European Economic Community (Brussels Negotiations)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 11th February 1963.

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Photo of Mr Fred Blackburn Mr Fred Blackburn , Stalybridge and Hyde 12:00 am, 11th February 1963

If I answered in detail the policy of despair of the hon. Member for Louth (Sir C. Osborne), I am afraid my speech would be longer than would be approved by him.

The right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) complained about the lengthy speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson). Actually it was much shorter than that of the Prime Minister. When the Prime Minister rose to speak I had a clean sheet of paper on which to make notes which might be of some value when I made my speech. At the end of his speech my sheet was still virgin white. I do not think that I need make any further comment on that.

The hon. Member for Louth said that he was not going to vote with us tonight. I do not think that anybody on this side ever expected that he would, but I wonder whether he has read the Motion for which he is going to vote. In fact, I wonder whether any hon. Gentleman opposite has read it. They are asked to express full confidence in the determination and ability of Her Majesty's Government …"; they are asked to give a vote of confidence to this Government at the moment when everything is collapsing about their ears. Their economic policy has collapsed, and we have an unemployment figure of well over 800,000. Their defence policy has collapsed, now their Common Market policy has collapsed, and we are asked to give them a vote of confidence.

I have never been either violently anti-or violently pro-Common Market because I could not work up the same enthusiasm for or against the idea as some of my hon. Friends and some hon. Gentlemen opposite have done. I felt instinctively against the Common Market, but I would have been prepared to go in on my own terms, which are quite different from the terms which have been negotiated by the Lord Privy Seal. My chief concern was for the Commonwealth, not that I thought for a moment that we could work out an economic unit of the Commonwealth, but because I believe that this association of free peoples, unique in the history of the world, is one of the greatest forces for peace in the world, and I should hate anything to happen which would reduce the effectiveness of the Commonwealth.

I do not make a habit of trying to prophesy, but when the Government came before the House and said that the House should approve their negotiating to enter the Common Market and laid down their three conditions, I said at that time that if the Government were sincere in the conditions which they had laid down the question of our entry into the Common Market would never arise because they would not accept us on those conditions. But the Government have hedged on their terms. It is very significant that a few weeks ago in one of these debates, when the Lord Privy Seal was challenged about the conditions for entry into the Common Market, he said: Of course we stick to our three conditions"— but he added these significant words"— consistent with the Treaty of Rome. That, of course, put an entirely different reading on the promises they had given.

The Prime Minister was wrong in his broadcast, and he was wrong again today when he said that we were nearly reaching agreement. We were far from reaching terms which were acceptable to this House. We were certainly far from reaching terms acceptable to this party. If we had gone in, the Government would have broken faith with the Commonwealth. They would have broken faith with E.F.T.A. They would have broken faith with British agriculture. They would have broken faith with this House, and they would have broken faith with the people of this country. I believe that if there had been a free vote in this House on the terms which had been so far negotiated the House would have rejected them.

I do not for a moment underestimate the skill, the hard work, and the patience of the Lord Privy Seal, but to me it has been humiliating that this country should have been going with a begging bowl to countries which we either liberated or defeated in the last war. I regret that we did not take the initiative instead of waiting to be kicked out, because it was quite clear that if the Government really meant what they said in the first place it was impossible to negotiate entry. We have been turned out through the inordinate conceit of General de Gaulle who at this moment thinks La France c'est moi, and no doubt hopes some day to be able to say L'Europe c'est moi.

I am astonished that anyone is surprised at what has happened, because we had already been warned. In November, 1961, M. Couve de Murville said: Britain is a European power but at the same time a World Power. When she presents herself to the Common Market, she presents herself in both these roles. If she enters the Common Market without the Commonwealth, then the Commonwealth would be finished, and no one wants that—least of all France. But if she enters it with the Commonwealth, the Common Market would be meaningless. I cannot understand why anyone should be surprised at what has happened. The warning was fully given.

I think that the Government ought to be very grateful to General de Gaulle, for he has saved them from being accused of bad faith, and I hope that if ever the question arises again of our joining the Common Market we shall not go cap in hand. I agree with the right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East—let the initiative come from the Six and not from ourselves.

