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Yvette Cooper (Pontefract and Castleford): While the right hon. Gentleman is talking about policy, perhaps he can clear up a key policy issue that greatly concerns British industry.

Yesterday, the right hon. Gentleman shook his head vigorously when the Prime Minister suggested that his party wanted to reverse Bank of England independence. Perhaps he will clear up that point of principle now. Does he support the deputy leader of his party, who said that interest rate decisions should be made by the Chancellor and not by the Bank of England?

Mr. Redwood: I shook my head at the Prime Minister's pathetic performance in response to the formidable performance of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition--although their respective performances did not surprise me.

I have been very clear about my position, the position of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and the position of all members of the shadow Cabinet in regard to the Bank of England. We opposed granting it independence. We said that that would be very damaging, and we were right: so far, it has proved very damaging to British business. In 2001 or thereabouts, when we have a general election, we will tell the hon. Lady and her colleagues what is the right policy for 2002. She can read nothing into that answer, except that the Opposition have been right so far. They have opposed the independence of the Bank of England vigorously, because so far it has been wrong. But of course we shall look carefully at the situation in 2001, when there will be so many things to put right that we shall have to choose which to put right first.

Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington): Perhaps I can raise another sensitive little subject. If the euro were

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to succeed, and if the European countries benefited generally from its introduction, would the Conservative party go into the next general election on the basis of wholesale opposition and refusal to join the currency?

Mr. Redwood: There is no way in which a case for the success of the euro can be proved by the time of the next election. The euro notes and coin will not even be in circulation by that time. We are saying that we should not rush in. We should see the euro through at least a complete economic cycle. We must see the whole scheme up and running--and that means the notes and coin as well as the bank accounts and the invoicing, which will go ahead on a random basis from the beginning of January next year, depending on the choice of agents and companies on the continent.

The hon. Gentleman is right in supposing that the Conservative party will go proudly into the next election saying no to the euro for the following Parliament, because it would be too risky for the United Kingdom--for her businesses and her democracy--to join the scheme on such a time scale. I only wish that the Labour party had the courage to put the matter to the British people now. We would love to fight the referendum now: the Conservatives would achieve a spectacular result, and British business could then be relieved of its uncertainty. The Government should understand that that uncertainty is caused by their ridiculous policy. They say that they wish to join the European currency--

Mr. Bercow: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Mandelson: Give way.

Mr. Redwood: The Secretary of State will know that, unlike him, I am going to give way at any minute, but I am making an important point. The Government should know that the uncertainty is of their making. Business does not know whether to spend £10 billion or £15 billion on preparing for the euro as our currency--because the Government say that in principle they want it--or whether to take our advice, and decide that the Government will not win the election or the referendum and that it is therefore better to save the money. That is the uncertainty that the Government are creating for business.

Mr. Bercow: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his characteristically generous remarks a few moments ago.

Does my right hon. Friend not think it extraordinary that, for all his ostensible enthusiasm for the United States economy, the Secretary of State, when challenged before the Trade and Industry Select Committee on 4 November about the merits of sunset regulation in the United States--whereby regulations lapse automatically after a period if they are not considered useful--said that he did not know what that meant?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin): Order.

Mr. Bercow: Does my right hon. Friend accept that, even at this late stage, he can educate the Secretary of State?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. When I get to my feet, the hon. Gentleman must sit down.

Mr. Bercow: I have finished.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I know that the hon. Gentleman has finished, because I have finished him. His interventions are far too long.

Mr. Redwood: My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham made a very powerful point. It is amazing

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that a Secretary of State who speaks the language of deregulation has no idea what a sunset regulation might be. It shows that he is not thinking the language of deregulation into action. The first thing that one learns when deregulating is to ensure that no regulation can last too long, and that a positive act must renew it if it can be demonstrated that it continues to be required.

The Secretary of State spent most of his speech on the subject of electronic commerce. He dared to say that the Opposition do not understand the importance of it, and implied that we do not wish the industry well. He should know that I come from the Thames valley, which is at the forefront of electronic commerce. I am extremely proud of my constituents' achievements in companies there. I can tell the Secretary of State this for nothing: they know a great deal more about electronic commerce than he ever will. They are already running very dramatic, profitable and successful businesses using electronic commerce, and the last thing they want from him is messy, meddlesome regulation which could make their task more difficult. He would be well advised to be careful before his regulation intrudes into a very successful and growing part of the British economy.

Mr. Mandelson: Will the right hon. Gentleman clear up something for me? He talks about messy, meddling intervention. Why, therefore, was it the Conservative party's policy when in office to introduce legislation on mandatory licensing?

Mr. Redwood: The form of that licensing did not result in preventing people from doing things that they wished to do, or restricting their action. It was put out to consultation. The issue before us is whether it is a good idea for the Secretary of State to press on with legislation which many in the industry think is half-baked, not thought through and potentially damaging.

Mr. Mandelson rose--

Mr. Redwood: I will give way when I have finished my point. The Secretary of State should know that the advice that I have taken so far from the industry is that the Bill is in search of a policy--as always with this DTI--and that the ideas so far are different from those of the previous Conservative Administration and would be damaging.

Mr. Mandelson: The proposed electronic commerce Bill will introduce a voluntary licensing regime for bodies providing electronic signature and confidentiality services. What is the Opposition's policy? Is it to stick with the unpopular policy that they had in government, or to support ours? Which is it?

Mr. Redwood: Our policy now is to be very careful about any legislation in this area and to be very critical of proposals that we think will emerge in the Bill. The Secretary of State is not in a position today to tell the House how he intends to regulate inscription and signature. I am very suspicious of him finding a way of doing so with any success. Assuming that he will not, I assure him that we shall oppose the legislation. Does he wish to intervene to clarify what he will do?

Mr. Mandelson: I just do not understand this. Where and when did this conversion take place, and for

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what reason? The previous Government proposed a policy of statutorily backed mandatory licensing. Why has the right hon. Gentleman changed his view?

Mr. Redwood: I do not seem to remember supporting that proposition at the time--[Interruption.] We have consulted widely on these matters. Trying to legislate successfully in the area would be hazardous. We shall be very critical of any Government proposal which we think could be damaging. I am quite sure that those who worked on the proposals under the previous Government would be very happy to explain what they had in mind, and will be free to table amendments in Committee to try to make the Bill more to our joint liking. According to my industry sources, the Government's proposals are a long way from the previous Government's original ideas and would be very damaging--[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The House must come to order.

Mr. Redwood rose--

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