Column 603price of salmon and has had a disastrous effect on our domestic industry in fish farming. As the European Union reference price for salmon is now taken as the benchmark for salmon prices, the industry should legitimately look for more effective action from the European Union if prices do not reach that benchmark. That, of course, depends on the willingness of the UK Government to press home the case for the industry.
The Government, however, should go further than that. They should also give their approval--I do not understand their reluctance--for the setting up of salmon producers' organisations in the UK and, for that matter, elsewhere in the European Union. To date, they have been notably lukewarm in their attitude towards that idea. They have displayed a distinct unwillingness to give statutory backing, which is needed for such producer organisations to be effective and if full use is to be made of the reference price mechanism. I hope that the Minister will address those very pressing regional concerns from that part of Scotland.
I wish now to look to the longer term development of the European Union and to what might happen, not least in the context of the 1996 intergovernmental conference and what will follow after that. Surely the European Union needs to become more democratic. I do not wish to ruin his day, but while I share some of the suspicions and anxieties of the hon. Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) that there is not enough democracy, and certainly not enough transparency, in the Union, he and I part ways when we wonder how best that can be addressed.
We would like to see more co-decision-making at a European level : in other words, decisions being moved away from the Council of Ministers, or the Council of the Union as it will become known, where sovereignty is pooled. We want more responsibility and authority to go to the European Parliament, for we believe that sovereignty is a more authentic representation of the peoples of Europe. We do not believe in ceding more power. It is not an argument about ceding more power to Brussels from Westminster. It is an argument about taking the power that Brussels already has and making it more transparent and accountable to its relevant democratic institutions.
Mr. Heald : I recently read the Liberal party document entitled "Making Europe Work" which states that this country would no longer have independent armed forces but would become part of a European integrated army. Majority voting would be used to govern it, and in a sense Mr. Delors would be in charge of the direction of important aspects of British defence and foreign policies. If that is not ceding power from this place to Europe, what is ?
Mr. Kennedy : The hon. Gentleman anticipates my next set of arguments. If one wants to talk about a more democratic Europe, one must flesh out what is meant in terms of its institutions. I was speaking about the existing
Column 604situation, the current powers of the European Union and the relative powers of the Council, the Parliament and the Commission.
Mr. Kennedy : I should first like to respond to the intervention by the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, North (Mr. Heald). I do not know whether he is the hon. Gentleman's hon. Friend on this issue, so perhaps I should say his nominal hon. Friend.
Existing powers should be made more democratic in the way that I have outlined. I am delighted to see that the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, North is reading our document. I shall make sure he is on our mailing list for the future. The hon. Gentleman properly looks at the long term. We take the view that, as the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir. E. Heath), the former Prime Minister, said, as we develop more coherent and concise economic and social policies, greater co-operation in areas such as defence and foreign policy will surely follow.
I part company with Margaret Thatcher's assessment of Bosnia. It is not that Bosnia proves that Europe cannot work ; it is proof positive that on defence and foreign policy issues Europe must work better and more successfully than it has done in the past. The only way to achieve that is to evolve institutions that can give practical effect to defence and foreign policy decisions. If we cannot influence matters within our own perimeter in terms of the former Yugoslavia, it is a poor day indeed. That is the longer term issue going beyond 1996. I shall deal with the veto in a moment.
Dr. Spink : I should like to question the hon. Gentleman on the veto. Will he confirm that it is Liberal Democrat and Labour policy to abandon the right of a veto in the Council of Ministers ? Is not that abandoning British sovereignty ?
Mr. Kennedy : The hon. Gentleman was commendably pro-European a few minutes ago, but he has obviously tried to row back towards the shores of the Treasury Bench and regain some of the good will that he may have used up with the Whips on this issue. The hon. Gentleman is wrong. What the Conservatives are doing, and will do increasingly when the European campaign proper gets under way next week, is portraying those of us who want more co-decision-making and co-operation at European level as people who are surrendering every last vestige of British interest.
