First Day

Part of Prayers – in the House of Commons at 8:30 pm on 7th November 1990.

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Photo of Sir Anthony Meyer Sir Anthony Meyer , Clwyd North West 8:30 pm, 7th November 1990

One of the compensations for the rather disjointed debate that we have on the first day of our debate on the Queen's Speech is that it gives hon. Members the opportunity to step out of character. I am not accusing the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) of doing that, but he has stepped out of the stereotype that is the generally held view of him among Conservative Members. I thank him for his kind remarks about me, but I assure him that I do not intend to sip twice from the poisoned chalice.

Talking of stepping out of character or stereotype, the remarkable speech of the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) was an even more dramatic demonstration of his advance towards the Conservative Benches than anything we have had before. I was only sorry that the Prime Minister was not present to nod her vigorous assent to every word that he uttered, as she invariably does to every word uttered on this topic by the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore).

I deeply regret the departure from the Government of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe). His resignation gravely weakens the Government. It diminishes the respect in which the House is held. He is a major loss and I very much hope that we will not see rumbling into action the propaganda machine that has already convinced us that the Government's economic troubles stem from the tenure of 11 Downing street by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson). He was regarded as a brilliant Chancellor and unassailable, but he is now branded as the author of all our misfortunes. I have a nasty feeling that the same process will be put to work against my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East, to whom my party, the Government and the country owe so much.

My right hon. and learned Friend wrote a brilliant article in the magazine International Affairs, the Chatham House publication. That was the occasion of the difference with the Government which led to his decision to resign. He set out the role of this country in Europe and the part that national sovereignty should play. Together with the Foreign Secretary and the Chancellor, my right hon. and learned Friend has defined a policy towards Europe for this party and our Government. It not only unites the Conservative party but takes with it the majority of the Labour party, as well as pretty well the whole of the Liberal Democrats.

It is a policy of British involvement in everything that happens in the European Community, taking our full part in it, alway being present, seeking to deflect it when it runs in directions that we consider harmful to our national interest, to slow it down when it seems to be going faster than we can accommodate, but always going with the stream of European developments. That policy unites the Conservative party and commands widespread support across the Floor of the House.

There is an alternative policy. It is one which the Prime Minister, when she ceases to be Dr. Jekyll and becomes Mr. Hyde, seems occasionally to incline to, although there was little evidence of it in her speech today. It is an appeal to the anti-Europe, anti-foreigner sentiment that lies in the psyche of many British people. Such a policy, based on dislike of Europe and everything that emanates from it, could win support from the Daily Express and The Sun and might even receive a ramshackle majority in the House. I very much hope that it would not be a majority that would include the right hon. Member for Devonport, but I am jolly sure that it would secure the support of the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney.

Such a policy, however temporarily attractive it might be, would split the Tory party from top to bottom and might, before long, also split the Labour party. It would be disastrous for the country and for Europe, and all the more disastrous for my party if it were seen, as it would be seen, as an attempt by the Prime Minister to bolster her leadership and improve her electoral prospects.

I am sure that the Prime Minister will make no attempt to use the Gulf crisis as a means of scaring off any challenge to her leadership or reversing the party's decline in the polls. President Bush stopped short, but only just, of exploiting the Gulf crisis to improve the chances of Republican candidates facing election. It is fortunate that the Prime Minister's tough stance and her declared readiness to approve the use of armed force to evict Saddam Hussein from Kuwait cannot be seen in any way as motivated by her desire to retain the leadership of or to turn the electoral tide for the Conservative party.

However, having said that, and being convinced that, if we do go to war in the Gulf to evict the Iraqis from Kuwait, it would be a just war, one has to recognise that that is not the same as saying that it would be a wise war. The consequences of a conflict of this sort in the middle east are impossible to predict. It would be wise to take careful note of what King Hussein of Jordan is saying about the possible fallout from a war such as this. Even if it were instantly successful, and Saddam Hussein were instantly evicted from Kuwait and toppled, what would pour into the vacuum thus created? It takes a fantastic degree of optimism to believe that this chain of events would lead to, or facilitate, a peaceful solution to the problems of the middle east.

I have no fault to find with the way in which the Prime Minister and the Government have conducted policy in the middle east up to now, although there have been occasions when I have regretted the extravagance of the Prime Minister's rhetoric about putting Saddam Hussein in chains. I doubt whether any hon. Member has any criticism of the Foreign Secretary or of the way in which he has handled this matter throughout. However, I am a little concerned that the course of the debate in the House may lead the Government to suppose that they now have an undisputed mandate to go to war. It looks to me as if the House has given that mandate. I am not yet convinced that the people have given any such mandate.