Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Fabricant rose--

Mr. Cook: I give way for the last time.

Mr. Fabricant: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way to me for a second time. What experience does he have of negotiating outside his party? Does he not realise that one can negotiate only from strength? He will recall that he was prepared to roll over supinely in the 1980s on the deployment across Europe of the Soviet Union's SS20 missiles. Is not he rolling over supinely again when he says that he would give away our veto? What sort of sovereignty is that?

Mr. Cook: We are not giving away Britain's veto. The document from which the Foreign Secretary is fond of quoting specifically says that we will keep the veto on all major strategic issues. It arises naturally from the Foreign Secretary's speech that it was a Tory Government who

16 Nov 1995 : Column 152

took us in on the ground of qualified majority voting. Even more relevantly, it was this Tory Government who, by way of the single European market, introduced a massive extension of qualified majority voting. After that they can hardly accuse us of U-turns and pretend to be the people who support the veto.

On one issue the Government's criticisms of us are spot on, because we will indeed sign the social chapter. I concede to the Foreign Secretary that on that issue the Government are not absolutely isolated because the National Front in France agrees with their opposition to the social chapter. We shall sign up to it because we want the working people of Britain to have the same rights to information and consultation at work as working people on the continent, who often work for the same companies.

One of the familiar faces in our debates on foreign affairs which is sadly missing is that of Derek Enright. When we last debated Europe he observed that real sovereignty was about giving people power over their lives. That is why we are committed to the social chapter. May I offer the Foreign Secretary an invitation? I would welcome it if on every day from now until polling day he toured Britain telling the working people that Labour will sign the social chapter for the rights of working people and that the Government are determined to make sure that the working people of Britain get worse rights at work than those in any other country of the European Union. It would be even better if he coupled that advice to the electorate with the remarkable statement this week by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry that job insecurity is all in the mind. That statement will help to convince millions who are fearful for their jobs that it is not they who are out of their minds but Ministers.

I opened my speech by seeking the common ground between us. I shall close by trying to find the redeeming feature in the Gracious Speech. Perhaps the kindest thing that one can say about the Gracious Speech is that it will be the last one introduced by the Government.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Sir Nicholas Bonsor): No.

Mr. Cook: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would enlighten us as to when we will have the opportunity of getting rid of him and his colleagues. The Gracious Speech is so slim on ideas, so thin on new initiatives and so irrelevant to the real problems of Britain that any further Gracious Speech from this Administration would set new standards for minimalist literature. The best feature of the debate is that when it is repeated we may be debating a Labour Queen's Speech. That speech will put Britain on the road towards a competitive economy, based not on exploitation of lower wages, but on investment in high skills, and towards a just society that will outlaw poverty pay, give the long-term unemployed the opportunity of work and put us on the path to an open democracy that gives back to local people the powers that these Ministers have taken to themselves and to the thousands of clones with whom they have peopled this country's quangos.

We will offer a foreign policy based on our recognition that, just as the individual needs a strong community to give opportunity to the talented and protection to the vulnerable, so too each nation needs a healthy international community to provide it with opportunity to

16 Nov 1995 : Column 153

trade and security against threat, and we will seek alliances and partnerships in that international community rather than condemn Britain to stand in isolation.

That is the Gracious Speech that the House may have after the next opening of Parliament. What stands in its way is a bankrupt, broken-backed Government who this week have comprehensively revealed that they have no useful project left to justify clinging to office for a further year, denying the wishes of an electorate who are weary with them and who, at some point in the coming year, will demand that they go.

4.31 pm

Mr. David Howell (Guildford): Before coming to the enjoyable parts, or some parts, of the speeches that we have heard this afternoon, including the latest version of the Labour party's foreign policy, which seemed to have changed a little even since yesterday, I should like to revert to a less agreeable set of comments made by the Leader of the Opposition yesterday about the Gracious Speech. At one stage, he observed that one-nation Toryism was "dead" and that it was all "finished". I felt a bit uncomfortable there because I do not feel dead at all and I am chairman of the One-Nation Tories. He and his colleagues should understand a little more carefully and analyse in a more modern way what the one-nation spirit is about, as it is in the Tory party and perhaps abroad and in the Labour party as well.

The point that is not understood is that the common ground on which all politics is moving today, not just in this country but round the world, has shifted away from the assumptions of the old one-nation view and of the moderate, less socialist wing of the Labour party that the answer to the nation's unity and security--the "one nationness"--was to be found through high welfare spending, universal social provision, high taxation and a heavy role by the Government to underpin it. Country after country and party after party have found that such collectivism is inefficient and, in the end, does not work. Where it was applied in extreme forms in the former communist countries, it collapsed under its own weight, as it has everywhere else.