We have not committed ourselves to the wholesale introduction of majority voting in the Council. For example, we are not recommending that for issues affecting common foreign and security policy, interior and judicial affairs or for Community matters such as economic policy where the Council acts like Cabinet Government. The distinction that must be made is in the document from which the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, North quoted. The document says that our Council voting commitment is to European Union legislative and not executive matters. The document makes that clear early on.
Mr. Heathcoat-Amory : How does the hon. Gentleman reconcile that with what the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) said in a speech to the congress of European Liberal Democrats and reform parties in December ? The right hon. Gentleman said :
"We want Ministers to make decisions without single nation vetoes."
Mr. Kennedy : I think that the Minister was present when the Foreign Secretary raised that issue in our European debate on the day that my right hon. Friend was delivering that speech at the ELDR congress on the south coast. The Minister would have heard the exchanges in that debate, but if he did not I shall flesh out exactly what there was no time to explain fully on that occasion. The Minister takes the ELDR commitment to mean that in theory the UK can be outvoted in the law-making process, but I think that he would be the first to acknowledge that that could happen only when four subsequent conditions were met.
The first condition would be when the UK failed to build the 23-vote qualified blocking minority out of 74 in the Council. We have 10 of our own. The second condition would be when the elaborate built-in consultation procedure failed to produce a compromise and the third is when the Commission refuses to withdraw the legislative proposal. The fourth is that the European Parliament wields an absolute majority of 284 votes against us, in which Parliament, of course, we will have 87 MEPs.
It would be a catastrophic failure of British diplomacy if with all those hurdles, following a proposal and an initial log jam or diplomatic difficulty, we could not find a compromise. As a former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup, made clear, the Foreign Office is in no position to lecture anyone on these matters, for the straightforward reason that it marched its troops to the top of the hill on the issue of qualified majority voting and had to turn them round. In an ignominious departure for British diplomacy, it had to march them swiftly down again precisely because the Foreign Office was not able to proceed in that way. All those qualifications are to deal with a Government who would be instinctively hostile to sitting at the table in the first place and discussing the issue. They do not apply to Governments who would adopt a much more positive approach.
Obviously there must be more decentralisation in developing the European Union. I was fascinated by the speech by the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore). He lambasted federalism without ever defining it. Subsidiarity now seems to be the name of the game and in the other member states it is seen as the flip side of federalism. Federalism is not a centralising, drawing in of power to Brussels but the decentralising of power down to the regions and nation states. The Government do not want to talk too much about that because they want subsidiarity to stop at the English channel and not be applied in the United Kingdom. That again distinguishes us from them.
We need a more diverse European Union that is wider but also deeper along the lines that I have outlined. If we are to take people with us, we will have to consider consulting them directly in the way mentioned by the hon. Member for Southend, East. As he knows, I voted for a referendum on Maastricht. I would do so again on the post-1996 intergovernmental conference--assuming that it reaches an agreement that represents a further major constitutional development for this country.
Column 606The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup spoke about the need for more explanation and that was echoed and reinforced by other hon. Members. The best way to take people with us is for all of us who are, broadly speaking, on the pro-European side, and who form a cross-party majority of five out of six in the House, to get on the stump together outside when it becomes relevant and necessary and to argue the case along the lines that I have outlined. I believe that, as in the mid-1970s, we would receive a resounding and clear-cut yes from the good sense of the British electorate.
Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham) : I am pleased to be able to take part in this thoughtful debate. It is thoughtful because of the sad events of last week, but it is none the worse for that. I congratulate the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) on his excellent maiden speech. It was not only unusual in that it was delivered within a week of his arrival but because it was delivered to a fairly full House. I am sure that he enjoyed speaking to such a full and distinguished Chamber.
The hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy) spoke of referendums. It is worth remembering that in 1975, Mr. Harold Wilson thought that it would be a good ploy to hold a referendum on whether the United Kingdom should remain part of the then Common Market, to get himself off the hook with the left wing of his party. Some people thought that that referendum was about Britain's entry to the Common Market but it was really about whether Britain should remain in it. As a lukewarm European at that time, I voted yes for two reasons. I thought that Britain's membership would be good, even essential for succeeding generations--for my children and grandchildren, if not for myself. My second and more insistent reason was the nature of the opposition to Britain remaining in the Community. That consisted of a bizarre coalition comprising Wilson's left wingers, most of the trade unions, a small but vociferous band--and they are still vociferous--of little Englanders in the Conservative party and the National Front. It seemed that anyone who espoused respectable and responsible politics--I was then chairman of Bexley constituency Conservative association--would vote yes, even if without great conviction or enthusiasm.
