Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East): I would not wish to take away from any of the efforts made on the trade side, but I am concerned that my constituents feel that they are not served well by our embassies and high commissions in cases of child abduction. For example, I have a case in my constituency in which the people have been told that they must deal with the Scottish courts administration and the police of the other country involved. My constituents do not feel that, although they are British citizens and have a child who is a British citizen, they are being well served. It seems that our embassies are pushing more for trade and becoming less involved in looking after the British citizen.

Mr. Rifkind: I think that the hon. Gentleman is being unfair. Our consular representatives do all in their power,

16 Nov 1995 : Column 138

but he must appreciate that legal disputes involving families and children are ultimately matters that the courts alone can determine. It is unreasonable to expect embassies or consular officials to do other than be as helpful as they possibly can when dealing with such problems.

I have made it clear that revitalising the transatlantic partnership is not a substitute for Britain playing her proper part in Europe. Britain's future prosperity and security do not command such an artificial choice. Few hon. Members doubt that the future of the United Kingdom lies in the European Union. In an increasingly competitive world, European countries must co-operate if their voice in world affairs is to be heard and their companies are to prosper and provide jobs. Beyond that basic premise lies the question of what sort of Europe we want--what sort of Europe is right for Britain. We shall be motivated by the interests of the United Kingdom. That is a matter not of blinkered self-interest but of the Government's inescapable obligation to their people, and it is a reflection of the principle that a voluntary association will not prosper unless it balances the interests of all its members.

We recognise the benefits that the European Union continues to bring to us, but we want to make it work better. That will be very relevant to next year's intergovernmental conference. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made it clear that we shall support moves towards a union which is fairer, more flexible and more relevant to ordinary people through more effective co-operation in areas such as foreign and security policy and the fight against crime.

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham): Is the Foreign Secretary aware that the perception of Britain in Europe is of a Government no longer interested in participating fully? After that vile, xenophobic, chauvinistic, ranting speech from the right hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Protillo), the Secretary of State for Defence, which is well known and much commented on all over Europe, no British Government containing him in their ranks can be taken seriously on any European question.

Mr. Rifkind: Although I am sure that the hon. Gentleman feels better for having got that off his chest, it bears very little relevance to the issues before us. [Hon. Members: "Yes it does."] No it does not. The issue at stake is whether a Conservative Government or a Labour Government would fight to protect British interests, and be prepared if necessary to be unpopular and to be isolated, if the protection of British interests required that. That is the crucial question that needs to be addressed.

Several hon. Members rose--

Mr. Rifkind: I must make progress.

What we cannot and will not accept are proposals for a more centralised Union. The Prime Minister has made it clear that we shall oppose further extension of qualified majority voting. Unanimity has been retained in the treaty for a number of highly sensitive issues, such as treaty change, foreign policy, and new community resources, for which it would be quite inappropriate to take decisions by majority vote.

My hon. Friend the Member for Boothferry (Mr. Davis) has put British views very firmly and clearly during meetings of the reflection group in which he takes part. I

16 Nov 1995 : Column 139

believe that that is making an important contribution to a wider understanding of what is appropriate for the intergovernmental conference.

Mr. Phil Gallie (Ayr): Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that, in Europe, there is a feeling that, perhaps for Europeans across the board, there would be some advantage in having a Labour Government? Is it not a fact that they see the Labour party carrying the white flag on British interest in Europe?

Mr. Rifkind: I agree with my hon. Friend. There is undoubtedly a school of thought that some parts of Europe would like to wait until the next general election. Of course they would have to wait a lot longer than that if they were looking for a Labour Government who would roll over at the first appropriate moment.

Mr. Giles Radice (North Durham): Will the Foreign Secretary give way?

Mr. Rifkind: I must make progress. Many hon. Members wish to speak. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be called at the appropriate time.

I should like to comment specifically on the proposals for the Western European Union. Of course we wish to see and have, indeed, taken the lead in promoting, specific proposals for closer co-operation between the WEU and the European Union on defence matters. However, we shall not support the subordination or integration of one treaty-based organisation with another treaty-based organisation which has different membership.

It is quite absurd to contemplate that the European Council, which includes four neutral countries--Sweden, Ireland, Finland and Austria--should take part in decisions involving the use of armed forces in respect of the WEU, of which they are not treaty members and when countries such as Norway and Turkey, which are associate members of the WEU, have no voice in the European Council. I appeal to our European colleagues who have aspirations for an integrated relationship with the European Council to realise that, while that might in theory be possible if the membership of the two organisations were identical, it does not make sense as long as we have neutral countries that do not participate in collective responsibility.

Mr. Andrew Macldnlay (Thurrock): I have sought clarification from Ministers on this matter before, but have not received answers. Are there circumstances in which a member state of the European Union could suffer external aggression and it not be deemed to be aggression against the whole Union? Does it not go to the heart of the treaty that, if one state were invaded, it would be considered an attack on the whole union, particularly given that we now have citizenship of the whole European Union?

Mr. Rifkind: The European Union is not a defence and security organisation. It cannot defend the citizens of its member states. For that, we must look to both NATO and the WEU, especially NATO. That is the political reality and we would be foolish to ignore it.

Having considered a number of important issues, I shall now identify what I believe to be growing differences in a number of important respects between the Government and the Opposition with regard to the foreign policy needs of our country. The Opposition would have us believe that

16 Nov 1995 : Column 140

a Labour Government would give Britain new influence and leadership in the world. Well, the truth of the matter is that, since Bevin--I pay tribute to Ernest Bevin again--Labour has been wrong on all the major foreign policy issues. It was unilateralist and hostile to reinforcing NATO when we faced the nuclear might of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw pact. Crude anti-Americanism was the order of the day. The Leader of the Opposition, the shadow Foreign Secretary and the shadow Defence Secretary were unashamed members of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament under the leadership of Michael Foot. They were hostile to the proposed deployment of cruise and Pershing and, had their advice been accepted, the Soviet Union would have taken years longer to collapse.

Now that the cold war is over and Russia is a friend, Labour asks us to believe that it has become a sincere convert to Trident and Britain's position on nuclear weapons. It is a most extraordinary conversion, to be opposed to nuclear weapons during the cold war and in favour of them once it is behind us. It is symbolic of the cynical opportunism of the Labour party that it was against nuclear weapons at the height of the cold war and in favour of them once Conservative Governments in Britain and the United States had been successful in bringing the cold war to an end. I look forward to hearing the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) explain that extraordinary conversion. Perhaps he will have the humility to confess that he, the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Defence Secretary were fundamentally wrong to argue for many years in favour of a policy which they now profess to disown and which they say is of disservice to the interests of this country.

Mr. Radice: Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Rifkind: No, not at the moment.

The so-called "conversion" is, however, populist and skin deep. It is populist because the Labour party leaders realise that the British electorate will never vote for a unilateralist Labour party. That is the true reason for the change. It is skin deep because they showed their true anti-nuclear colours, as we heard a few moments ago, by joining the pack denouncing France for its final series of nuclear tests.

I said that the Labour party has been wrong on all the major foreign policy issues. Nowhere has that been more true than on Europe. Both the Leader of the Opposition and the hon. Member for Livingston were against our membership of the European Community. We recall how the Leader of the Opposition said, in 1983, that they would negotiate withdrawal from the EEC, which had drained our natural resources and destroyed jobs. A year later, the hon. Member for Livingston said that many Labour voters, including himself, were still unconvinced that it was a good idea to join the Common Market in the first place. They are now the leaders of a party that has changed its policy on the European Community no fewer than six times in the past 30 years.

Next Section

IndexHome Page