We need your support to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can continue to hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder


Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 8:57 pm on 25th June 1996.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Patrick Nicholls Mr Patrick Nicholls , Teignbridge 8:57 pm, 25th June 1996

The hon. Gentleman says that he did not say that. It might be an idea for him to look at the Hansard record tomorrow. He gave no alternative to the Government's policy. Instead, he simply said that the deal was wrong.

What, by implication, was the hon. Gentleman saying about the deal? Was he saying that he and his federalist friends could have got a better deal? Is that really credible? Is that the unilateral argument? If the hon. Gentleman's party ever held sway in the Government of this country, would it go into the chancelleries of Europe saying, "I want to give away my veto, because I find it embarrassing"? Would it say, "The veto conflicts with my federalist ambitions, and I want you to know in advance that, whatever you do to me, I shall ultimately put up with it, because I will never rely on a veto for this country"? That is the hon. Gentleman's position.

To use a phrase used many times in the House in a slightly different context, to suggest that one can go naked into the negotiating chamber and then come out with a better deal than was got in the circumstances is completely fanciful.

What does it amount to? Are we supposed to accept that the only reason why we did not get the right, just deal was that we were rude to the Europeans? Is that what we should be saying about our partners in Europe? Is it the federalist position that, if we were nice to them and sucked up to them, they might have given us a better deal, but because the Government were horrid to them, we did not get the deal?

The Government decided on a policy of non-co-operation—which goes against the grain of the way in which Conservatives feel they should conduct themselves—not as a jingoistic prelude to a football match with Germany, but because we had absolutely no choice. There was nowhere else to turn. We could either go on for ever and a day getting precisely nowhere, or we could tell our European partners that it was not sufficient. That is why we conducted ourselves in that way. Of course it is not a great deal, but it is the best that could have been achieved in the circumstances, and it is much better than many people thought possible.

When the hon. Member for North Cornwall tried to bolster his case by quoting a letter from the NFU, it really was not his finest hour. He used the letter from the NFU to raise the spectre of anything up to 150,000 cattle being slaughtered. When I asked him to continue with the letter and read out its conclusion, he did not want to do so. That is hardly surprising, as he was trying to represent the letter from the NFU as a condemnation of the Government's policy. My interpretation of the letter and its conclusion was precisely the opposite.

The conclusion of that letter needs to be put on record for exactly that reason. It states: The NFU welcomes the fact that the Prime Minister has now indicated that he anticipates that the ban on the export of British beef products could be raised by November of this year. We also welcome his assurance that the European Commission has the power to override the Standing Veterinary Committee if that body appears to be taking factors other than the purely scientific and technical ones into account.Should such a position arise, the NFU considers that the Government should immediately halt the selective cull scheme. The whole beef crisis has been far too bedevilled with politics rather than based on good scientific advice and cool rational judgment.The NFU pledges to do all it can to co-operate with the relevant authorities to ensure that the export ban is lifted on the timetable referred to by the Prime Minister if not earlier. It is essential that, for their part, the authorities pull out all the stops so that this can be achieved.[Interruption.] The hon. Member for North Cornwall barks from a sedentary position, "Would they withdraw co-operation again?" His party would not do that. The Liberal Democrats have made it abundantly clear that there is absolutely nothing that our European partners could do to the hon. Gentleman and those of his colleagues who bothered to turn up to their own debate to make them exercise a policy of non-co-operation.