In a six-week campaign, the mainstream of each party urged a yes vote. The little Englanders suggested that if we escaped the clutches of the Community, food prices would magically fall and Britain would renew links with Commonwealth and EFTA countries as if nothing had happened in 1973. Even in 1975 that hypothesis was weak, and two thirds of people voted against the anti-European case.
If such a referendum had been held on the Maastricht treaty and its consequences, or were to be pledged and implemented on the outcome of the 1996 intergovernmental conference--the agenda for which will not be known for many months--I should have no difficulty voting again in a positive light. There can be no ambivalence as to the vital nature of our continuing membership of what has become the European Union. There can be no harking back to our historic economic links with the old Commonwealth. Canada, Australia and New Zealand all
Column 607want to weaken or finally to break their last notional ties with the United Kingdom, and large numbers of each country's population aspire to republic status.
Canada has formed new and logical relationships with the United States and Mexico through the North American Free Trade Agreement. I disagree with the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies), who is inclined to pooh-pooh blocs in general. NAFTA will stand up. Australia and New Zealand recognise that their future lies in sharing the prosperity of the Asia-Pacific nations with Hong Kong, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, Japan and China.
The suggestion that Britain might enjoy looser ties with Europe through an EFTA-type trading relationship has proven flawed by the enthusiasm of EFTA nations in their wish to join the European Union. Does anyone seriously believe that the remainder of the enlarged European Union nations--by then numbering 15--would allow the United Kingdom to retain and to enjoy the advantages of trading on the basis of the Single European Act while resigning its responsibilities for all other aspects of the Community ? I think not.
I share the aspiration of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to Britain playing a full part in the Union. One of the most important ways that the United Kingdom is already at the heart of Europe is in its status as an attractive location for the European headquarters of companies outside the European Union. The EU has a 344 million population and on the successful accession of the four aspirant nations, that figure will rise to more than 360 million. The Union is already the world's largest trading bloc, accounting for two fifths of world trade. It is no surprise that American, Japanese, Taiwanese and Korean companies want European bases that allow them to trade within the EU on the same terms as their European competitors. It is no coincidence that 40 per cent. of American and Japanese investment in Europe has come to the United Kingdom. In my constituency there is a major Australian insurance company headquarters employing 800 people ; American, German and Dutch companies ; and three Japanese company European headquarters. The latter were attracted to Gillingham by exploiting our unique relationship with Japan based on the "Shogun" story, because the English sailor who was the model for "Shogun" was born and brought up in my constituency. We have been able to exploit that by twinning with two Japanese cities.
In Kent generally, there are 200 foreign-owned companies from many countries. They include such important employers as Pfizer in Sandwich--for which I have the honour to be an adviser--with 2,500 high-grade research and development production jobs in the pharmaceutical industry. It is worth noting also that the American pharmaceutical industry has overwhelmingly located its European headquarters in this country. I caution that if we weaken our ties with Europe, such companies would think hard about maintaining their production facilities here. There is an over-supply of pharmaceutical production within Europe. There will be rationalisation, which--with the access that we ought to have through the European Medicines Evaluation Agency--should come to the UK, but it may not if we weaken our ties.
Foreign-owned companies choose Britain for their European headquarters for various reasons. We speak English, which is undoubtedly the first-choice international
Column 608language, and the first-choice second language for children to learn throughout the world. English is the language of commerce and industry, science and the air. Above all, it is the language of the United States, and we must hope that it remains so.
Our corporate taxation and, yes, individual taxation are more attractive than those of our European partners. Foreign investors are warmly welcomed and receive equality of treatment with British-owned firms. Foreign investors discover that we have a skilled and flexible work force, with an industrial relations record in recent years much better than that of many of our European competitors.
