Orders of the Day — Foreign Affairs and Defence

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:25 pm on 11th December 2000.

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Photo of Mark Hendrick Mark Hendrick Labour, Preston 7:25 pm, 11th December 2000

May I start by thanking the people of Preston, Walton-le-Dale and Bamber Bridge who placed their trust in me by sending me to the House. Those areas were well served by my predecessor, Audrey Wise, who battled for many years on issues such as health, unemployment, housing and immigration. It is an honour to follow in her footsteps in such a wonderful town.

I have represented Preston in a different place across the water. Preston is at the centre of my former central Lancashire European constituency and is the town where I live. It is a fine town with the fastest-growing university in the land and world-beating aerospace and technology companies. The town centre combines old and modern and, of course, there are down-to-earth Lancashire folk. Preston is outward-looking and its prosperity is largely dependent on the sale of aircraft around the world. It is a town full of people with the skills to produce world-beating European fighter aircraft, with plans for newer and even better aircraft on the drawing board. It is a town with a rich ethnic and religious diversity, with people all living together in s harmony. Preston values European industrial and defence co-operation because it used to build military aircraft in the previous century to defend Britain from our European neighbours. In recent years, it has built aircraft jointly with our European neighbours.

In looking forward to the new century, it is important to look briefly at where we have come from. I should like to quote Winston Churchill, who summed up the sentiments behind closer ties between European nations when he said: This noble continent, comprising … the fairest and the most cultivated regions of the earth … is the origin of most of the culture, arts, philosophy and science of both ancient and modern times. If Europe were once united in the sharing of its common inheritance, there would be no limit to the happiness, to the prosperity and glory which its three or four hundred million people would enjoy. Clearly, Churchill's party does not hold that view today.

Good European connections very often start at local level with twinning agreements between towns such as Preston, Recklinghausen and Almelo. That sort of co-operation is helping to create a stronger, more unified Europe that is built from the bottom up by the people, as well as from the top down by the politicians—and may I take this opportunity to congratulate the Government on reaching an historic agreement in Nice?

Throughout history, cultural divergences and differences have provided Europe with a richness of culture unrivalled in the world. However, they have also led to some of the bitterest conflicts known to man. One need only look at a map of Europe to see where the lines of conflict have been drawn over the centuries. A determination among the leaders and people of Europe that battle lines must never again be drawn between Germany, France and Britain led to the commitment to develop cultural and historical ties between nations. However, the commitment to European co-operation and understanding between different nationalities had to go far beyond the local level, and has done so. Governments are now well aware that collective initiatives are far more effective than individual ones. It was on the basis of that belief that the European Community was founded. Although many at first doubted the ideas behind the European Union, now, almost 40 years after its creation, there can be little doubt that it has been an overwhelming success.

Since 1957, the European Union has grown stronger year by year. Not only have new member states joined the original six, so that the European Union now comprises 15 member states, but, as we have seen in Nice, Europe is increasingly expanding its vision eastward to encompass the countries of central and eastern Europe. However, the European Union beyond 2000 will not just be a Europe with increased membership: its policies have also grown considerably in the years since its founding. Withdrawal from Europe is now virtually an impossible option. Whether loose talk about reserve powers to end Britain's commitment to the EU treaties is a rejection of any possibility or is based on the discredited notion of joining the North American Free Trade Agreement, such messages undermine British interests.

Three million jobs depend on our trade with the European Union. Massive advances have been made in social and environmental legislation. A Tory recipe for the isolation of Britain in an era of globalisation is folly. It is unnecessary because the European Union does not pose a threat on health, education, defence, welfare or tax. Indeed, the EU's involvement in all those matters has been of great benefit to Britain.

The myth is still being peddled that an anonymous bureaucracy in Brussels takes decisions on European legislation, not the elected representatives of national member Governments and directly elected European parliamentarians.

Europe and the world beyond 2000 will be places where communications bind together disparate and diverse cultures, languages and traditions. The boundaries that have existed for centuries will be swept away, because the economic, social and political forces that are developing will make them irrelevant. That is not to say that we will lose our language, culture or traditions, but merely that we will have the benefit, knowledge and understanding of others. People can still have a hotpot on a cold evening and fish and chips on a Friday, in spite of European integration.

As MEP Nobel peace prize winner, my good and hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume), would say, we must not see diversity as a threat. It is an opportunity for understanding, and respect for it is a prerequisite for peace. When we consider the war in the Balkans and the ethnic cleansing that occurred on a mass scale, we are reminded of the horrors of the second world war. Murder, torture and rape are the weapons of evil, and are being perpetrated on people because they are different. Difference should be treasured and cherished. What sort of a world would it be if we were all the same?

As we move beyond 2000, I am convinced that the war in the Balkans and other conflicts around the world are the last vestiges of nationalism. They are nationalism gasping for its last breath. That is happening—it might seem strange for me to say this as a socialist—because internationalism is being driven by international capitalism. To be successful, internationalism needs rules, laws and order—a new international order that is different from that which prevailed in the previous century through the cold war. It also needs peace and co-operation. That is not to say that this new century will be without war; it will not. However, as someone who believes that the power of good will conquer evil, I believe that in this new century, Europe and the world generally will have won another battle against evil.