Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. MacShane: Is that all?

Mr. Rifkind: I can understand the hon. Gentleman's disappointment that it has not happened more often, but if he waits a few more years, he will no doubt find that they will change their minds again and again.

16 Nov 1995 : Column 141

Now the Labour party leaders have all the zeal of a convert. Having tried to force us out of the European Union, they have lurched to the opposite extreme and support the elimination of the veto in regional, social, environmental and industrial policy. In each of those sectors, they are willing to see policies imposed on this country even if they, as a future British Government, were opposed to them. The Opposition are prepared to see themselves outvoted in those sectors, and to see measures imposed that could be harmful, in their own future estimate, to British jobs and British prosperity.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South): The Foreign Secretary mentioned the Europe that the Opposition want. Is it not true that the Europe we have cannot change because of three treaties that his party signed without an electoral mandate? In respect of economic and monetary union, to which his Government have given allegiance in possible principle and in economic practice for the next few years on the formula, why is convergence related only to Government accounting and not to the economies of all the countries in all their facets? Why is it so limited in effect?

Mr. Rifkind: I do not have enough time to give the answer that that question clearly deserves. The hon. Gentleman refers to the economic convergence criteria relating to economic and monetary union. The Prime Minister and the British Government have said that we will not prejudge that matter. The interests of the United Kingdom will be the basis on which we shall come to a decision. That is right and proper.

Mr. Radice: Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Rifkind: I must give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Radice: Does the Foreign Secretary agree with the comment of the hon. Member for Aldershot (Sir J. Critchley) that the Conservatives are now an unattractive blend of nationalists, populists and little Englanders?

Mr. Rifkind: No, I do not.

Even worse, in terms of the Labour party's position, is its promise to roll over and to accept any European Union measure in respect of which we have a permanent opt-out. I refer the hon. Member for Livingston to his speech at the Labour party conference. He sought to reassure his hearers there, and the British public, that the Labour party would protect British interests. What he did not reveal were the contents of a document published on the same day by the Labour party. In that document, the Labour party said explicitly, "we reject permanent opt-outs". That is a significant statement to which not enough attention has been paid.

First, if the other countries of the Union knew that a Labour Government would eventually accept that Britain must participate in a proposal of integration, however damaging to British interests, that would gravely undermine the negotiating position of any future Labour Foreign Secretary. Secondly, the Labour policy document confirms that the only doubt about Labour and monetary union--or the Schengen proposals, the abolition of frontier controls and other such matters--is not whether a

16 Nov 1995 : Column 142

Labour Government would succumb to such a proposition, but when. If permanent opt-outs are forbidden, that is the only conclusion one can draw.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): When all the dust has settled on the question of the Common Market and the people out there have to make a decision based not on crystal ball gazing but on the facts, they will find that, in the 1970s, a Tory Government took us into the Common Market, and the Labour party opposed it; in the 1980s, it was Lady Thatcher who took us into the Single European Act with a guillotine that gagged Members of Parliament speaking against it; and in the 1990s, it was the present Government who signed the Maastricht treaty, and once again the Labour party opposed it. It was that lousy, rotten Government who got us more embedded into the Common Market and, whatever reservations there might be now, it was the Labour party that voted solidly against. Those are the facts.

Mr. Rifkind: The hon. Gentleman says that his party voted solidly against those proposals. He does not point out that the Labour party is very apologetic about that now, admits that it was wrong, and says that it wishes to take progress even further. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to be seen as the great man of principle that he normally presents himself as, surely he should be directing his criticism to his own Front Benchers. He should not continue the shameful habit of adopting the uncharacteristic pose of a Trappist monk until the election is over, and then, no doubt, resuming his criticisms of his own colleagues. It is an uncharacteristic pose for the hon. Gentleman and does not conform well to his self-image of a man of principle. He should realise that.

The Leader of the Opposition recently wrote an article in the Evening Standard under the title:

That symbolises Labour's attitude towards foreign policy. Its cardinal error in foreign policy is to confuse being liked with being successful--to believe that the purpose of foreign policy is to please other Governments. Sadly, it is not always possible to achieve both popularity and success, and a Conservative Government would give priority to the latter.

Britain should be grateful that the Leader of the Opposition was not in power for the past 16 years. We had to accept total isolation in the European Union in order to negotiate the rebate that my right hon. Friend Lady Thatcher obtained on behalf of the people of the United Kingdom. We are told that a Labour Government would not have been prepared to accept the unpopularity and isolation that was necessary to bring that about.

The pathetic attempts of the Leader of the Opposition to convince the Confederation of British Industry that the social chapter would be safe in Labour hands beggar belief. The Leader of the Opposition went to the CBI and sought to reassure its members. Let me conclude my remarks by quoting the Leader of the Opposition's words. He said to the CBI:

wait a moment--

    "is that by being part of it we may in future agree to the import of inefficient practices to Britain. A Labour government will not pursue such a course. Each piece of legislation will be judged on its merits. I have no intention whatever of agreeing to anything and everything that emerges from the European Union."

16 Nov 1995 : Column 143

Those are fine words--I am sure that they were meant to sound a reassuring note--but for one thing. The Leader of the Opposition does not know, or omitted to inform the CBI, that once one accepts the social chapter, one is bound by the fact that most of the social chapter proposals are subject to qualified majority vote. It does not matter whether a Labour Government believe that the proposals would be right or wrong; they would be overruled by a majority of other countries.

If Opposition Members say to me, "Yes, but some parts of the social chapter do require unanimity," I agree; but the Labour party has committed itself to eliminating the veto in exactly those parts, because it has said that the veto will be removed from all aspects of social policy, so there is a basic dishonesty in what the Leader of the Opposition said to the CBI a couple of days ago.