Contrary to the remarks by the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ms Quin), the fact that we have not signed up to the ruinous non-wage costs involved in the social chapter produces labour costs that are 40 per cent. lower than Germany ; 20 per cent. lower than Italy, France and Japan ; and 18 per cent. lower even than low-tax deregulated states. I do not notice my Taiwanese, Japanese and Hong Kong friends telling me that I must sign up to the social chapter.
Mr. Enright : I have heard those statistics before, and I am interested to know the formula by which the hon. Gentleman arrived at them. It is obviously complicated and he may not be able to explain it now, but if he will put the formula in writing to me, I shall be grateful.
As the City of London is vital as a financial market and has worldwide links, it is no surprise that foreign-owned companies choose the UK for their European base, but the City alone would not hold them here if we weakened our ties with Europe--let alone attract new investment. Our status as an enthusiastic and aggressive participant within the EU will allow us to attract investment, remain the maker of 50 per cent. of television sets in Europe, become a net exporter again of motor cars and maintain our position as one of the three or four most important research-based pharmaceutical industries in the world.
Our position at the centre of the Union will allow us to remain a great manufacturing and trading nation, whereas sitting on the fringes contemplating our navel clearly would not. My reasons for voting yes in 1975 probably were not so daft. The Opposition had a total lack of credibility. Our membership of the European Union will benefit my children and grandchildren. I should be just as right 20 years on to support our wholehearted membership of the Union in any referendum that might follow the agreements that we hope to be reached at the intergovernmental conference in 1996.
Mr. Giles Radice (Durham, North) : Apart from the remarks by the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman) about the social chapter, I much agreed with his vigorous defence of the European Union. It was somewhat unusual these days, coming as it did from the Conservative Benches, but I welcomed it.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) on his fine, vigorous and--dare I say ?--bold speech. I would certainly not have dared to make such a maiden speech. He will not be surprised to learn that I much appreciate the strength of his European
Column 609convictions. That, indeed, is part of the answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies), who was hoping for a change of fashion in the Labour party. I do not think that he will get it ; indeed, I believe that very soon there may be more anti- Europeans in the Privy Council than in the parliamentary Labour party.
I want to devote some of my speech to paying tribute to John Smith, whose tragic death shocked us all, and to his position as a European--for he was indeed a European. I first met him in 1962, at a young Ko"nigswinter conference in Berlin a few months after the wall went up. I have a snapshot, taken then, of Smith as a 24-year-old, looking all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, very much the rising young politician. I remember that we were all extremely impressed by his remarkable self-confidence and maturity. For both of us, Berlin was an important moment : it not only confirmed the evils of totalitarianism, but convinced both of us of the value and strength of the great European project and the necessity for Britain to be part of that project.
John Smith had a fine record as a convinced European. In 1971, he was one of the 69 Labour Members who voted--against the party whip--for British entry. For him that was a very big step, for John Smith was nothing if not a party loyalist. I think that the strength of his European convictions was demonstrated by the fact that, as a very ambitious young politician, he was prepared to put his career on the line.
In the mid-1980s, with my right hon. Friends the Members for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) and for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), John Smith played an important part in Labour's conversion to the main pro-European party in British politics. I might add that yesterday his support for British membership of the exchange rate mechanism, and for the principle of a single currency, was criticised--with his usual impeccable taste--by Lord Tebbit.
I know that John Smith had private doubts about the rate at which we went into the ERM. Certainly he did not discourage me when I said in the House, immediately after the decision, that we had entered at the wrong time, for the wrong reason and at the wrong rate ; and when the crisis came in 1992, he put the case for devaluation within the ERM rather than leaving it. It could be argued that that was the wrong choice, given what happened to the ERM in 1993. I note, however--along with, I believe, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) ; certainly it was some anti-European who spoke earlier--that since the introduction of the new flexible bands, the ERM has worked extremely well. I think that John Smith was right to argue for stable exchange rates : they are what business men want, and what my constituents want.
