Schuman Plan

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 26th June 1950.

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Photo of Mr Anthony Eden Mr Anthony Eden , Warwick and Leamington 12:00 am, 26th June 1950

I am grateful to the hon. Member for having made sure of that point which had not escaped me. I can assure him that it had not. That resolution goes far beyond anything in the Schuman proposals, except that all the parties to it are to be Socialists. If that is the policy of Members opposite, we should like to know. Perhaps we shall be told in due course. The hon. Gentleman will be aware how completely this conflicts with the indignant repudiation made by the Prime Minister the other day that any suggestion of ideological influence could have anything to do with His Majesty's foreign policy at all. It will also be immensely interesting to know how the hon. Gentleman will reconcile this doctrine, defensible as it is politically, with our undertakings under O.E.E.C., of which, no doubt, we shall hear something from the Chancellor of the Exchequer in due course. I observe that the "Herald-Tribune" asks that question this morning, and I have no doubt it will be asked again.

I read extracts from those proceedings because they are immensely instructive, and I note that they were wound up by the right hon. Gentleman who is now the Minister of Town and Country Planning. I must be absolutely fair to him, I have read through the whole of his speech, and he did let fall some cautionary observations, including comments on the meaning of several words. He asked the Conference to endorse the resolution, and it did so without any disturbance so far as the paper records go. This was a unanimous resolution passed in 1948. I leave it for the House.

There is no mention in that resolution of how this would upset the Empire so badly, as we are now told these proposals would. On the contrary, the right hon. Gentleman used words, which I would certainly entirely endorse, and I hope he does not mind me saying that. He did not accept the dilemma between moving nearer Europe and away from the Empire. Nor do I. He said: I think we can move closer to Western Europe and at the same time maintain in all its fullness"— and I hope perhaps extend and expand— our relations with the countries of the Commonwealth. That is grand, I agree, but what about all this indignation, including that of the Minister of Health at the weekend, as to the damage that was going to be done? Damage is only going to be done to the Commonwealth, it seems, if the Governments of Europe are not Socialist. That is a very strange doctrine, especially at a time when the Governments of the Commonwealth are not Socialist either.

The French in their document use the words "a common high authority," under which Franco-German production of coal and steel would be pooled. Then we come to the statement that the decisions of this common high authority would be binding on the member Governments. To this all the other excellent, and courageous proposals in this document have been subordinated, because the French requested acceptance of the principle of a high authority as an essential preliminary to the discussion of any ensuing plan. Our Government took a literal view of this condition, and felt it to be an insuperable obstacle; that is to say, they felt that if they accepted those terms, the Government would have run the risk that, having got into the discussions, they might not have been able to agree with the final conclusions. That is perfectly true, but it is my own strong impression that the risks of having to withdraw from the negotiations were and are less serious than those of failing to attend the negotiations at all.

Events are already showing that we were right in that judgment. M. Schuman, very early in the discussions of the six Powers, stated: we shall pool our ideas, confront them and choose between them. Already the conception of a high authority seems to have been considerably modified. Most of us with any experience of international negotiations could have been fairly sure that that was precisely what would happen. But still, I admit there is a question which must be faced, and I propose to face it. Would we be prepared to enter discussions as a result of which a high authority would be set up whose decisions would be binding upon the nations who were parties to the agreement? My answer to that question would be, yes, provided—[HON. MEMBERS: "Ah."]—that we were satisfied with the conditions and the safeguards.

It was rather interesting to note the divergent views on the benches opposite. I notice that right hon. Gentlemen who have experience of negotiations nodded their heads, whilst there was ribald laughter from behind them. I ask hon. Members to ponder this—provided we are satisfied with the conditions and the safeguards. Of course, that is a reasonable basis on which to enter any negotiations, and a perfectly defensible one.

The House ought also to bear in mind that there are any number of questions which still have to be determined. Is there, for instance, to be a right of appeal and if so, to whom? Is there to be any form of voting? If so, will there be taken into account the proportionate production of coal and steel in the countries concerned? In this respect our claims would be immensely strong, for, of course, we hold the predominant position in the production of coal and steel. For that reason and for others, I think some hon. Gentlemen opposite are taking counsel unduly of their fears when they think that if we were to enter an organisation of that kind everybody would be "ganging up" against us. I do not believe that that is how it would work out.

There are lots of other questions; I will not worry the House with them, but one of them is this: Is the authority to control the size of domestic production? Has any country to have the right to stockpile if there is a surplus? Is the authority to regulate international exports between the participants in the pool or is some wider plan contemplated? All these are issues upon the answer to which our ability finally to take part in such a plan would admittedly have to be largely determined.

But surely we should be better placed to make a constructive contribution and to model the agreement in a form which we could accept if we were ourselves taking part in the negotiations. That is why we have stated that we would have accepted on the terms the Netherlands have used, and I will read to the House what those terms are. I do not know what the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) finds so very amusing. I am doing my best to put forward a serious argument.