Economic Policy

Part of Prayers – in the House of Commons at 7:21 pm on 24th September 1992.

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Photo of Mr Derek Enright Mr Derek Enright , Hemsworth 7:21 pm, 24th September 1992

This was not a failure of the exchange rate mechanism; it was a failure of the Government. The ERM is not a policy; it is a tool, a means of arriving at monetary union. Because I am a socialist, I believe that we should still aim for the goal of monetary union. It is because others are not socialists that they do not believe in trying to control and contain Europe's monetary system so as to avoid disgraceful spectacles such as that which occurred last week. As I saw on television when I returned from the French referendum, young men were swilling down champagne to celebrate the fact that they had made £4 million out of selling their currency down the drain—and the Government are largely responsible for creating the climate in which that happens.

The Government cannot seriously object if their Back Benchers accept what they say at face value. The Government went to Maastricht declaring that they would fight the foreigners. the Prime Minister and Chancellor went there describing the bureaucracy in Brussels as awful and saying that they were determined to wrest back power from that bureaucracy. They returned claiming that they had fought bureaucracy and the foreigners, but they should have come back and presented the policies from Maastricht that they accepted and could recommend to the House because they were for the good of the people.

The single market is already in place. In the French referendum the Single European Act, not the treaty of Maastricht, was regularly criticised. If we do not move on to Maastricht and use it we will be left with a grand hypermarket devoid of humanity. The Single European Act, for which various hon. Members have said they voted, presaged Maastricht, and it would be to deny our promises if we did not vote for Maastricht. I am neither for nor against referendums—I would not go to the stake over them—but if we are to hold one we must present it properly. It must include a question on the environment, another on training, another on the powers of the European Parliament and one on the Committee of the Regions. That sort of devolution has not been mentioned in this debate, but it is an important link in the economy and with the European Community.

What sort of Committee of the Regions do our Government intend to have? Most Governments have declared their intention that it should have elected members. Will our members of it be appointed, as they are to hospital trusts? Will we be represented by estate agents or by people who truly represent the regions where real devolution happens?

The right hon. Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker) said that he did not want people from Brussels taking jobs from Yorkshire. It is the Government, not the Commission, who have taken jobs from my constituency by their heedless energy policies and by their failure to act together with the rest of the Community to ensure a common energy policy so that we can use our coal into the next century. That is the sort of planning that is needed.

If I were the right hon. Member for Mole Valley, I should be careful about criticising the financial expertise of others. After all, he introduced the poll tax, so it ill behoves him to criticise the judgment of others.

The Government were never going to receive the same defence from the Bundesbank as the French have received, for the simple reason that when the negotiations took place our Government said that they wanted to withdraw —that they were in the ERM and that that was enough for us. They did not want to proceed to EMU; they would save that for a later date and not commit themselves. That was typical of the Government's half-hearted approach not only to the social chapter but to all the other social provisions. That approach has caused a crisis of confidence in the British Government on the part of our continental partners.

I was at the European Parliament on black Wednesday. It did not cause the stir there that it caused here. Following black Wednesday we said that the ERM was gone—finished—because the United Kingdom is now out. Not so. It is clear that France and Germany and the Benelux countries will come together as quickly as possible and will create a single currency. The remarks of the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) notwithstanding, these countries will form the core. How quickly then will we be able to catch them up? How soon will we be able to give our country the benefits that flow from a stable currency? We shall be hanging on to the coat tails of the single currency and, far from being independent, our policies will be directed by the fiscal and financial policies that the core countries pursue.

We must put together a series of industrial, fiscal and financial policies with our partners in the Community, but that is not to be done the night before one drops out of the exchange rate mechanism—or even the weekend before. It is a long and complicated haul. There is no easy fix. The Government should pick themselves up and start talking to their European partners. They should put their whole heart into Maastricht and tell our partners that we will go forward with them. And they should accept the social chapter as an earnest of their good intent to co-operate in future.