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

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: I shall give way briefly.

Mr. Öpik: I want to ask a short question. Am I to deduce from what the right hon. Gentleman has said that the Conservative bar to entry is cast in stone until 2008?

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: No. The hon. Gentleman has misunderstood me. I am pointing out the self-evident truth that there are not only economic and financial matters to be assessed but constitutional questions. The Liberal Democrats at least accept that those constitutional changes are desirable, but the Government are denying that they are even considerations. That is a deceitful attitude, which I am exposing in this brief debate. We want to be assured, not only that there are economic advantages beyond dispute, but that those constitutional objections can be answered and overcome. The more that we learn about those constitutional issues, the more distasteful the entire project will seem.

We have heard in the debate that the Government are facing hard choices on Europe. Their response, on Europe and other measures, is to avoid those choices. As we have seen over the past few weeks, the Government spend a good deal of time fighting among themselves, but that is not an excuse. We now want them to turn outwards and start to answer questions about our relationship with the European Union.

This week, there has already been a relaunch of policies, which is always a sign that a Government are in deep trouble. Rather than relaunching or rehashing previously announced policies--many of them inherited from us--let the Government tell us how they intend to tackle the issues on Europe. Will they start to tell us the truth about what is on offer in the European Union and to govern on behalf of the people of the United Kingdom rather than in the interests of the Labour party?

8.29 pm

Mr. Clive Soley (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush): In this debate on the role of the United Kingdom in Europe, I want to deal with a wider issue than the one that has so far been addressed--the euro. Before I do so, I shall make a few comments about Liberal Democrat and Conservative contributions.

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I say to the Liberal Democrats that it is an untenable position to argue so fervently in favour of entering the euro without taking into account the economic cycle. The hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) kept avoiding that point. There is obviously a case for trying to bring economies into line, but the last Conservative Government tried to do that; the Liberal Democrats would try to do so and the Government are trying to do so. However, the British economy has tracked the north American economy since the second world war more closely than it has tracked European economies and, for that reason, it is difficult to find a phase during which we could join the euro when it would not do devastating damage to the British economy. I believe that it can and will be done, but it is foolish to believe that it is possible to ignore the point of the economic cycle at which we join. No one will take the Liberal party seriously if it continues to argue on that basis without taking that point into account.

Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton): Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the United Kingdom economy has closely tracked the main European economies since the war, contrary to what he says, except during a short period after the second oil shock?

Mr. Soley: I do not think that that is right. One can quibble about the figures. That is another argument and, if the hon. Gentleman wishes to pursue it, I shall be happy to do so on another occasion. Overall, the British economy has been more likely to track the north American one.

I would find it easier to accept the criticisms voiced by the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) about the Government's direction if I had not sat through the Conservatives' history in the past 15 years. I remember Baroness Thatcher joining the single market with enthusiasm. I, among others, said at the time that, once we joined the single market, it would be only a matter of time before we had a single currency. I remember the Conservative party firmly nailing into place the Single European Act--an Act that required us to follow the legislation that came from Brussels, albeit with the intervention and involvement of British Ministers. One knew then that we were speeding up on the road towards European integration.

I remember, as Conservative Members will remember only too clearly, the way in which the previous Conservative Government drove through the Maastricht Bill. One does not have to go back to the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath), who, as leader of the Conservative party, took the country into Europe, to see how Conservative Governments have enthusiastically taken us down the road towards greater European integration. Baroness Thatcher and the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) did the same.

There is only one explanation for Conservative Members' present position. Either they did not know what would happen, in which case they were incredibly naive and were shutting their ears to what everyone else was saying, or they knew but have now changed their minds. If they would start their interventions by saying that they have changed their minds, it would be much easier to accept their criticisms.

Mr. Bercow: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Does he accept that it is not especially surprising

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that, at the time of the Single European Act, a great many people from all parties did not know, and could not be expected to know, that it would be used as a vehicle for a massive programme of harmonisation, the effect of which would be deeply damaging to British industry?

Mr. Soley: It is entirely possible that they did not know, but one has to assume that such people were incredibly naive. One Conservative Member, for whom I have some respect, has said to me that he did not realise the implications at the time. At least he was straightforward about it. Harmonisation has always been the agenda of the continental European countries. They have never really hidden that. People have mentioned it at one time or another in the past 20 years, so it was not a secret. I think, however, that some people did not want to hear what was being said. One of the problems is Britain's ambivalence towards Europe.

I want to talk about the wider role of the United Kingdom because the Liberal motion is curious. The Liberals talk about widening the United Kingdom's role in Europe, but then focus on the narrow, although admittedly important, issue of the euro. There are many other important issues in relation to Britain's role in Europe and we ought to face them now if we are not to repeat the same old British mistake of addressing current and past issues instead of looking ahead to the shape and form that Europe will take in 20 years' time. We need to have a longer vision.