One can feel sorry for the Government in the predicament in which they find themselves. They are now back in square one. They are back where they were before ever the negotiations started. Let me quote what the Prime Minister said when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer: I do not believe that this House would ever agree to our entering arrangements which … would prevent us treating a great range of imports from the Commonwealth at least as favourably as those from the European countries."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th November, 1956; Vol. 561, c. 37–8.] He went on to say that we must continue free to maintain the volume of preferential imports from the Commonwealth. What has been negotiated is not in accordance with that.

The present Chancellor of the Exchequer said on 12th February, 1959, when he was Paymaster-General: … I cannot conceive that any Government of this country would put forward a proposition which would involve the abandonment of Commonwealth free entry. It would be wrong for us and for the whole free world to adopt a policy of new duties on foodstuffs and raw materials, many of which come from underdeveloped countries, at present entering a major market duty-free. …Finally, we must recognise that the aim of the main proponents of the Community is political integration. We can see that in Article 138 of the Treaty, which looks towards a common Assembly, directly elected. The whole idea of the Six, the Iron and Steel Community and Euratom is a movement towards political integration. That is a fine aspiration, but we must recognise that for us to sign the Treaty of Rome would be to accept as the ultimate goal, political federation in Europe, including ourselves. That, as I have said, does not seem to me to be a proposition which, at the moment, commands majority support in this country. …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th February, 1959 Vol. 599, c. 1381–2.] Why did Government policy change? Was it because of pressure from America? If so, I find the position humiliating. Or was it because of the economic crisis of 1961? I am sure that everybody agrees that we cannot export our economic problems to any organisation. Whether we are inside or outside the Common Market, our salvation depends upon ourselves.

It has been said that we should go into the Common Market because the great competition there would bring a breath of change in our own industry, and would stimulate it. If the adherents of the Common Market are correct in saying that the competition we would find would give an impetus to our industries, surely the fact that we are staying outside and losing the great advantages which we would otherwise have had will provide an even greater stimulus.

Even among the greatest adherents to the Common Market idea there is no despondency. I have found disappointment but not despondency. This is a challenge which we must meet together. We cannot afford inefficient management, or unofficial wildcat strikes, or a Government which believe in expansion only during an election year. Much of last Monday's economic debate is relevant today. What we need is dynamic leadership, which we are not being given. Our unemployment figure of 815,000 shows that we are not in a healthy state to meet that challenge. The Government must drop some of their inhibitions and complacency. There must be leadership to which the whole nation will respond, and a really dynamic export drive.

I give credit to the hon. Member for Louth for having preached the question of exports for a long time. Our manufacturers must scour the world for markets. When I was in the Far East, on more than one occasion I was asked, "Why do not your industrialists send out more of their top people in order to find out exactly what we want, instead of sending us what they think we want?" We have to set about the job of increasing exports in a dynamic way.

The Government can help with extended credits. I am sure that some way can be found, within the framework of international agreements, to provide export incentives. There is no need for any of us to be despondent. We have plenty of friends, and I am sure that we are not turning our back on any of them. It is not our intention to turn our back on the continent of Europe; we are not turning our back on the Six or on France. The fact we are not a member of the Community does not prevent our trading with it. Our trade with the Six has been increasing, and I see no reason why it should not continue to increase. Our trade with E.F.T.A. has been increasing, and I am confident that there can be a greater upsurge of our Commonwealth trade.

The Prime Minister has said that we will not have a Prime Ministers' conference. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dugdale), I take the view that we should have a number of Commonwealth conferences, eventually with one at Prime Ministers' level but perhaps preceded by conferences of the various economic, finance and trade Ministers. I would like to see a conference of the leaders of the Commonwealth and America—a country which still might have been in the Commonwealth, but for the ham-fistedness of some of our predecessors—and of E.F.T.A. If they all worked together, something might be evolved.

We have friends all over the world, in the Commonwealth, in E.F.T.A. and in America—and America is likely to look upon us with a much more kindly eye, now that we have been kicked out of the Six, than she would otherwise have done. I deprecate the amount of anti-American-ism that exists in this country—an anti-Americanism chiefly due to the fact that the Government have given the impression that we just do what we are told by the Americans. We cannot afford that. Some of the most violent anti-Americans are also the most violent anti-Common Marketeers. We cannot exist by being anti-everything. There are opportunities in other parts of the world, such as in South America, and opportunities for East-West trade, if only we are given the leadership to set about these things. The world is our oyster. What has happened is not a setback but a challenge, but we shall not solve that challenge merely by a vote of confidence.