I invite the hon. Member for Livingston to explain that discrepancy. How can the Leader of the Opposition say to the CBI that a Labour Government can guarantee that policies harmful to Britain in respect of the social chapter would not be implemented, when he knows perfectly well that a Labour Government might be outvoted by other members of the European Union? That is a typical example of the Leader of the Opposition making comforting noises to every audience that he speaks to when the Labour party has entered into policy commitments that fly in the face of those assurances.

I shall conclude my speech by saying a few words to the hon. Member for Livingston. He has a personal record of having been wrong on the policies of nuclear defence, on the crude anti-Americanism that characterised the Labour party for so many years and on his hostility to our membership of the European Union. I hope that, when he comes to the Dispatch Box, he will at least begin by acknowledging that he speaks from one of the weakest positions that a shadow Foreign Secretary could hope to occupy.

The hon. Gentleman might show at least some remorse that, if the policies that he and his hon. Friends proposed had been carried out during the past 15 years, the destiny, security and well-being of the country would have been very poor indeed. The hon. Gentleman owes that to the House and to the whole country.

3.53 pm

Mr. Robin Cook (Livingston): The Foreign Secretary is, by profession, an advocate. The conclusion to his speech demonstrated that pearl of advice to all practising advocates--"When you don't have a case, abuse the other side's advocate." I shall come back to some of the things that the hon. Gentleman said--I shall not call him the right hon. Gentleman in this context following his last remarks. I shall return to the hon. Member's references to me and my party and to the issues that divide us later, but I shall begin by recalling a more dignified Foreign Secretary, his predecessor, who yesterday made a characteristically graceful speech, in which he enjoined us to avoid

That part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech appears to have passed over the head of his successor.

In the spirit of this advice, however, let me begin with the issues that do not divide us and can unite us. In the light of the tragic assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, let me

16 Nov 1995 : Column 144

commence by expressing our support for the reference in the Gracious Speech to maintaining support for the middle east peace process. The whole House condemns the conspiracy that sought to achieve by the bullet political objectives that could not be achieved by the ballot. There is no doubt that those involved in the conspiracy may have calculated that such an event would give rise to chaos and confusion, and that in the ensuing political turmoil the peace process could be derailed. It is to the credit of the peoples of Israel and Palestine that they have responded to the outrage with dignity and restraint. The result may be to strengthen, not weaken, the peace process, because it has exposed those who are most opposed to peace as the end as the very people who are most prepared to use violence as the means.

The other peace process at a critical phase, also referred to in the Gracious Speech, turns on the negotiations in Dayton, Ohio on the former Yugoslavia. The whole House wants a successful conclusion to those talks. I have just spent a fortnight in Washington and New York. I regret the fact that the follow-up to the talks has already become a matter of partisan warfare between the Congress and Administration of the United States. I invite those in Congress who are already making statements about how they will behave after the conclusion of those talks to have some regard to how their words impact on the talks now.

I must tell the Foreign Secretary, despite his roundly abusing us, that the Government will have our full support for any measures that they feel appropriate for Britain to contribute to make the peace settlement work. We shall judge the outcome of the talks on the extent to which they provide for the restoration of multi-ethnic societies in the former Yugoslavia, and the restoration of pluralist political processes. Critical to that must be the preservation of Bosnia as a single state, rather than its partition into multiple ethnic statelets. Also critical are the right of refugees to return to their homes and the prosecution before the international tribunal of those who have been indicted for war crimes.

It is worrying that, this week, President Tudjman has chosen to promote an officer the day after he was indicted before the international war crimes tribunal. That raises the anxiety that those carrying out the negotiations do not yet understand that there can be no reconciliation in the former Yugoslavia unless there is no impunity for war criminals. The tragedy of the former Yugoslavia is that the nationalist leaders promised their peoples that they were going to take their countries into a post-communist Europe; yet the endless arguments in Dayton over every mile of border between the countries belong not to a post-communist Europe but to the pre-communist Europe of the turn of the century. If the leaders of these countries really want to take their people into modern Europe, they must recognise that modern Europe is based not on putting up new borders between nations but on bringing down barriers between communities.

Finally on the balance sheet of agreement, I assure the Foreign Secretary that we share fully the objectives set out in the Gracious Speech to ensure a smooth transition of Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty in 1997. There are fewer than 600 days until the point of transfer and in that time frame we will judge the record of this Administration and of Governor Patten, not on how much more can be achieved in the last few months before the sands run out, but on how we can ensure that the reforms that have been introduced in Hong Kong are entrenched to survive our

16 Nov 1995 : Column 145

departure as a colonial power. Of particular importance is a smooth transition for the Legislative Council and for the Bill of Rights. Although 1997 will see Britain give up its sovereignty over Hong Kong, it must not see Britain give up its interest in Hong Kong.

The Gracious Speech has managed to carry us further in agreement than I anticipated. Before I turn to the various areas of controversy in the Gracious Speech, I shall deal with a curious omission from that speech and from the speech of the Foreign Secretary this afternoon. The omission is all the more curious as the Gracious Speech is supposed to set out the work of Parliament in the forthcoming year. I refer to an issue that I suspect will give rise to some of the most heated debates that we shall see in Parliament this Session.

Although it is not in the Gracious Speech, I very much hope that we can look forward to receiving the Scott report on arms to Iraq some time this Session. We have not received it in three parliamentary Sessions and I hope that a fourth Session will not pass without its release.

Next Section

IndexHome Page