Perhaps I could put my comments in context, not by repeating what I have said on previous occasions in the House but by reminding the House of why Britain is ambivalent about Europe. It is important to understand why. At times, we say that Britain missed the bus, for example, at the 1957 conference at Messina, but we forget that Britain's reasons for being more ambivalent about Europe than almost any other European country have a good basis in reality. The first is that we are an island nation with a separate island culture. The second is that we have close links with the wider world, not only in the Commonwealth but in the English-speaking world. British people regard north America, Australia and other countries as closer to home than Europe. The third reason is, in a sense, a dying reason. Britain was the only major country in Europe not to be defeated and occupied in two world wars. That has produced almost a schizophrenic attitude among British people.

The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup and Lord Healey are two people who, having experienced the war, came to the conclusion that the best thing for Britain was to be part of Europe so that war was less possible. The other side of that argument, which is the one that I was brought up with as a child, was that Europe spelt trouble and that was the direction from which the bombers came. If we ignore the factors that cause Britain to have a somewhat ambivalent relationship with Europe, we do not do ourselves a service or help ourselves to move forward.

The wider issue that I want to talk about is the British role in Europe. It is true that we have missed the bus on a number of issues. It is true that, on the euro, we are behind the others, although, under my right hon. Friends in the Government, we are catching up rapidly. However, there are some areas of policy in which we can take a lead. I would have been more encouraged if the Liberal party had given more time to them. One such area is foreign policy.

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The curious thing about European development is that, a few years ago, we took a leap that could have moved us towards dealing with some of the crises around the frontiers of Europe, which we had proved ourselves unable to do before without United States help. The classic example was Bosnia. Everyone in Europe looked on in horror at what was happening and said that it should stop, but did not know how to do that. We did something that to my knowledge we had not done before. We appointed in effect a special envoy in the form of Dr. David Owen. One can argue whether he was the best person for the job, but he acted as a special envoy. [Interruption.] I know that he was a problem for the Liberal party, too.

The tragedy was that, because there was no backing in terms of a European foreign policy or a defence intervention, Dr. Owen was unable to enforce what Europe wanted to enforce in Bosnia. The whole of Europe sat back in horror looking at what was happening in that former Yugoslav country and we were able to intervene only when the United States took the lead. That is the reality and we all know it. It was a formative experience for people who now think about where Europe will be in 20 years.

The Soviet Union has collapsed and there are a number of unstable states around the borders of the European Union. Will we sit back and do nothing when such situations develop again? Will we try to intervene in a way that enables us to contain the situation? Or will we simply call across the water to the United States and say, "Please come in and help"?

The ambivalence about Britain's role within Europe can be advantageous to us. We have positive and close links with the United States, and always will have. Those links are not equivalent to a special relationship in an academic sense; the special relationship is our common language, culture and history, which gives us an advantage. Although many Europeans resent it, quite a few of them recognise that Britain's relationship with the wider world--particularly with north America, which is the dominant world power--is positive and could form the basis of a more effective way of dealing with future crises.

I am sorry that the Liberals have addressed that matter only in the title and the tail-end of their motion. The frightening issue for Europe is not whether the euro will work, but what happens in Russia, and we all know it. Almost every Member of Parliament is concerned about whether Russia will remain a stable power or whether, to use a simplistic historical analogy, it is in the Weimar Republic phase. If it is, Europe had better have some way of coping with that.

We should think carefully about the proposal to re-introduce special envoys and appoint the first one to Russia to help the Russians to deal with their current problems in a way that preserves democracy in a country with no history of democracy, and no stability either. The development of the use of special envoys in areas where force is not needed to back up that initiative, the lack of which was a failing in Bosnia, could be a positive step forward in helping Russia.

The use of such envoys could also be considered in the middle east. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office has done a great deal

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to assert Britain's role there, but Britain has an interesting opportunity. We have knowledge of the Arab world's needs, and of the needs of Israel, and long and intimate involvement with both. Continental European countries are reluctant to get tough with Israel, not least because of the history of anti-Semitism in Europe. We do not carry that baggage.

The United States has a different position and, inevitably, is biased towards Israel. Britain and the European countries could operate a more even-handed approach between Israel and the Arabs. Until we achieve that, we will not get a peaceful outcome in the middle east.

There is a role for Europe and, more importantly, a leadership role for Britain. We should build on the special envoy approach and Britain's recent history as the world's dominant power to develop the European-style foreign policy, which recognises the separate parts of Europe, but also recognises the desperately important common interest in maintaining stability round the borders of Europe and dealing with questions such as Russia.

No hon. Member will sit lightly in the Chamber in five, 10 or 15 years if Russia has descended into authoritarianism and is a right-wing, nationalistic state with ambitions to reclaim the empire that it has lost. No one should underestimate the importance of nationalist feeling in Russia at the moment.

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