European Economic Community

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:31 pm on 7th November 1962.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Denis Healey Mr Denis Healey , Leeds East 3:31 pm, 7th November 1962

Not in 'the least, but they have voted with their feet as to whether the real power in the Six is in national Governments or in the Commission, which is quite another matter. I think that my hon. Friend will accept this. At least, I hope that he will.

The real reason why we have fared so badly in the negotiations so far is, above all, because the Government applied at the wrong time and for the wrong reasons. In particular, they made it crystal clear a year ago that they were applying for membership of the Six in a mood of despair because they could see no way of improving our own economic position without changing the whole context in which decisions had to be taken. Our bargaining position was further worsened by the attitude of the Prime Minister at the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference in trying publicly to bully all the other Prime Ministers to keep quiet on the ground that we were going in whatever they said and that they had better have good relations with the enlarged Community.

Finally, our negotiating position was ruined by the slickness of the party managers at the Tories' Llandudno conference. Let us look at what has happened to the negotiations since that conference. There is the total refusal by the Six even to discuss the Lord Privy Seal's agricultural proposals. There is the refusal to abolish tariffs on aluminium and newsprint. There is the refusal to consider any further lightening of the burden on manufactured exports from Africa and Asia. There is the satement: by the French Government that they did not consider that any promise had been made to give special consideration to New Zealand.

Above all, there is this new line on E.F.T.A.—the suggestion that Britain would be enough to digest at one time and that the other E.F.T.A. countries could not be expected to have a vote until the vital decisions about the Community's future had been taken. If one reads Belgian, French or German newspapers one finds that continental Governments now believe that the British. Government want to go into the Common Market whatever the price. This is a view also instilled into Commonwealth Governments by the British Prime Minister at the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference.

The final capitulation is the Government's attempt to bribe the French Government to allow us to enter by offering de Gaulle assistance in building up his atomic deterrent even though this would wreck the best hope of reaching agreement on European disarmament since the war.

The crowning irony is that all these efforts may fail in the end. We have to face the possibility that there may be no alternative to staying out of the Common Market because, as the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Sir T. Beamish) admitted, it may be that President de Gaulle does not want us in at any price. I suggest that in this situation it is vitally urgent that the Government should start considering alternative policies. This is vital, in the first place, because to consider alternatives to joining the Common Market would, I believe, help us to put our own priorities right not only in economic but also in foreign and military policy. The knowledge that we are considering alternatives is an absolutely indispensable element in strengthening our bargaining power in the negotiations which remain. So long as we leave the Six with the impression that we think we have no alternative to joining, why should they make any concessions to get us in? Yet this is the impression which the Government have assiduously cultivated by their public statements and by their private behaviour.

What lines should the alternative take? I shall not discuss the essential domestic precondition, which is to strengthen our own economy first, not only because this would increase our bargaining power but because to go into the Common Market with an economy weaker than all the others would condemn us to the new balance of payments crisis and either devaluation or permanent stagnation.

In foreign economic policy, I believe that it is not too late to try to organise a joint approach by all the Commonwealth countries and all the E.F.T.A. countries to world negotiations with three major objectives: first, to take advantage of President Kennedy's Trade Expansion Bill to try to get a reduction of industrial tariffs in all the developed countries, something which would bring us infinitely greater advantages than a purely limited and regional reduction in tariffs such as is offered by the Common Market; second, to open all the developed markets of the world to cheap manufactured goods and raw materials, particularly tropical foodstuffs from all the under-developed countries; third, to try to reach commodity agreements; and, above all, to make the food surpluses of the developed countries available to relieve hunger in countries which cannot afford to pay for food which they desperately need.

It is no good anyone pretending that these aims are unrealistic. They are a condition which the Government have set themselves in the Common Market negotiations. It is no good the Lord Privy Seal saying that we have no hope of reaching these agreements when he is, in fact, undertaking to reach them after we join the Common Market in any case in order to meet the demands of the Commonwealth and other countries.

I do not believe that action along those lines is a second best. I believe that it should always have been our first objective, and, unless we can achieve it, entry into the Common Market will do us and the world much more harm than good. If we begin to move in this direction towards global agreements first, there will, I believe, be an infinitely better chance that later negotiations with the Common Market countries will reach an accommodation which is satisfactory both to us and to them.

If we try to go in on the terms at present envisaged, at best we shall find ourselves imprisoned as a permanent minority in an organisation which is either indifferent or hostile to our basic aims in the world affairs. At worst— and, perhaps, most likely—we shall find ourselves having lost all our old friends in the world without having gained any new ones in Europe.