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6.10 pm

Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East): It is a great pleasure and honour to congratulate the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Bryant) on his outstanding maiden speech. It stood out as a model maiden speech

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among those that I have heard. We have been told that hon. Members should use such speeches to make interesting and non-controversial remarks and to promote their constituencies. He did all those things, and many of us will feel like going to the Rhondda for our holidays, having heard about all those temperance bands and Conservative clubs. However, the great thing is that he spoke with sincerity. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House will wish him every success and happiness in his future membership of the House.

It is a great pleasure and honour to speak again as the newly elected Member of Parliament for Rochford and Southend, East, where the Conservative party had a rather remarkable result. We not only gained a substantial swing, but secured a 54 per cent. share of the vote, which I am told makes the constituency the 10th safest Conservative seat in the country. In fairness, I point out that that result was not unique. Essex was rather remarkable, as we achieved similar swings in such places as Upminster and Romford, where we won seats from the Labour party, and in Dagenham, where a previous Labour majority of 17,000 was slashed to such an extent that we think we can win the seat next time.

I mention those facts, which are in many ways irrelevant, only because all the candidates were good, solid and true Conservatives. That might make people think twice about the idea being promoted almost everywhere by those who suggest that the way to recovery for the Conservative party is for it to adopt policies of delicate confusion that are only slightly to the right of Ken Livingstone. The party may find that other solutions have more merit.

I want to make six points, the first of which concerns the single currency. I assure my right hon. Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo) that I am not making any sort of personal attack. He said that we should not mention the issue, but there are some aspects about which we must speak. I returned to the House after the election only because I was looking forward to taking part in arguments on the referendum, which is the last battle over Europe. The impression that I gain from the Government and from people connected with the banks is that the referendum is unlikely to occur in this Parliament, if at all. However, that is not the issue. The Government must give serious consideration not to whether we should prepare for a referendum to enter the single currency, but to what on earth we and our colleagues in Europe should do if that currency collapses, like every previous one.

That point must be considered, because all hon. Members, including the small number of enthusiasts for the single currency, must be aware that the British Government, the American Government and even the Japanese Government have been doing all in their power to boost the value of the euro, without any real success. We know also that the Governor of the Bank of England was told to sell a massive amount of gold and to put 40 per cent. of the proceeds directly into euros, even though that meant a massive loss for this country. Although that has been done, the euro has still been unable to recover. The hon. Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr. Beard), who was a member of the Select Committee on the Treasury, will be aware that Eurobonds have been issued as a further means of trying to promote the currency.

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If hon. Members look back, they will see a plain fact: in respect of all previous single currencies--I can find records of only 11 such currencies--the same thing always seems to happen. First, one area becomes artificially prosperous, as the Republic of Ireland has. Another area then begins to suffer serious hardship, as has begun to happen in Germany, whose Minister of Finance said recently that he was now thinking in terms of zero growth. There is also concern among German banks. A bank chief called Hans Reckers said:

Business analyst Paul Hoffmann said that a recession before joining the currency would be

Although hon. Members may want to ignore it, there is increasing depression and worry in Germany. We have found in relation to all single currencies that widening gaps mean loss of confidence, falling value and interest rate rises.

Mr. Beard: Will the hon. Gentleman explain how the dollar has survived?

Sir Teddy Taylor: As the hon. Gentleman knows, a single currency can survive only if there is one Government, one Treasury and a feeling of nationhood. America has one Government and a Treasury that controls its affairs. It also has a feeling of nationhood. If one tells people in New York, "We're doing something nasty to you, but it will help people in Florida", they will understand, as they view Florida as a part of the same nation. However, if one were to tell people in Sweden that something nasty was being done to help people in Greece, they would think that something rather strange and unusual was happening. I say to the hon. Gentleman and to other hon. Members, some of whom remain enthusiastic about the single currency, that they should look around the world at every previous example of such a currency.

There have been two such examples in Europe: the Scandinavian and Latin currency unions. One might think that the Scandinavian project should have been an ideal union, as it involved the joining together of countries that had no great differences, and ask why it did not work. It failed for the same reason that single currencies never work. If that happened in respect of the euro, what would the Government's policy be? In the Conservative party, things are special, as we are not expected to talk about the issue, but no matter who is in power, we will have to face up to the situation and ask what must be done.

I suggest that we must find some means whereby European countries can disengage if circumstances work out as I suggest. Of course, it is possible that I am wrong. I fully accept that I might be mistaken, but I suggest that all the available evidence of previous single currencies shows the way they go. If we do not make appropriate provision, there could be disaster not only for Europe but for all the countries associated with it. I hope that the Government will give some indication of what plan they would follow if things went terribly wrong, as the evidence shows pretty overwhelmingly that that is what will happen.

The second of my six points is a straight question: what will the Government do about the extension of the European Union, which is very important for jobs in the

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United Kingdom? When the people of Ireland were given a democratic opportunity to express their opinion, they wanted to say something, as has happened frequently in the European Union. Unfortunately, the EU has been depriving people of such opportunities. The people of Ireland were the only ones who were given a chance to express their views on the Nice treaty and we know what they said. If the people of Germany were given a chance to say what they thought about the single currency, they would throw it out of the window. The people of Ireland had a chance to decide, and they said, "No, we don't want the Nice treaty."

