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Mr. Cook: The hon. Gentleman anticipates what I shall say later, because one of the things that those of us who have gone to Europe have learnt is that there is also a change of opinion in Europe. As it happens, when I first went to Europe, the first European politician I met was Lionel Jospin. In retrospect, that appears to have been a shrewd investment, because a Europe once dominated by the right is now dominated by the centre left. When we enter the Amsterdam summit, there will be nine Prime Ministers there from parties of the left and of the centre left.

I know that Conservative Members find the concept of a sister party strange; they have none, and none is queuing up to fill that role on the continent. The National Front of France is the only party on the continent that shares the Conservatives' opposition to the social chapter, repeated in today's amendment. Let me help them with that concept.

We do not share a programme with the parties of the left and of the centre left in Europe: we are different parties, in different countries, with different electorates. Unsurprisingly, therefore, we have different policies. However, we have shared values of fairness, democracy and opportunity. We have a common approach to international relations, based on co-operation rather than isolation. Above all, we have a common priority in recognising that at present, the No. 1 priority of the Governments of Europe must be to tackle the mass unemployment that has left 18 million out of work in Europe and 9 million in deep social exclusion.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) rose--

Mr. William Cash (Stone) rose--

Mr. Cook: I give way to the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), because the sooner we deal with his intervention, the better.

Mr. Cash: Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with Mr. Jospin about the stability pact?

Mr. Cook: Mr. Jospin has expressed a view today at ECOFIN, and the view expressed at ECOFIN on behalf of the Labour Government was a view put forward by the

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Chancellor of the Exchequer. At that meeting, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has emphasised that ECOFIN must now put growth and employment first, and his proposal--a five-point package to put jobs at the head of ECOFIN's agenda--has this afternoon been agreed by ECOFIN and will be included in the conclusions of the Amsterdam summit.

The past few weeks have changed the colour of Europe politically, which means that the new Labour Government have allies. That successful initiative also shows that new Labour can take the opportunity to provide leadership in Europe.

I welcome the fact that the former Prime Minister will respond to this debate. May I remind him that in the last election he authorised a newspaper advertisement that lampooned Chancellor Kohl and the present Prime Minister as a ventriloquist and his dummy? We understand now that it was drafted on the back of an envelope by the former Deputy Prime Minister and is therefore of a piece with many of the last Government's policies. It will not have escaped the former Prime Minister that, last Friday, the Prime Minister met Chancellor Kohl. None of the press reports of that meeting portrayed the Prime Minister of Great Britain as a puppet. On the contrary, they all said that he spoke with at least equal authority to Chancellor Kohl and possibly with a little more confidence that he will still be around in the long run. Even the German newspapers reported the Prime Minister of Great Britain as a rival to Chancellor Kohl for leadership of Europe.

That press advertisement demeaned not just the former Prime Minister's opponent in the general election but the leader of another major European country. It was one of the lowest points of the election campaign. It was all the more irresponsible because, we learn today, by then the former Prime Minister knew that the game was up and the election was lost. I do not invite him to apologise when he rises to speak from the Dispatch Box. To demand that he apologises would be confrontational and New Labour is not into confrontation. However, I should like to tempt him, in these his swan song days, at least to admit that he would have welcomed the opportunity to speak to Chancellor Kohl with at least the same authority, without constantly being undermined by the knowledge that it would provoke division on his Back Benches.

Another change occurred in the past few weeks within Europe. It was anticipated by the hon. Member for Louth and Horncastle (Sir P. Tapsell) in his intervention. In the past five weeks, I have had bilateral meetings with every Foreign Minister of the other member states. I spent three days in talks with those Foreign Ministers and sat through the summit of Prime Ministers at Noordwijk.

I can report to the House that there is a deep hunger in Europe for an agenda that puts the institutions of Europe back in touch with the peoples of Europe. There is a growing impatience with an agenda dominated by tinkering with the structure of those institutions, which reflects the concerns of the top politicians of Europe rather than the people who elect them. That is why at Noordwijk my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister called for a people's Europe that addresses the worries and concerns of our electorates on jobs, the environment, crime and social exclusion.

