For me, the ERM is the Maginot line on the road to Maastricht. It has failed spectacularly and we saw the result the other day with untold damage and anxiety when panic struck the country as interest rates rocketed up. We now have some respite, but the problem is that Maastricht is by no means dead. That troubles me, and no doubt other hon. Members, greatly.
This year's Conservative party manifesto said:
Membership of the ERM is now central to our counter-inflation discipline. But the ERM is not a magic wand.
We can certainly see that it is not.
Any modified form of the discredited system would simply not work because a series of divergent economies cannot be made to converge. Countries such as Germany on the one hand and Greece and Italy on the other inevitably will not achieve currency parity.
The cohesion fund under the Maastricht treaty is part of the economic policy that lies at the heart of these matters. The result is that, by our own admission, we have neither the money nor the intention to pay the amount of money that Delors is claiming for his financial package —Delors 2. The money is not available, nor is the will to pay it, so what is the rationale for continuing with the Maastricht Bill or for pursuing the dogma of the ERM?
With a number of honourable exceptions, I had not expected to hear such blatant hypocrisy from Opposition Members. They have been up to their eyes in this policy throughout. What we heard from the Liberals and my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) was unbelievable. They want a unified state. We cannot afford to rewrite the history books by pretending that what has recently happened did not really happen. We cannot brush it all under the carpet, pretending that it is business as usual.
When the British people reflect on the events of last week they will not find it easy to understand how we can simply continue with Maastricht. I am told that I have a good voting record, but on this occasion, as on the Second Reading of the Maastricht Bill and the confidence motion that was debated in December in the run-up to the general election, I fear that I must abstain—for a good reason. I do not believe for a minute that my constituents or many other people in the country would understand my voting for this motion, given the anti-democratic nature of the Maastricht treaty. In addition, we must remember that we have had no White Paper, for which I have been calling for three years. We have not had a free vote and we have not had a referendum. I heard my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup chattering on about what he would like to see—a unified Europe—but he gave us a White Paper in the 1970s and, as I understand it, there was a free vote in 1972 and a referendum in 1975. I voted to stay in Europe and voted willingly for the Single European Act. I challenge anyone to question my credentials. I believe in European co-operation, but not in a centralising treaty. I have outlined in previous debates and in various publications why I believe that the treaty is a centralising one.
Finally, I want to ask a simple question about the nature of democracy and to quote a passage from a publication known as "German Comments", a passage reprinted there in July of this year from the "Konrad Adenauer Siftung". The article, written after the Danish referendum, said:
More and more frequently elections are now distorting themselves into instruments of protests for the voters. Unless Europe soon encounters a new type of voter governing will become even more difficult than it was in the past.
That is a pretty remarkable statement and it shows the sort of problem that lies at the heart of so many of our present troubles. The Maastricht legislation and the treaty are riddled with contradictions—masses of them. The treaty is not just a compromise; it is self-contradictory. The only thing that we can do, therefore, is to determine not to have it and not to accept the ERM even in a modified form.
For a long time we have been taken down the wrong route. I said in a debate shortly after the dark days of our leadership election, following some unflattering comments that I had made about a web of deceit woven over the subject of Europe, that I believed that only in the Conservative party would we find the answers to the future of Europe for this country.
I implore my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to review the decision that appears to have been taken and not to continue with the treaty. I direct that plea to him in all humility.