repossessions continue at record levels and unemployment is rising relentlessly and, I fear, menacingly, and will certainly pass 3 million. Hardly a day goes by without new redundancies, as prestige firms in vital manufacturing industries throw more skilled workers into unemployment and undermine the country's wealth-creating capacity.
Ominously, the most recent surveys of business confidence--I refer this to the attention of the hon. Member for City of Chester (Mr. Brandreth) who mentioned the Confederation of British Industry--from the CBI and British chambers of commerce point to a further downturn in output, investment and job creation. All the signs are that the country is heading from recession into slump.
Just before the election, in the March Budget, the Government sought to paint a different scenario. In the budget we were told that growth would be 1 per cent. this year, and--it seems incredible that they were able to say so, but they did--that it would be 3 per cent. next year. They said that manufacturing output would rise to 4 per cent. by next year and forecast the balance of payments at £6.5 billion.
What are the forecasts now, six months after that election? According to the Treasury survey of independent
Column 307forecasters, growth will fall again by almost 1 per cent. and will not rise ; manufacturing output is expected not to rise but to fall by 1 per cent. ; and the balance of payments deficit is predicted to be £12 billion, which is almost double the predicted figure. That is in the middle of the worst recession since the war.
The Government have never realised that our economic success in the European Community--we have heard a lot about that from the Prime Minister and others--can only be achieved if we build a strong economy, based on manufacturing strength, investment, skills development and on Government partnership between industry and commerce. Nor have they realised that the Community can best recover from recession by co-ordinated policies for recovery, growth and jobs.
The United Kingdom presidency of the Community, which has about eight weeks to run, has been a disastrous missed opportunity. Why was the Birmingham summit not used to consider urgent Community-wide action to promote recovery and investment, instead of the Prime Minister's game of words over subsidiarity--a principle which he lauds for Europe but which he denies here?
I have a direct question for the Prime Minister : why did he refuse to put growth and jobs on the agenda for the Birmingham summit although he had been asked to do so by the Commission? [ Hon. Members :-- "Answer."] The Prime Minister can clear that up. I am told that the Commission asked for those subjects to be put on the agenda for the summit, but, if that were not the case, the Prime Minister can correct me.