Foreign Affairs and Defence

Part of Orders of the Day — Debate on the Address – in the House of Commons at 7:48 pm on 8th November 1990.

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Photo of Mr Cyril Townsend Mr Cyril Townsend , Bexleyheath 7:48 pm, 8th November 1990

The hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) knows that I do not share his views on the Anglo-Irish Agreement, but I pay tribute to him for his determination to eradicate terrorism from Northern Ireland.

I have listened to our brief debate on foreign affairs this evening and two issues dominate rather as Mount Kenya and Kilimanjaro dominate the plains of east Africa. They are the Gulf crisis and our European future.

When Saddam Hussein went into Kuwait I desperately hoped that Britain, which knows the Gulf area better than any other European country and certainly better than the United States, would give a worthy and honest lead. I congratulate the Prime Minister and the Government on the lead that we, in conjunction with the United States, have given to the rest of the world.

We should be bracing our countrymen and women for the possibility of a winter war even though I hope that a diplomatic and peaceful solution will be found. It has been said that one can do many things with bayonets except sit on them. We recall the Royal Marine commandos being tossed about in the Atlantic storms. We either had to put them in, which we did successfully, or take them back to Ascension and Gibraltar. If it is decided to use force to remove Iraqi troops from Kuwait, I shall understand the arguments.

My other mountain is how we in Britain and in Europe can build up a united, free enterprise, non-protectionist Europe. In Britain and in the two major parties we are not doing very well. In 1983 the Labour party was anti-European. It is trying to catch up fast, but there are some laggards. In my party a small tail wagging the dog minority is opposed to our European future. As I said earlier, some of them have produced a pamphlet saying that we should join up with outer Europe, whatever that is supposed to mean. What an election slogan for Bexleyheath—"Vote for the Conservative party and go down to the second division." In due course the Government will have to stare down that small minority, many of whom honestly opposed Europe from the start and voted against it in the House.

Hon. Members have spoken about my right hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley), a man of many talents and abilities. Like many of my hon. Friends, I was greatly embarrassed by his comments on Germany. I lived in Berlin for two years with the British Army. Germans under the age of 60 bear no responsibility whatever for the events that led to the second world war. Anyone who looks at the way in which West Germany has performed since the end of the war will see an astonishing story that cannot be bettered by any European country. Its public transport, social welfare and social cohesion are truly remarkable. One of the mistakes made by our Government over the years—and I am sure that a Labour Government would have made the same mistake—was to follow too closely the United States and not closely enough West Germany. We were interlocked with the Reagan Administration and already American historians are saying that it was a fairly quirky regime. However, I do not have time to explore that. Some members of the Government believe that our relationship with the United States is paramount, but in 1990 that is a dangerous mistake. That relationship is incredibly important in the context of the nuclear aspect of the Gulf crisis, but in general it is an outdated concept. If the United Kingdom is to get anywhere, we must build up a united Europe. That is what the United States wants us to do. It has given the message, "Do not regard us as close at the expense of your Community partners." We should understand that message.

John Banham, the distinguished director-general of the CBI, talking about currencies, said: We do not want the United Kingdom's ultimate commitment to a single currency to be called into question. We believe that a single currency is good for Britain. He added that CBI members were absolutely committed to playing a full and expanding role in Europe. Some of my hon. Friends will say that that is Euro-fanaticism, but it is not. It is the view of those in business and commerce who are trying to increase exports to the continent. It is the view of many of our people who are in their 20s and 30s even if it is not the view of those who are in their 60s and 70s, and we should understand on which side the future lies.

I should be happy to see a common currency. The other day one of the tabloids suggested that the Conservative election platform would be defending the pound sterling against foolish foreigners. Can we think of anything more ridiculous? For a start, every hon. Member knows that in due course we shall join because there is no alternative. Such a move would be popular. Young people who are used to travelling around Europe fail to understand why there should be artificial currency barriers between one country and another.

We have made a fundamental mistake in our approach to Europe. In a curious way for Britain, over the years we have drained out of the discussion the sense of idealism. It was said that Kennedy was an idealist without an illusion. lain Macleod wittily described Harold Wilson as an illusionist without ideals. There is an element of idealism in the European Community. My grandfather was in the Royal Navy and was a beachmaster at Gallipoli and my father was seriously wounded at Dunkirk. Both world wars came about because western Europe was divided. In my lifetime, during which I was a regular soldier for 10 years, there was no further war on the European mainland. There are two reasons for that—nuclear weapons and the attempt to build up a united western Europe.

Another matter that we must consider is the future. I have two sons aged 11 and nine. When I talk about Europe in my constituency and in the House I am thinking of their future and about the pollution that we must clear up in Europe. How can we deal with a polluted Rhine that is pouring rubbish into the North sea except on a united European basis? How can we build up European industry to compete with Japan and the far east without a sense of European identity? I say to the Government, "Raise your sights and give us some vision, otherwise our people will perish." The British people would respect a lead and follow it. Let us have it.