If the Leader of the Opposition is to join the One Nation--he is welcome to do so if he wants--he should understand that the unifying forces of the modern nation are new, different and do not equate with the simplicities of just spending more of other people's money and of hanging on to the inefficiencies of a welfare state that has failed to provide security and strong family life, which exist in many modern states that do not have anything like the social security provision and extensive administration and bureaucracy behind them that we, in the past 40 or 50 years, have built up for good reasons, but in an increasingly inefficient way. It is time, therefore, for some new thinking from the Leader of the Opposition when he talks about one nation, and I would be glad to give him a tutorial if he would like to make the application.

The other sector that depressed me yesterday, although I was a little more cheered up by the speech of the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), the shadow Foreign Secretary, involved all the talk about Britain's interests. There was much talk about that yesterday and today and many good and clear analytical observations were made

16 Nov 1995 : Column 154

today by my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary, but yesterday, as opposed to today, every time the Leader of the Opposition talked about interests, he seemed to have just one sector in mind: our interests in Europe. There has been a lot of talk about that again today. It is Britain's destiny to be in the European Union.

I do not disagree for one second with the vast importance of the single market. The much-criticised Tory Government of the 1980s spent a great deal of time taking the lead--not being anti-European--in creating that single market. We worked in Brussels, in various committees and engaged in endless negotiations and the same occurred in the 1970s. As I have said, I am not against parts of the great single market. I want to see it enlarged and completed, which it is far from being now.

But I ask the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Foreign Secretary to stop and analyse a little more carefully the real interests of this country. Of course, there is the security interest and we have debated that today. However, the interests of British people in terms of welfare and jobs are to be found in two elements that have not been mentioned by the Leader of the Opposition or the shadow Foreign Secretary. First, there is the size of our gigantic owned capital assets--assets owned by this country around the world. One's interests are one's assets. That is common sense. Britain is a huge investor around the world. We are in the super league, second only to the United States.

Secondly, there is the amount of investment that others are prepared to make in Britain. Those are the primary interests. Trade follows not just from talking about things but from capital assets. Investment, direct and portfolio, goes in first and trade follows. If we want to see how interests are pursued, we should look at yesterday's Financial Times to see how the Japanese are redeveloping their interests by placing vast assets and direct investments around Asia and becoming involved successfully in the huge and booming markets of that area. We want to understand what our assets are and where they are.

I want to emphasise strongly that 80 per cent. of the vast ownership and assets of this nation are not in Europe. Half of them are in the United States and about a third are in countries of the Commonwealth and the emerging markets. The earnings that flow from them are colossal. In fact, our invisible earnings exceed our entire manufactured export earnings and are nearly as big as all our visible earnings put together. About four fifths of those earnings flow from outside the European Union and a little more than a third come from the countries that are currently members of the Commonwealth.

So is not it a little extraordinary that when we talk about interests, the suggestion is that it is all about getting our position straight with the rest of Europe? Of course that is important because Europe is moving rapidly. On a whole range of issues with which I shall deal later, what was isolation yesterday is not isolation today. I should have liked to hear more yesterday from the Leader of the Opposition about this country's real assets and how they are to be furthered. I was pleased that the shadow Foreign Secretary seemed to have moved a few notches back in that direction. He had a great deal to say about the Commonwealth generally and he even said a little about the Commonwealth as a useful network for the prosperity and interests of this country.

16 Nov 1995 : Column 155

The Commonwealth has been hijacked by the headlines in recent weeks with the discussions about the French nuclear tests, about which the Leader of the Opposition had a great deal to say, and, more recently, the discussion about the horrific killing of Ken Saro-Wiwa and others in Nigeria. Despite that, the Commonwealth is an important part of furthering the future interests of this country. It is time that policymakers in all parties, certainly in Whitehall, spent a little more time understanding the interests of this country outside Europe as well as within it and how those interests can be furthered and strengthened by using the Commonwealth network as a resource.

The Commonwealth is not just a gathering of people with high-sounding rhetoric, which was exemplified at the Heads of Government meeting, but is a criss-cross network of a common working language--English--of business, trade, investment, culture and a variety of connections. It is trans-regional and is not another trade bloc. As other hon. Members have said, it contains a series of the world's fastest-growing markets and economies.

It is not the old Commonwealth of the begging bowl or even the Britain bashers. I concede that there was some Britain bashing over the French tests, but they were wrong and we were right. Nowadays, it is a Commonwealth that contains some of the most dynamic and fast-growing movements of internationally mobile capital, not only from Britain outwards or back to Britain but between, for example, Malaysia and Hong Kong, Malaysia and Australia, Australia and India and Australia and Africa. They are all areas where huge amounts of business are growing, where lively British businesses are getting involved and where we have vast interests to protect and encourage. Those interests are also worth a word or two when the shadow Foreign Secretary talks about the interests of this country.