As for the single currency, John Smith saw it as the likely and desirable long-time concomitant of a single market--although not necessarily the inevitable consequence--but did not believe that it would come about without a far greater convergence of the national economies. Certainly it could not come about in the middle of a recession. I think that his position was consistent. All Opposition Members had to congratulate him on his handling of the Maastricht proceedings in the House : he kept his party together and harried the Government, yet
Column 610--as my right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney just complained--he never voted against an issue of principle, with the single exception of the social chapter. In that instance, the Government had opted out of the treaty. It was a very skilled performance by a very skilful politician and political leader. The principles behind John Smith's stance on Europe can be characterised thus. First, he believed passionately that Britain's destiny lay on the European continent. Britain, he thought, was now a medium-sized post-imperial power, linked to the continent not only by geography, history and culture but by economics, politics and security. More positively, he saw that the common market--the European Community, now the European Union--had made war impossible in our half of the continent.
Some speak as though this were just a question of the age-old quarrel between France and Germany ; but next year we shall celebrate the end of the war in which we were involved. Indeed, Britain was involved in two world wars, and Anglo-German antagonism was certainly an underlying factor in the outbreak of the first. I rejoice--both countries rejoice--in the fact that Britain and Germany are now partners in the European Union, and good allies too.
John Smith was also strongly in favour of the prosperity that the European market--the single market and the customs union--has brought to the continent. He thought that we could not afford to be left out of that. Hon. Members may talk of our balance of trade with the rest of the European Community, but the fact is that Germany is now our biggest single trading partner. We cannot be shut out of a market that contains our main partner : that is the reality that John Smith understood so well.
John Smith's second principle was that Britain had to be a positive member of the European Community, not a negative, carping member. He believed that the best way in which to secure British interests was to be positive rather than negative, whole-hearted rather than reluctant. His strategy--the strategy that I think Britain should adopt--was that we must win friends, build coalitions and gain concessions. We need not always opt out, oppose or try to block other countries from taking action, as we have done too often over the past 15 years.
Being positive means accepting, in many cases, that we must co-operate with our partners. A medium-sized European power like Britain cannot go it alone. Over foreign and security policy, we must get together with other countries. All right, Bosnia is a ghastly failure ; but that makes the case for better co-operation, rather than the case for no co-operation at all.
In some instances, we must integrate more with our partners. We integrate in the context of trade, competition policy and, for obvious reasons, the environment : the environment is an issue that spills over national boundaries. We also integrate in regard to aspects of social and labour policy, although there is an argument between the two Front Benches, and the two main parties, about the extent to which we should do so. I believe that, eventually, we should also integrate in terms of monetary policy, but that is an argument between a number of us.
We agree that we should have a more democratic European Union, but how we can achieve it is a different matter. We hear from the Conservative party that it is terrified of a centralised federal state, but a federal state is not centralised : that is the whole point. We are talking about power being devolved downwards.
I think that there should be more powers for the European Parliament, and more effective national scrutiny ; but subsidiarity does not stop at national boundary level. As John Smith said so often, power needs to be devolved downwards to the regions. That is a strong case, and the subject of a strong argument between the two Front Benches and the two parties.
Finally, we need a bigger European Union--an enlarged European Union. There is an important question for hon. Members who are always criticising the European Union. It must be a pretty odd club if it is so terrible that everyone wants to join it--four new members are about to do so. I see the hon. Member shaking his head, but he has not yet addressed that argument. I hope that the EFTAns will join us.
Mr. Cash : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. At a crucial moment in his speech, the hon. Gentleman appeared to point in my direction- -although he may have been pointing at someone else--and to suggest that, somehow or other, my hon. Friends and I oppose enlargement. I have checked and not one of my hon. Friends sitting next to or behind me indicated dissent.
Mr. Radice : I was saying not that the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash) opposes enlargement but that he had not addressed the argument. He criticises the European Union all the time, but it is a club that everyone wants to join.
