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 David Eccles Mr David Eccles , Chippenham 12:00 am, 26th June 1950

The right hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) said, as though it were a criticism of the French, that there is no Schuman Plan. Surely M. Schuman intended there to be no detailed plan. His idea is that these matters are so serious that the prospect of agreement upon any detailed plan depends upon all the participants entering on the ground level and together creating the plan itself. We should be under a much worse difficulty if there were a plan. The fact that there are only principles seems to me to be an act of statesmanship.

I have no doubt that Members will continue throughout the Debate to point to the great dangers to British industry, employment and strategic interests, but every one of those dangers is an argument for going in on the ground floor. If this were not a very serious matter we could wait, but now that the Government have found it impossible to climb up two steps of the Schuman ladder, how do they think that they can climb up 20 steps when the French and the others have extended the ladder to its full height?

Our Motion draws attention to peace and full employment. If I devote most of my remarks to full employment, that does not mean I think it to be more important than peace. Peace is our primary duty. We all agree about that, and we all make speeches about it—the Chancellor of the Exchequer has made one today. But, in Western Europe they are getting tired of fine phrases. They want action They look round and see that Germany is striding back to economic power. They hear that the Russians have discovered the atom bomb. They look at their own dollar deficits and at the state of their national defences, and they are far from satisfied with what they see.

The smug self-satisfaction that reigns in this country is not to be found on the Continent. There are, of course, plenty of international meetings, conferences, inter-governmental agencies, paper plans and staff cars stuffed with brigadiers and their secretaries, but there is no security. There is no advance towards a stable peace and security at the same rate as Germany and Russia seem to be growing stronger.

It is this anxiety to prevent another war that accounts for the astounding welcome given to the Schuman plan. I happened to be in France at the time, and the common people did not stop to ask for any details. For all they cared, the plan might have been about cabbages and carrots. The fact is that Europe was thinking much more about the "cold war" than about coal and steel. That is why the British refusal to enter these talks was and is utterly incomprehensible to the restless and nervous millions living between us and the Iron Curtain.

The Government have complained that the reaction in Europe and the United States to their refusal does not do justice to their efforts for peace. The Chancellor told us that he and his colleagues have been largely responsible for setting up a number of institutions with the object of organising the resources of Europe for peace—the Brussels Treaty, O.E.E.C., the Council of Europe, and so on. That is true; but on the Continent it is almost universally held that these institutions fall below the level of events. There is very little confidence anywhere that they will provide either military or economic security.

To many observers in Europe and in the United States, one reason for this failure has been a defect in the structure of these institutions—namely, that the members of each inter-governmental agency are nothing more than delegates of national policies with no power to decide anything for the common good. As right hon. Members opposite are only too well aware, the responsibility for preserving nationalism inside these agencies is laid at the door of the Socialist Government of Britain.

If it is difficult to take decisions for the common good through inter-governmental agencies of which the members were allies or friendly neutrals in the war, how much more difficult will it he to take such action if our ex-enemy Germany is invited to be a member of the agency? That is the origin of the Schuman conception, with its emphasis on going beyond the O.E.E.C model and creating an authority whose decisions, subject to appeal and proper safeguard will be binding on the members. The argument runs that if we want Frenchmen and Germans to co-operate, we must give them something to think about beyond their narrow national interests. We must arrange matters so that they speak and act, not as Frenchmen and Germans, but as Europeans.

It is a Continental view, shared by the United States, that if we aim at organising peace in Europe and include Germany in that organisation, then something more is required than talking-shops and intergovernmental agencies. Most of our friends are ready to embark on new and bold policies, and the Schuman Plan challenges Britain to declare whether or not she is prepared to go forward with them. Even if there were no German problem and no "cold war," we should still have to consider how to maintain full employment. That is a second reason why we consider it was desirable for us to join the Schuman talks from the outset.

One of my constituents the other day asked at a meeting this question: "How can you be against nationalisation at home and in favour of international control of the same industries?" Does not the greater include the smaller? He might have gone on to ask: Does not the Member think that international control of heavy industry will put in danger the employment of British workers? Those are questions which require full answers. I am going to submit arguments to the House to show that the more free an economy is, the more necessary it is for it to make international arrangements to maintain world demand for its products.

At the other end of the scale, a totalitarian country like Russia, which produces almost all the raw materials, is from its very nature a bitter enemy of any such international arrangement. At the price of personal freedom the Soviet Government have obtained the power to employ all their people at some standard of life. Their liberty is exchanged for some kind of economic security. On these benches we are determined to have tooth a high and stable level of employment and personal freedom. We are resolved to preserve a comparatively free economy, because we do not see how personal freedom could survive in a Socialist State.

Also, a smaller point—we have a shrewd suspicion, which is now being proved correct by experience, that nationalised industries, are not as efficient producers as private industry. In the past a liberal economy of this kind has revealed a terrible defect. It has generated booms and slumps, and especially after the distortion of a great war has thrown up massive unemployment. Lord Keynes, who called unemployment the serpent in our Paradise, came forward with a remedy. He said that a free society could spend itself out of unemployment by stimulating demand at home when it falls off from any quarter. His policy assumed that at all times we should be able to pay for our essential imports. Today we know that if we tried to do this we should spend ourselves straight into a foreign exchange crisis. Therefore, there is something lacking in the Keynes policy.

I concede here that a liberal economy is in a weak position to resist the contagion of slumps from abroad. If we rely on tariffs rather than quotas, if exchange control is abolished and consumers allowed to choose what they want to buy and to buy at competitive prices—all these things I wish to do—then, of course, the economy would be ill-prepared to deal with a trade recession coming from the outside world. Against this contingency there are two kinds of remedy and only two. We can barricade ourselves in at home with all manner of controls—and that is Socialism—or we can make adequate international arrangements to prevent a serious slump from ever taking place. That is the choice. We cannot hope to succeed with the second method unless we are ready to endow with considerable powers a number of international institutions. It is a recognition of this fact that makes the Governments of Europe on the economic side enthusiastic supporters of the Schuman Plan.