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Mr. Mandelson: In advance of the White Paper--

Hon. Members: Give way.

Mr. Jones: Will my right hon. Friend please give way?

Mr. Mandelson: I will give way soon if my hon. Friend will allow me to continue for the moment.

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In advance of the White Paper, I can announce the Prime Minister's decision to appoint a high-ranking digital envoy--[Laughter.] See how the Tories laugh. They are locked somewhere in the last century and they have not the faintest idea of what is happening in the real economy, and not one idea or one shred of analysis to support the sort of economy that we must create.

Mr. Bercow: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Mandelson: Locked in the past, locked in the past, locked in the past.

The Prime Minister is absolutely right to appoint a person to help prepare Britain for and to lead us into the digital future. That individual will speak for the United Kingdom in the international arena, will promote the United Kingdom as a global hub for electronic commerce business and investment, and will drive forward the cross-Government strategy for electronic commerce that I shall set out in the forthcoming White Paper. The advertisement for the new post will be in next week's press, but the shadow Secretary of State need not apply, as he seems far from looking to the future. We want someone who can look to the future, not someone who prefers to play politics with the nation's future and to talk down our economic prospects, as the right hon. Gentleman persistently does.

Mr. Barry Jones: I appreciate my right hon. Friend's cogent speech, and I enjoy his teasing of his shadow. May I tell him, however, of the sense of dread in the British steel industry? The problem appears to be the dumping of steel products from the far east, which is putting many of our largest steel works at a great disadvantage. Can the Government intervene to urge the European Commission to do something about such dumping?

Mr. Mandelson: My hon. Friend raises an issue that is of great concern to the steel industry and its employees. I recently met Sir Brian Moffat, the chairman of British Steel, and the executive heads of the British Iron and Steel Producers Association. I learned at first hand the extremely difficult trading conditions that they face, and I heard the allegations that have been made of unfair trading and dumping by some countries. I have invited them to submit details to the Department of Trade and Industry, and to the competent body--the Commission of the European Union. It is for others to submit such details and allegations, but I shall ensure that allegations are properly examined, and that where action can and should be taken, everything will be done to ensure that it is.

I want to return to what the Opposition have said in the past. They have not said it today, but the shadow Secretary of State will no doubt remedy that fact when he rises to trot out the same tired phrases warning of economic catastrophe and disaster.

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

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

Mr. Mandelson: I have given way once already to the hon. Member for North Shropshire, and I do not think that he should come back for a second go.

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The shadow Secretary of State will accuse the Government not only of selling out the British economy, but of fiddling the figures and of making up the productivity gap, which, in fact, as everyone knows and as every independent commentator acknowledges, separates us from our competitors. [Interruption.] It is amazing how quickly after leaving office the Conservatives have ceased to resemble a governing party, and how hard they find it to muster the credibility needed by any half-decent official Opposition. Nowhere--

Mr. Bercow rose--

Mr. Mandelson: The hon. Gentleman may want to intervene later, because I was about to say that nowhere is that lack of credibility more demonstrated by the Opposition than in relation to Europe. The European Union gives the United Kingdom access to a market of 370 million consumers--it is by far our largest market. That is why, even though we will not be joining the economic and monetary union on 1 January, we are determined to work towards its successful introduction. Should it be in our economic interests to do so, and should Parliament and the people give their assent, we have made it clear that we believe that Britain should join. The Opposition are in a terrible mess.

Mr. Stephen Dorrell (Charnwood): The Secretary of State is dealing with an issue that is important for this country's future economic performance: the relationship between this country and Europe. The question for the Government is whether it is their policy to create convergence between this country and the member states of the euro. If not, do they believe that convergence circumstances could come about without that being their explicit policy?

Mr. Mandelson: It is certainly the case that one cannot create convergence between economies artificially by means of contrived accounting. There must be real convergence. Most people would agree that objective circumstances are leading us towards convergence and, indeed, the economic policies and strategies that the Government are pursuing are assisting that process. I have not the faintest idea whether that is welcome to the right hon. Gentleman, because he has adopted a number of positions on the single currency and it is Wednesday today, so I do not know what position he may be holding.

Mr. David Chidgey (Eastleigh): Perhaps we could draw the debate back to the Government's position on the euro. I believe that I am right in saying that the right hon. Gentleman said that, when it was in Britain's economic interests to join, it would be the Government's policy to recommend that process. Will he advise the House of any scenario in which he felt it might not be in Britain's economic interests to join the euro?

Mr. Mandelson: If the convergence of our economies has not been achieved and if, in our opinion, the objective economic circumstances and the necessary structural reforms and flexibilities that need to exist throughout the economies of Europe have not yet been achieved. We have to fulfil all those tests. Those are important questions for us to answer, and answer them we will, but not now; we will do so in due course, when the economic

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circumstances arise and when it is in our economic interests to do so. In the meantime, we will do what any half-intelligent Government would do, which is to prepare for the eventuality of our entry to the single currency so that, if and when we are in a position to enter it, we can put that choice to Parliament and the British people, who can then take that decision to go in. For us to do so successfully, British business must have prepared beforehand.

Mr. Geraint Davies (Croydon, Central): While I agree with the Government's policy, does my right hon. Friend agree with the 114 leading business men representing 20 FTSE companies, who put their names to a statement in the Financial Times on Monday and who said that the best policy for Britain would be one based on the assumption that we will join the single currency? The reverse would be that, if we proceed on the assumption that we will not join, there will be massive disinvestment in British industry.

Mr. Mandelson: We have to take very seriously the views of British business and, in particular, the views of those business people who signed the advertisement and made that statement, because they are operating not in the pursuit of some right-wing political ideology but in the interests of their business, and therefore the economic interests of this country. I talk to business men a lot--both to the mildly pro-Europe and the mildly anti. What unites them is their complete bewilderment and bemusement at the mess that the Opposition are in on the subject. We have only to listen to them on the subject. Some in the Conservative party say, "No single currency for 10 years." Others say, "Not in our lifetime." Given the average age of Conservative association members, I do not know which is the more Euro-sceptic position.

Mr. Bercow: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Mandelson: No.

I want to be clear about this, too, and I emphasise it: if economic and monetary union is to be successful, there must be a flexible, competitive Europe and comprehensive structural reform in Europe's labour, product and capital markets. That is an absolutely indispensable condition for EMU to be launched successfully and on a sustainable basis. That is what we argued in our presidency, and it is what we shall continue to fight for through the processes agreed at the Cardiff summit.

I welcome the wide support across Europe for that agenda of structural reform, which has been voiced by Chancellor Schroder; Massimo D'Alema, the new Italian Prime Minister; and Dominique Strauss-Kahn in France. That unity of view, and that degree of consensus about the need for structural reform--economic reform--in Europe if the single currency is to be a success, is the most striking feature of the current political scene.

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