I hope that enlargement is ensured, although it was endangered by the absurd and appalling diplomatic fiasco caused by the Government's policy on the blocking minority. They almost derailed the enlargement process because the Prime Minister was concerned about Conservative Back Benchers. We must make it our top priority to have Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia in the European Union. I agree with the hon. Member for Gillingham that that is important. Enlarging the Community will involve a number of changes, which some people have not faced up to. It will mean more majority voting, because a new Community with more members will work only with more majority voting. Those who argue for enlargement have to face up to that, but they do not.
The Government were right to raise the issue of the weighting of voting, but they chose the wrong time to do it. Again, changes will have to be made to European budgets if those other countries enter the European Union.
In an entirely non-partisan way--in the spirit of this debate--I look forward to the European elections. Having listened to the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East (Ms Quin), I am very confident that my party will fight the election as the main pro-European party in British politics, presenting a positive agenda agreed with its sister parties in Europe. That is a commendable innovation and I delight and rejoice in it. With respect to the Conservative party, I hope that it will also fight a
Column 612positive campaign without spending all its time looking over its shoulder at the so-called Euro-sceptics, many of whom are not sceptics but antis.
Mr. Radice : That may be untrue of the hon. Gentleman, but a number of his hon. Friends have told me that, once the European elections are over, they will come out in their true colours as anti-Europeans, although I hope that that will not happen.
The case for the European Union needs to be made by both major parties, which, of course, will have differences of emphasis on how the Union will develop. I was glad to hear the hon. Member for Stafford, who fought against me in 1979 in Chester-le-Street, advancing that argument. We cannot afford to be left out, left behind or to become even semi-detached. It is in Britain's interests that we are not only part of the European Union, but a positive part of it, not a reluctant part.
Being positive about the European Union is one of John Smith's legacies to my party. It is something that the Conservatives should heed as well.
Mr. Ray Whitney (Wycombe) : In harmony with the spirit of concord that survives in this place following the sad death of John Smith, I say that I am in broad agreement with the hon. Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice), just as he said that he was in broad agreement with the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman) ; that is a good place from which to start.
I join those who paid tribute to the impressive maiden speech of the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane). I hope that it will not offend the tradition of gentleness to the hon. Member who makes a maiden speech if I say that I know Rotherham fairly well--my wife's aunt taught Brian O'Malley at Mexborough grammar school--and that I did not recognise one or two of the hon. Gentleman's descriptions of the recent history of Rotherham. Perhaps we can compare notes over a drink on some other occasion.
This is an important juncture at which to consider the affairs of the European Union. We face the elections on 9 June and it is right that the parties, in the spirit of amity that prevails, should set out their stalls and offer to the British electorate their recipes for and concepts of the European Union. My right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) was right : the important thing is a high turnout, although we hope that the high turnout will be on the right side. A significant debate is being held nationally. A high turnout is important not only for the election next month, but so that Britain's contribution to the
intergovernmental conference in 1996 may be constructive and profound and may shape the development of the Union as we want it to. Opinions differ on how we should shape that development. We resile from many elements of the socialist manifesto, which the Labour party has signed. The attitude of the Liberal Democrats has a centralising thrust and deserves to be set before the British people so that they can be clear about it and can make their judgments. Some of the remarks of the hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy) deserve to be studied carefully and should be compared with those of the leader of his party and the contents of Liberal Democrats'
Column 613documents. Some interesting lessons may be drawn from that. I doubt whether some of those propositions will prove acceptable to the British electorate.
The Chamber and the nation should be debating those matters, not the two outdated propositions that have been around for two years, on which the debate has centred and which fail to understand what has happened in the world. The first proposition is that Britain should leave the European Community. The second, which is heard more often because there seems to be a reluctance among those who present it to support the first, is that we should form a revised free trade area. That proposition has been tackled by a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House but, for many years, it has not been relevant. As long ago as 1975, Baroness Thatcher said :
"The Community gives us a chance to influence world affairs. Britain's instincts have never been isolationist and membership of the Community enables us to play a full part in the counsels of Europe and a continuing role in the affairs of the world." That remains true today. As has been said, at a time when the former EFTA countries are clamouring to join the European Union, the idea of Britain moving back, seemingly alone, and re- creating a European free trade area does not bear a moment's examination. It is odd that that proposition should have been considered for more than a moment ; in fact, it has received two years' worth of intense attention from the media. It is baffling to people outside this country that two such untenable propositions should have been taken quite so seriously for quite so long, especially by people in the media who take themselves so seriously.
