Economic and Monetary Union

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:59 pm on 24th January 1991.

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Photo of Mr Christopher Gill Mr Christopher Gill , Ludlow 5:59 pm, 24th January 1991

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me so early in this important debate.

The subject for debate is economic and monetary union and I shall resist the temptation to talk about ERM, on which my comments might be construed as slightly less than helpful to the Government. Nor shall I talk about political union, which even Jacques Delors realises is dead in the water as a result of the feeble EC response to the Gulf crisis.

I want to invite my right hon. Friend to consider that an economic and monetary union of sorts already exists within the EC and has existed for many years. I refer, of course, to the common agricultural policy. I invite right hon. and hon. Members to consider for just a moment that within the CAP there already exists a central prescriptive controlling body, the Commission, with a monetary fund of its own, with its own currency, the green pound, which in turn has spawned its own version of ERM, monetary compensatory amounts.

Let us contemplate, then, the history and experience of the CAP and judge whether that has worked. Farmers are not happy with it, but then one might say that farmers are not happy with anything. Then invite taxpayers, politicians, Governments and other nations in the world to consider whether they are happy with the CAP, and each time the resounding answer will be no.

Politicians have pulled agriculture up by the roots and transplanted it into an alien environment. They know not what they do. There is talk in the House today of convergence. For agriculture and the CAP there never was a prospect of convergence, because climate, geography, topography and a host of other things will never converge.

Economic and monetary union will be not dissimilar to the CAP. It would just be bigger and more disastrous. Its effects on the regions would be the same as those of the CAP, the effects of which have been most disastrous in those areas that they were specifically designed to help. Hon. Members who represent less favoured areas will know exactly what I am talking about.

Implicit in economic and monetary union is a single currency. Without doubt, a single currency would give rise to uncompetitive regions. Hon. Members may care to think along the lines of Wales and Scotland and the economic and monetary union that the United Kingdom has had for many years, in which they are still the uncompetitive parts of our economy.

Uncompetitive regions give rise to ever greater demands for regional aid. I am sure that the British taxpayer today will have noted the comments of the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) who envisages a situation in which taxpayers will be called on to stump up ever more of their hard-earned money to provide ever greater regional funds, not necessarily for Britain but for the disadvantaged regions of the whole of western Europe. The result would be that nationalist tensions would increase, and ultimately one can expect to see the break-up of the Community, as we now see the break-up of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

A question sometimes asked is what harm a single currency has done to Wales, Scotland and Ireland, but the real question is what good has been done to the regions of the United Kingdom. Has having a single currency stimulated enterprise, initiative, innovation and entrepreneurial activity in the regions of this nation? On the contrary, it has reinforced and underwritten the dependency culture. It has increased dissatisfaction with the Government and it has heightened nationalist feeling. Conservative Members miss having more colleagues from Scotland and Wales on these Benches.

There is no case for another common institution—certainly not the economic and monetary union that we are discussing today. The best prospect for Britain's prosperity and the prosperity of my constituents and those who live in Wales and Scotland, and indeed all those who live in the nations of western Europe, is a Community of individual co-operating sovereign states.

Our priority at this time must be to make the existing institutions work, not to spend time and energy tilting at windmills. We must put our best foot forward to complete the single market based firmly upon four freedoms—freedom for goods and for services to be bought and sold without fiscal, technical and practical barriers, freedom for capital, and freedom for people to move within and throughout a wider community without let or hindrance. More than that is unnecessary, and more than that is unwanted.