Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Bercow: I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way; he has been exceptionally generous in accepting interventions. He suggests a palliative to deal with the problem of mortgage rates and their variability, but it simply does not meet the needs of the case. Why does he think it desirable that national Parliaments should, under the terms of the treaty and the terms of entry into EMU, be permanently deprived of the right to make representations to the European central bank about its conduct of monetary policy and the level of its interest rate?

Dr. Cable: As the hon. Gentleman well knows, were we to be part of EMU, Britain would participate in the management of the European central bank. That is how the system works. I believe, as I am sure Labour Members believe, that the European central bank could profitably develop in various ways. For example, it could learn from the idea of pursuing a more symmetrical monetary policy objective and from British experience. However, the fundamental issue of sovereignty is one about which I disagree with the hon. Member for Buckingham. That is a fact of political life.

3 Mar 1999 : Column 1000

How could the Government adapt the mortgage system so that the housing market was less exposed to the difficulties caused by booms and slumps which could arise in a unified monetary union? As I suggested, the first step is to be much more proactive in talking to the providers of mortgages about how they change to a different system. Another step could be to examine the way in which the regulation operates. There is no reason why regulators of building societies and banks should not require building societies and banks to offer their customers--not only new customers but existing ones--a comparable mortgage on a fixed-rate basis. Whatever the mechanism, it is clear that the Government have to be a little more positive than they have been so far--there is not a single word in the changeover plan about how to handle the problem.

Largely thanks to interventions, I have spoken for rather longer than I wished. Nevertheless, there is a great deal more to be said on this subject. Many other hon. Members wish to contribute to the debate, and I look forward to hearing them.

9.59 am

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) rose--

Hon. Members: Hear, hear.

Mr. MacShane: I congratulate the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) on securing this debate. It is appropriate that the House continues, on Wednesday mornings and via other Adjournment debates, to consider this very important issue. It is an issue about which the British people have not been properly informed--[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. The ovation has gone on long enough.

Mr. MacShane: I shall try to limit my remarks to 10 minutes, in order that Tory hon. Members may relax after their excitement simply because I rose to my feet, and compose their thoughts to get their speeches ready to persuade the British people that their interests do not lie in Europe, and that the cause of little England, isolationism and xenophobia is alive and well in the Conservative party.

I am not quite sure which Conservative party is in front of me. I understand that the shadow Chancellor's position is that Britain is prepared and likely to enter the euro in six or seven years' time. [Hon. Members: "No."] Ah, I see that that is not so. Well, in 10 years' time? [Hon. Members: "No."] No, not in 10 years' time. In 20 years' time, perhaps? [Hon. Members: "No."] I see; not at all. We have the party of no never, no how. I remember a campfire song like that from my youth. I do not know where the rest of the Conservative party is. Perhaps those hon. Members do not choose to take part in such a debate.

Last week, we saw the Conservative party as the party of tax harmonisation. I attended Trade and Industry questions, during which the hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill), one of the nicest euro-sceptics--there are some nice ones among that pretty rotten bunch--demanded that the Government instantly harmonise duty on diesel with the rest of Europe. Before my very eyes, the party of no never, no how became the party of fiscal harmonisation.

3 Mar 1999 : Column 1001

We have a significant problem with tobacco and alcohol smuggling. I grew up on that wonderful Kipling poem:

That was about smuggling in the 18th century.

Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk): Which school did the hon. Gentleman attend?

Mr. MacShane: St. Joseph's primary school in Wealdstone, if the hon. Member is really interested.

There is a serious problem of many people, especially young men, becoming mini criminals by participating in smuggling. I say in all candour to my hon. Friends on the Front Bench that they can double or triple the number of Customs and Excise men, put them on horses, give them mobile phones, or do whatever they like, but as long as the wide differences in duty on diesel, tobacco and alcohol remain, we shall continue to face such serious problems.

Smuggling is just one aspect of the debate about our relationship with Europe. I make no secret of my views; they are that Britain should be a full and leading member of the European Union. We should take advantage of the single market for economic reasons. I find it at best a semantic contradiction to claim that one can be part of a single market, but stay for ever out of the euro.

The Chancellor has laid down economic tests that are in the nation's interest. The Prime Minister has promised that triple lock of decisions in the Cabinet, Parliament and then, most importantly, in a referendum of the people, on whether we enter the euro. Leading up to the referendum, it is essential that debate is informed and intelligent. Achieving that will be quite difficult, given the behaviour of those who are passionate in their belief that Britain should be permanently disconnected from Europe.

I had some experience of such a belief this very morning. Yesterday, Le Monde, a French newspaper, published an article of deep unoriginality that I wrote, in which I described the Prime Minister's historic statement in the House on Tuesday last week, pointing out that preparations are being made for a transfer to the euro, and arguing--I believe this very strongly, and continually take this message to European capitals whenever I am lucky enough to visit them--that, if Europe is to move forward, it must substantially reform its labour market to increase flexibility and the spirit of entrepreneurship and enterprise. I wrote that Europe, too, must learn from the dynamism of the United States.

Mr. Laurence Robertson: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. MacShane: I mean no discourtesy, but I would rather finish my speech to allow other hon. Members to speak.

I do not propose to read the article, which was in French, into the record, although I would be happy to hand out copies of it. It is deeply banal, yet I was woken at midnight because the Daily Mail, which described me as a senior aide--chance would be a fine thing--has said that I have revealed the Prime Minister's secret plan to take Britain into the euro. I was then telephoned by the Financial Times, the Press Association and The Star

3 Mar 1999 : Column 1002

in Sheffield, which are all getting excited about an article that is in no way odd--I mean off-message. It corresponds entirely with the Government's position.

It is a paradox that I do not think that I could get such an article published in any paper in this country. In the 1930s, the editor of The Times confessed in his diary that he spent every waking moment keeping anything hostile to Nazi Germany out of the paper. I sometimes think that some of today's editors spend every waking moment ensuring that anything positive about Europe is kept out of their papers.

The discussion with the British people about the euro presents a serious problem--even in many of our so-called pro-European papers, such as The Guardian and The Independent. Many of their most distinguished commentators are hostile to economic and monetary union. Hamish McRae, whose writing I admire, was very critical of EMU in The Independent yesterday. Anne McElvoy is another such hostile commentator. The Times has seconded two of its excellent columnists, Mary-Ann Sieghart and Janet Bush, to David Owen's last great attempt to find a successful niche in British politics. As someone who is broadly in favour of the euro, the fact that David Owen is against it is the best news that I have received all year.

The proposal that we should have nothing to do with the euro and Europe does not add up. I tested that idea in two ways in my constituency. The first was of course during the election campaign, when the editor of The Times wrote an article in which he said:

and Sir James Goldsmith placed advertisements everywhere, which read:

    "Don't vote for this dangerous pro-European, MacShane".

As a result, my majority went up. It tripled from when my by-election opponent was the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb), who campaigned in favour of capital punishment and held my majority down. He fought the general election in a safer seat, campaigning against the euro, and my majority rose.

In my constituency, we organised a fascinating experiment among the Rotherham Chamber of Commerce, Training and Enterprise, local business, the local training and enterprise council and the college of information.

Next Section

IndexHome Page