I note that, at the weekend, the Esperanto society made another push for a single language understood by everyone throughout Europe. I am bound to say that it

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is a more formidable undertaking than creating a single currency. My immediate worry, however, is that the European Union is now spawning a jargon about institutions, which is understood by no one outside those institutions.

One of the matters for debate at Amsterdam is whether some of the confidences in pillar 3 should jump to pillar 1. At Noordwijk, one of the European leaders complained that he had just met a constituent who had been reading about that and wanted to know how the Prime Ministers of Europe went about pillar jumping at the summits. We are dealing with a series of topics that do not connect with the lives of our people and we are discussing them in terms that they cannot understand.

The European project, built around integration for its own sake, now has only a dwindling audience. More and more, the leaders of Europe judge proposals not by the test of whether they will deliver integration of our countries but on whether they will deliver real benefits to our countries. The Prime Minister caught that mood last week in Sweden, when he said of a single currency:

I know that the single currency was a source of grief to the former Prime Minister at the general election, when his wait-and-see policy was reinterpreted by 600 Conservative candidates as a say-what-you-like policy. I say that with some authority, as I read all 600 election addresses. I thought that the finest attempt to marry the private views of a candidate with the official line was that of David Shaw, formerly of Dover, who signalled the degree to which his mind was open on the single currency in the sentence:

    "I shall listen very carefully to all the arguments for and against a single currency. Then I shall vote against it."

After the gyrations that Conservative Members went through during the election to fudge their policy on the single currency, it takes a touch of nerve for them to table an amendment today that refers to "fudged criteria".

I assure the former Prime Minister that we have no intention of signing up if our final conclusion is that the criteria have been fudged. We reject the choice that is emerging between a soft euro, which is unworkable, and a hard euro, which is unpopular. We have made it clear that if Britain is to join the single currency, first, that currency must be credible and, secondly, it must win the consent of the people. That is why we will take our decision on the basis of a hard-headed assessment of economic reality and we will give the people a referendum, so that they will have the final veto on whether Britain will join.

At present, we do not know whether there will be a single currency to join in 1999. There is, indeed, an interesting debate in Europe. What is valuable about that debate, and what Britain can usefully help to further, is the gathering consensus that the prime objectives of economic policy should be growth, employment and competitiveness, and that the single currency must be judged on whether it will help or hinder those objectives.

Mr. Malcolm Bruce (Gordon): The Foreign Secretary has given a helpful explanation of the Government's approach. Does he recognise that businesses are faced with practical decisions about when to make investments, depending on whether or not we are in the single

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currency? Can he tell us at what point the British Government will be able to say definitively when we would join and under what circumstances?

Mr. Cook: The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is no secret. We must make a decision in time to apply by spring 1998 if we wish to be in that first wave. Therefore, as the hon. Gentleman can see, we must make a decision somewhere around the turn of the year or very early next year.

I was explaining why the Amsterdam summit comes at a creative moment in the history of the debate within Europe. New Labour goes to the Amsterdam summit in a constructive spirit of partnership, not the sterile spirit of oppositionalism, in which Conservative Members so often travel to Europe. Because of that, we will be listened to with respect. We have established Britain as one of the main players in Europe, no longer heckling from the sidelines. The Order Paper today makes it plain that Opposition Members are still firmly rooted on those sidelines. The amendment repeats their routine opposition to both the social chapter and the employment chapter.

Let us be clear about the matter. The British Government have resolved to opt into the social chapter because we believe that that is right for Britain. We did not do it, as some suggest, as some kind of concession to Chancellor Kohl. We did it for the British people, because the Government do not accept that the British people should have worse rights at work than people on the continent--often people on the continent who work for the same firms that employ people in Britain.

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