We are accustomed to the fact that some parts of the tabloid press suffer from the little England syndrome, and no one bats an eyelid at that. Most countries have their own home-grown chauvinists, but it is depressing that so much of our serious press has given house room to such outdated--indeed, dead--propositions. They have, of course, come from the stables of two non- British--one is tempted to say "colonial" but that would not be politically correct--newspaper owners, Mr. Murdoch and Mr. Black, who seem to have decided firmly that they do not want Britain to be at the heart of Europe and who use their press influence to that end, aided and abetted by people who I believe should know better, such as the editors of The Times and The Sunday Telegraph .
In a letter to the editor of The Times , whom I used to regard as a friend, I made so bold as to suggest that, since he took up his distinguished chair, he had expressed views that were
"negative, muddled and alarmingly out of touch with current European realities."
The letter was not published ; I suffered censorship at the hands of the letters editor. When I protested, I was told that the letter was a personal attack on the editor of The Times --which, in view of the usual content of editorials in that and other newspapers, struck me as strange.
The approach that I have outlined may be baffling, but I believe that it explains why two wholly outdated concepts have been given such an airing. I desperately hope that they have come to the end of the road and that we can now seriously debate how Britain should collaborate with our European partners.
The Conservative concept of the European Union is of a grouping of nation states that co-operate and collaborate
Column 614when it suits their interests to do so. Despite what has happened in the past two years, the latest poll by The Economist reveals that, when asked about their attitude to membership of the European Union, the British electorate consider it "a good thing" by a majority of two to one. Interestingly, that is the same result as in 1975, when the electorate voted for continuing membership. If they still hold that view after being subject to a barrage of comment, I am confident that, as we move into what I hope is a more constructive and positive phase of our relationship with our European partners, their understanding of where Britain's national interests lie will deepen.
I ask my hon. Friends and those outside who appear desperately frightened of membership of the European Community to have courage and to believe in this country. Very few people on the continent of Europe fear that they will lose their German-ness or their Frenchness because of their membership of the European Community. Mr. Se guin and Mr. Delors have two very different concepts of how they want the European Union to develop but neither believes that the Frenchness of France will be threatened by France's membership of it and--my goodness--I have not the slightest doubt that our country will preserve the essence of Britishness of which we should all be proud. I therefore call on some of my hon. Friends and other doubters in the two camps that I have described to have more courage and more national self-confidence.
I also remind such people of Britain's role and the contribution that we still have to make, of our long democratic history and our deep sensitivity to and understanding of how the world works. I do not want to make too much of it but I still believe passionately that we have a contribution to make. As the Foreign Secretary is fond of saying, we still have the ability to "punch above our weight", not only in military and defence matters but in diplomacy and world politics. One of the ways in which we have a contribution to make is through our relationship with the United States. I shall not mention the special relationship but it is important none the less. Ray Seitz, the recently retired American ambassador to Britain, is known to many hon. Members. No one would challenge his commitment to his country or his knowledge of Britain and the world. He said : "if Britain's voice is less influential in Paris or Bonn, it is likely to be less influential in Washington. So while Britain's role in the Union is indisputably complicating to our relationship, it is also indispensable to the relationship. And this is perhaps truer today than in the past when economic issues have come to define security as much as defense issues."
That, too, is something that we should all ponder.
Let us not deny or challenge the fact that it is right for Britain to be at the heart of Europe. We can now debate legitimately what type of Europe we should fashion. I am sure that the Conservative vision of Europe is the one that will appeal to the British people and respond to their instincts.
Mr. Derek Enright (Hemsworth) : John Smith's is a lively presence here tonight because it has informed much of what has been said. I mention in particular the fact that he was a sea of certainty here when I was beleaguered in Europe. We pro-Europeans in the European parliamentary Labour party felt that we were not wholly isolated at that time because of people such as John and my hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice) who spoke so well this evening.