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Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Chidgey: Will my right hon. and learned Friend give way?

Mr. Campbell: No. I should like, if I may, to make some progress.

The Government have been defective in one respect—the European single currency. I have no doubt that if that argument is to be won—it is in Britain's interests to be part of that currency, subject to the economic conditions at the time of joining being propitious—it cannot be left until the point at which the Chancellor of the Exchequer produces his tablets of stone and makes a statement to the effect that the five economic conditions, which are essentially political in character, have been met. The wind blows in various directions. For example, the Minister emerges as an apparent enthusiast for the single currency, but then someone in a different Department draws back. The country is entitled to look to the Government for a coherent and consistent view on the single currency, and if the Government wish their view to triumph they must accept that the argument must be made now.

Mr. Spring: The right hon. and learned Gentleman called—correctly, in my view—for a White Paper leading up to the intergovernmental conference. In view of the extraordinary movement in statements from the Government on the single currency, does he agree that it would be appropriate to have a White Paper that set out all the considerations—economic, political and constitutional—on the single currency? I hope that he would support that.

Mr. Campbell: I certainly would support that proposal. One can hardly argue, as I have, that this is a matter of economic, political and constitutional importance without accepting the need for a proper statement of the Government's position, and the best way to enshrine that is in the form of a White Paper. The debate on the single currency should start, and as soon as possible.

I said that I thought there had been a change of mood in the Conservative party, for the reasons I mentioned and which I will not repeat. However, those of us who are

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advocates and supporters of Europe should be much more active in putting our case. Far too much of what the public learn of Europe is contained in curious stories in tabloid newspapers, most of which are founded on myth, not fact or reality.

I have no doubt that the United Kingdom has benefited considerably from our membership of the European Union and that our future best lies in a close relationship with it. That is why the Bill should have a swift passage through the House and the treaty should receive swift ratification. We should not exclude those who for such a long time lived under the shadow of communism from the benefits and advantages that we have enjoyed so long ourselves.

5.22 pm

Joyce Quin (Gateshead, East and Washington, West): I do not wish to pre-empt the result of the vote tonight, but I welcome the fact that we are likely to conclude our part in the ratification of the Nice treaty today. I have listened to the debates on Second Reading and in Committee and they have been much enriched by the contributions of several new hon. Members, who have brought much to our debates from their experiences of various organisations and previous employment. They have made some very constructive comments.

Many pertinent questions have been put in the course of our deliberations. While I am light years away from the official Opposition's European policy, it is none the less right to pose hard questions from all points of view about how we best engage our population with the European issues that we have discussed. The hon. Member for Wantage (Mr. Jackson) is right to say that there was no excited tide of anti-Europeanism that was somehow vindicated in the recent general election result. However, there was an alarming passivity and lack of engagement with the issues, and I agree with the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) that it is important for the Government—and all of us in our constituencies—to address the issues and air them widely.

Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe): Does my right hon. Friend agree that part of the problem is that many hon. Members, on both sides of the argument, are committed in principle either to more or less union, whereas men and women on the street are more interested in what the European Union is going to do? They are less interested in the more arcane constitutional arguments on which we spend so much time.

Joyce Quin: My hon. Friend makes a valid point. People respond more warmly to the European Union when they think that it is dealing with issues that are important. We all remember the sea change in the attitude to the European Union that took place among many trade unionists. That happened not because they suddenly got excited about enhanced co-operation or treaty provisions, but because they felt that the EU was talking about employment rights and conditions—matters very dear to their hearts. Similarly, when the EU was associated with a campaign to clean up beaches, many coastal communities took a great deal of interest. It is therefore important for the EU—and the House—to deal with the sort of practical tasks that co-operation among EU countries can address.

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In many ways, it is ironic that European co-operation at the present time seems more important than ever. We need to use some of the existing European structures effectively. I was very glad to hear my right hon. Friend the Minister speak of the co-operation that is taking place to combat terrorism. Information is being shared between intelligence agencies, and practical ways to combat terrorism are being studied. For example, action is being taken to strengthen aviation security, and work is being done at a European level to deal with funds and bank accounts that might be used to help terrorists.

Those are extremely important matters, but addressing them is made easier by the fact that appropriate structures already exist in the EU that we can tap into. We do not have to take time to create many new structures before we can react to what happened on 11 September. We are therefore able to use structures such as Europol or the justice and home affairs provisions, and we have already done so. It helps a great deal that justice and home affairs Ministers are so used to holding regular meetings. They are able to contact each other quickly to work out how to move forward. The existence of the EU is therefore of great benefit in that regard.

The official Opposition's approach is to renegotiate or dismantle the EU. I am worried about that, as it will harm co-operation in many vital areas. When I was a Home Office Minister, I visited the British arm of Europol and was impressed by the way in which exchange of information had already led to the arrests of some serious transnational criminals. Such work is not often advertised, as to do so would alert the criminals to what is being done, but it is none the less important. I therefore hope that we can build on the efforts being made in that regard, rather than dismantle them.

I listened to the new shadow Foreign Secretary, and found his arguments extremely unconvincing. It is very hard to say that one is firmly in favour of enlargement, and then vote against measures designed precisely to facilitate enlargement. It is important to remember what happened in the Irish referendum and to look at ways of dealing with the issues that arose from it, but that does not mean that the whole process should be stopped as a result. As the hon. Member for Wantage pointed out so effectively, that is an absurd line to take.

I noted that, in a radio interview yesterday, the shadow Health Secretary, the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox), was trying to convince us that the European issue had been settled among members of the official Opposition, even though Lord Skidelsky had announced that he was leaving the Conservative party largely because of the European issue. Had the shadow Health Secretary been here for today's debate, he would have seen the wildly different reactions that the European issue has caused on his own Benches.

On Second Reading, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary advised the Opposition to learn from Labour's experience during the long years of opposition, but there are some differences. Our own slough of despond in the early 1980s was caused by an internal problem. What is causing such dissension in the Opposition's ranks is an external factor—the European Union—and its evolving nature. Unless the Conservative party can tackle the issue sensibly, it is in for a traumatic experience for a long time to come.

Denzil Davies: I do not know when my right hon. Friend came to this House, but she will remember—or,

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if not, she will be able to read about it in Hansard—that the Single European Act was constantly opposed by the then Opposition from both the Front and Back Benches.

Joyce Quin: I know the history of this issue very well. No one can deny that there have been considerable changes in my party's attitude towards Europe during that time. None the less, over a period of many years, the European issue has been decided in our party with large majorities. Most party members whom I come across are very comfortable with the Government's approach to the issue.

On Second Reading, I urged the Government to go out into the country and sell enlargement to the various regions and communities. I still believe that that is extremely important, once our deliberations on the Bill have been concluded.

We can give the population of our country many positive reasons for enlargement. Obviously, we favour it because it completes the historic task of reconciliation after the end of the cold war. We also need to point out that enlargement has already promoted positive change in the applicant countries. It has helped to improve the treatment of minorities in those countries, resolve some border and nationality disputes and, very importantly, to underpin democracy. That is a huge advantage, and we should not undersell it.

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