Confidence in Her Majesty's Government

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:16 pm on 22nd November 1990.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Patrick McNair-Wilson Mr Patrick McNair-Wilson , New Forest 7:16 pm, 22nd November 1990

I would not quarrel with that description of what has happened to my right hon. Friend. I am deeply saddened that something has been manufactured to take her away from the world stage and the stage here.

The second issue is our relationship with Europe. I regard it as more important than management of the domestic economy, as mistakes in the domestic economy can be corrected, but the mistakes that we could make in our relationship with Europe could be irreparable.

When I came into the House in 1964, the Opposition were lamenting the existence of what they laughingly called the gnomes of Zurich, who were destroying their ability to manage their affairs. I remember Lord Wilson standing at the Dispatch Box explaining to the House that, although Britain's economy had underlying strength, a crisis of confidence was affecting our currency. That terrible crisis dogged the Labour Government until they were eventually put out of office in 1970. One of the problems which made that crisis so difficult to solve was the effect of a tightly fixed exchange rate, under the Bretton Woods system, and our subsequent problems with expanding the economy. I remember many occasions on which the Labour Government had to cut hospital and other welfare programmes because of those financial constraints.

If we are not careful we shall be on the threshold of a situation where the gnomes of Zurich will look like pixies—we shall be run by a central bank which is effectively beyond our control, and we shall have surrendered our money supply. My right hon. Friend has fought passionately, throughout her period in office, to get a relationship with Europe which gives us, and the other nations, the freedom to manage our affairs without such constraints.

We are now members of the European exchange rate mechanism. Thank goodness sterling can operate within a 12 per cent. band. If anyone believes that we can solve our problems by bringing the band down to 4·5 per cent., I can assure them that they are 100 per cent. wrong.

Next month, after the German elections, hon. Members will witness one of the most significant economic events—the German economy bearing the full brunt of the cost of repairing the east. German interest rates will begin to move up, and we shall witness their effect upon the entire Community economy. My prediction is that the standard of living in the Community will start to fall during the next five years.

If, as a nation, we are not free to manage our domestic economy, we will fall along with other European nations. I am convinced that my right hon. Friend was correct to be prudent and careful. In the future there will be two super states—the United States and Germany. Many of the other European countries are scrambling about, trying to lock Germany into institutions in the belief that that will control her ambitions and power. I very much doubt it.

My family have had a home in continental Europe for many years. Anyone who believes that Europe is some glorious, united Utopia knows nothing about it. Going to Europe and living the gilded life in huge hotels, attending conferences, is not the same as talking to ordinary people.

I am convinced that my right hon. Friend's greatest contribution to the nation—quite apart from what she may have done for the domestic economy—was putting the brake on any rash moves across Europe and European monetary union. To some extent, we lose in the translation. The French call the single currency "monnaie unique"—something completely unique. They do not want it and will probably fight against it. The only difference between the French and ourselves is that they have the happy habit of joining things, and, if they do not like them, starting to sabotage them. Sadly, we play by different rules.