Extension of the EU could have substantial costs for Britain. Various European grants come to Britain. They are not of much help to us, because every pound costs us at least £2 before we start, but if the European Union were extended, most of them would disappear. That would have consequences for jobs, as well as for agriculture. Nobody in agriculture wants to talk about the basic problem of massive over-production in the European Union. Nobody wants to face up to that problem because there is no solution. If Europe is extended, the activities that will occur in at least two of the new member countries--Poland and Romania--will mean a massive increase in agricultural production. What would happen at that stage? What is the Government's policy?

What worried me most about the Irish decision was that when the people of Ireland said no, which should have meant that Nice did not go ahead, EU officials made various statements indicating that they would proceed irrespective of those views. If the people of Ireland do not change their views, will the Government make it abundantly clear that they will not try, by one means or another, to extend the European Union? The principles of the EU have been undermined in many ways. Unless we are prepared to stand firm and ensure that a member state does not get something that it does not want, we will be letting those principles down.

The third issue that concerns me is economic stability. During the debate on today's private notice question, I asked about asylum seekers. The Minister for Police, Courts and Drugs said that it was unfortunate that I raised that subject. As someone who has never stirred up such problems, I can only say, in all sincerity, that I have seen good race relations seriously undermined in parts of London, in Southend and elsewhere.

One joy of coming to Southend from Scotland was that there was none of the religious tribalism that unfortunately still exists in Glasgow and other areas. There were good relations between the different races and religions. Indeed, Southend has two mosques and two synagogues. However, the situation has deteriorated alarmingly. A friend of mine--a Turkish Cypriot licensee of a restaurant in Southend--was abused in the high street and told, "Go home, asylum seeker." Another friend, whom I know very well, is a lady from South Korea who has two delightful children; she received similar treatment. I am not saying that Southend is special. Hon. Members know that such behaviour goes on. I accept that it is not an easy issue to resolve, but the basic problem is that the public have gained the impression that asylum seekers are not being dealt with effectively.

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I hope that the Government will introduce legislation to ensure that speedy decisions are reached. Let me give a simple example. A couple from the Congo came to my surgery on Saturday. The London borough of Barnet--I do not know which party is in charge of that organisation--dumped them in Southend in the Palace hotel, which is neither a palace nor a hotel, more than a year ago. The couple have not heard from it since then. Their lawyers wrote two letters to the Home Office in February and May asking what was happening and what decisions had been made about them, but they have received no word or acknowledgment. Anyone who tries to pretend that such problems can be easily resolved is misleading people. However, something must be done if we are to preserve good race relations because they are a desperately important part of our community and vital for jobs and prosperity.

Fourthly, on public services, special attention should be given to the problem of seaside resorts. The Minister will know that they have a higher proportion of elderly people who require more attention from the health service. In addition, there are housing problems. The concentration of bed and breakfasts and houses in multiple occupation means that we have more homeless families. Rochford, as I have mentioned to the Minister before, has been treated appallingly by Governments of both parties. It has £400,000 less in annual grants than it received six years ago. It would help enormously if Ministers paid brief visits to seaside towns because they would then realise that their problems are special.

My fifth point relates to something raised by the hon. Member for Rhondda. I know that all Governments have problems of one sort or another, but it is important that this Government tell the truth on employment and related matters. I know that the Minister, whom I greatly admire, tells the truth on everything. I hope that she can tell me what the reference to foxhunting at the end of the Queen's Speech means. I appreciate that people are fanatical and passionate about that issue. Some people care more about the welfare of foxes than the welfare of democracy; others consider the abolition of foxhunting to be a greater threat to our democracy and freedom than anything else.

It is crucial that we are told what is happening. As someone who is part of an unpopular minority in my party on the issue, I have the impression--rightly or wrongly--that the Government are not pursuing it. Instead, we will have another private Member's Bill, a long discussion, with everyone shouting at each other, and nothing will happen. Some people will say that I am wrong, but the Government should tell us whether they have changed their mind and, if so, why. People who are campaigning on both sides want to know the score. If any Labour Member wants to intervene and explain the position, I shall be happy to give way. I have the impression that no one is clear. The sooner we have a straight answer, the better.

My final point is extremely important. I gained the impression--perhaps because of my advanced age--that local authorities face problems, especially on housing, that are more serious than they have been for a long time. When I arrived in Southend 21 years ago, there was one multistorey block of flats that everyone wanted to live in. Unfortunately, because of two or three impossible tenants, life in those flats is becoming unbearable for most people. Local authorities are spending more money on maintenance of housing schemes than before, but the

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activities of small groups of people make it difficult to keep up standards. Local authorities cannot do much about that because of Government rules and regulations on what action can be taken on the removal of tenants. We must face up to the problem fair and square and say that there is a case for concentrating in particular areas difficult tenants who make life impossible for others, and to focus public services on assisting them.

I hope that I have not bored the House. All I have done is raise issues in which I believe passionately. We will be in deep trouble if we do not face up to them. Unlike the hon. Member for Rhondda, who has just arrived in the House, I have been here for about 37 years and have rowed with all parties and many individuals. One thing worries me more than anything else. Although hon. Members make interesting speeches and give wonderful orations, they do not want to face up to and talk about many issues, such as the single currency or bad tenants. I wish they did because then, irrespective of who might win the election, more people might come out to vote for MPs.

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