It is not all that easy to get figures from politicians, and certainly not from Whitehall, about what our interests really are. In passing, it might amuse colleagues to know that when the Foreign Affairs Select Committee tried to examine the possibilities of the new Commonwealth as a resource, it sought to obtain specific briefing from officialdom, but we were told that officials were unable to obtain any Commonwealth-specific briefing in advance from the Foreign Office and that it would be provided by the post in each country.

It is time for all who take seriously this country's interests--I include the shadow Foreign Secretary, my right hon. and hon. Friends and high officials in Whitehall--to examine a little more carefully what is happening in the world of internationally mobile capital where our assets now are and from where our vast earnings now come, which enable us to deal with domestic spending or tax cuts or anything else. We shall no doubt be talking about that next week in the Budget debate.

The second point which I regret did not feature in the shadow Foreign Secretary's speech is why and how it all works. Much of the gigantic international capital movement, which is of such great interest to everyone in this country, is driven by the financial machine in the City of London. I must declare that I have a general interest in that sphere.

16 Nov 1995 : Column 156

To listen to Opposition spokesmen, one would have thought--I suspect that we shall hear more of the same in the Budget debate next week--that the City of London's financial machine was on the whole an outfit to be constrained, criticised and regarded with suspicion, rather than one of the building bricks of this country's prosperity and earnings. The fact is that 23 per cent. of our national income comes from invisible earnings and from financial services-related earnings, and 48 per cent. of all our earnings comes from invisibles which, as I said, are well above our earnings from manufactured exports.

The truth that we never hear from Opposition politicians, although I hope that they will learn a little more about it, is that the much-criticised financial machine in the City of London has the largest market share of financial services across the globe, including Asia and the Commonwealth countries, including Africa. It has from 27 per cent. up to 81 per cent. of the market share of the various financial services. It ranges from selling Eurobonds, arranging mergers and acquisitions and managing the funds of the great savings nations of Asia. They are the ones that will call the tune. We manage their funds in London.

The City of London has 500 banks and it is the heart of Europe. It is the heart of the new global financial system. Some people claim that we are being marginalised and isolated, but the Leader of the Opposition does not have a clue about what has happened in the real financial world that drives our exports and imports. He does not seem to be aware that, far from being isolated, London is the very heart of the system. German banks are running to get office space in London, not in Frankfurt. Banks from every corner of the globe are doing the same because London is the heart of the system.

We have acquired, almost in a fit of absent-mindedness, a new empire of financial power and financial services that gives us a colossal global reach. While we are at the heart of Europe, we want to balance our position against our other interests round the world.

I do not deny for a moment that the European Union is important to us. We have to decide how we should handle it. The Opposition spokesman's witty speech about the dangers of isolation is all good fun, but it does not connect with where we stand and what our interests are. The problem with the European Union today is not that we shall be isolated in it, but that it will endanger the things which I have described and which are bringing to this country £108 billion a year in invisible earnings, enabling our exports to rush into some of the new and most exciting markets in the world, and linking us to India, Australasia, south-east Asia, the Pacific rim countries and even new countries that are not yet on the financial map. In this regard, Israel will emerge as a middle eastern tiger. They are the new areas where we shall make our money and help our people.

The danger is that we shall let the European Union, through over-ambition and too much unnecessary centralisation, dictate everything and undermine all that we have gained and are gaining in the new global environment. We should not let the European Union centralise our detailed social policy. The Opposition spokesman should realise that that is not a matter of sovereignty, at least not in my book, or chauvinism; it is a belief that social policy should be sensitive and focused as near the shop floor as possible.

16 Nov 1995 : Column 157

I urge on my colleagues one important message about the forthcoming intergovernmental conference. I hope that we shall not accept the view that if we lie low and do nothing, everyone else will disagree and there will a minimalist result. That would be a mistake and a lost opportunity. I am not saying what the federalists are saying--that it is a pity that there is so little agreement and that there cannot be a great leap towards a federalist and closed European system. That is anathema to me, but let us not imagine that the alternative is merely to do nothing. Doing nothing is quite dangerous and could easily lead to various developments that would undermine the true strength of our position, as I have tried to describe it to the House.

We need to be a good deal more than minimal and to put forward our own agenda to do two things. First, we need to preserve the European Union for which I have spent much of my life fighting, in the House and outside, and prevent it being divided by over-ambitious federalism. Secondly, we must ensure that it does not weaken the new global system, which will allow a place for trade blocs but which must not be dominated by trade blocism to the exclusion of world free trade.

Next Section

IndexHome Page