Orders of the Day — European Communities

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 27th October 1971.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mrs Barbara Castle Mrs Barbara Castle , Blackburn 12:00 am, 27th October 1971

The hon. Gentleman's intervention has made me decide not to give way any more. Hon. Gentlemen opposite may run away from the truth, but I shall not do so tonight.—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] This is one of the questions with which my whole speech is designed to deal. Therefore, for hon. Gentlemen opposite to chip in with these narrow points, in the middle of what is intended to be a serious and not a frivolous argument, is to debase the whole Parliamentary debate. I repeat, I shall not give way any more because I intend to develop a coherent argument and not to take refuge in small debating points or in facile generalisations.

May I repeat what I was saying? The common agricultural policy, as everybody recognises, is contrary to the healthy development of world trade and to the interests of the developing countries which we as Socialists are supposed to have so much at heart. When my Socialist friends tell me that I must go into the European Community, not only because it is so outward looking but because it is so socialist in its approach to the questions of world development, I think they have become the victims of their own sloganising. We are told how much the Community spends in aid; the figures are tossed off in propaganda sheets, financed I do not know from which quarters. We are never told how the European Development Fund has been turned, like many other apparently idealistic concepts, into machinery for pumping money into former French colonies, not for their benefit but for the benefit of French trade and industry. We are told how developing countries are to be helped by the offer of association with the Community, that we need not worry about our own former territories because they will be offered association, too.

What is glossed over in this argument, which is unworthy of any deep-thinking Socialist, is the fact that this policy, too, is highly discriminatory. Of course it embraces developing countries in Africa because that is a part of the world where France has ex-Colonial ties. But the significant thing about this great Community is that the offer of association does not embrace the great developing countries of Asia, now struggling with problems of desperate poverty—India, Pakistan, Ceylon, Malaysia and Singapore. It does not embrace them for one simple reason, that they are more industrially developed and, therefore, their products constitute more of a threat to the internal interests of this rich men's club. The countries of Asia which most desperately need help are to be left to the tender mercies of others. So we are going back to the nineteenth century concept of dividing the world into spheres of interest.

Worse still, we are undermining the healthy development of multilateral trade by a vast expansion of the system of bilateral and discriminatory trade agreements at the expense of the rest of the world. The world is to be divided by the Community into us and the outsiders. It is this—and I suggest that the House takes it into account as we discuss the international implications of our entry—which is increasingly worrying the United States, which has now come to realise that when the enlargement of the Community is complete, if it is made complete by our decision to go in, nearly one half of world trade will come under special arrangements organised round this European trading bloc. It is this which is feeding a dangerously protective mood in the United States and has led her to her determination to act, however regressively, blindly in the defence of her own interests.

Therefore, the European concept has lost its internationalist way. De Gaulle has set his highly nationalistic stamp on the Community, and the frailty of the new concept of European unity was revealed in the exchange crisis of 1969 when, as we all know, the Six did not react as a whole. Each country of the Six reacted individually to protect its own interests.

As a result of that experience in 1969, the choice was made starkly clear: either the Community would go on to full economic and monetary union, or it would disintegrate into nothing more than a grouping of nationalist States. It was from that experience that we had the birth of the Werner plan, which, if implemented, would destroy the last remnants of this House's sovereignty. It would take from the individual members of the Community all control over monetary policy, all control over their foreign exchange parities, all control over the shape or size of their own national budgets, all control over the level and nature of their taxes, all control over their regional and structural policies, and, as the Werner plan made clear, it would mean the transfer of these far-reaching decisions from the national level to the Community level.

In the negotiations, as the Prime Minister made clear to the House on 10th June, the Government have pledged that Britain will play her full part in the progress towards this vast expansion of supra-nationalism. Those are words, but they are important words. The Government have made that pledge without putting before the country or this House any plans for securing democratic political control in Europe over this new Leviathan.

It is astonishing to me that the Government should produce that kind of facile patter to which we have now become so accustomed from the pro-Marketeers, saying, "We resolved the sterling question. We promised to proceed towards the dissolution of the sterling balances within the context of progress towards monetary and economic union ". But not a word about political control. On the contrary, we have been assured that the powers of this House will remain complete. Yet the Government must know, if they are talking realities, that when they talk about monetary and economic union, they are talking about transferring the central control of the British House of Commons over taxation to the Brussels Community.

So what are we to have? We are to have taxation without representation on a scale that would make Charles I look like a democrat. Is that the offer being put before us? "No," say my right hon. and hon. Friends, "that is not the issue. What are you worrying about? The Werner plan will never be implemented". I am supposed to take consolation from that—I see the Secretary of State nodding his head—as though that were a solution to our difficulties. People tell me to look at the currency crisis with which Europe is now struggling. There is no monetary and economic union even within sight at the present time. Is not every member of the Six going his own way? They can say that again. The currency confusion in Europe at the moment makes our dear old £ look like the stablest currency of the lot. Some E.E.C. countries are floating together, some E.E.C. countries are floating separately, while France has a system of dual exchange rates.

I was tremendously touched to read in the Financial Times only today that M. Giscard d'Estaing, the French Finance Minister, is proposing that the Finance Ministers of the Six at their meeting next week should try to reach world solutions to the monetary crisis without waiting first to settle their own difficulties. In fact, as we all know, the views of France and Germany on this issue have proved irreconcilable and relations between the two countries are at their lowest ebb for years. [HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish."] It is no good saying, "Rubbish". That is the kind of facile evasion which refuses to face the truth. [Interruption.] I am sorry that hon. Members opposite dismiss the comments of, for example, the Financial Times as nonsense. That is what it said. Everyone knows that relations between France and Germany on this issue are at the lowest ebb for several years, and I am quoting the Financial Times in saying that.

I do not say that this is a desirable state of affairs or that I welcome it. I am doing no more than present it as the reality which we have to face. The year 1971 has proved a watershed in the history of European unity. Faced with a major challenge like the currency crisis, which has been precipitated by the actions of the United States, the Six have shown clearly in the last few weeks that they are not prepared to follow common monetary policies. Does anyone deny that? Will anyone suggest that they are following such policies? Will anyone suggest that there is harmonisation of currency policy between France and Germany at the present time? The countries of the Six have shown, too, that they are not prepared to go for economic union, and they have shown, therefore, that they are further from political unity than they have ever been before.

This situation makes even greater nonsense of the common agricultural policy, for without a co-ordinated movement of currencies one cannot have the common agricultural prices which are at the heart of it. So the whole concept of unified farm policy, supported by a Community fund, is put in jeopardy, and all we are left with is the onerous commitment in the Government's White Paper for us, a food-importing country, to pay vast subventions to the food-producing countries.

We are faced with a worse threat than that, for, as the Sunday Times made clear in the article by Malcolm Crawford last Sunday, if the currency crisis in Europe—this is what is worrying the United States—is solved by pegging the revalued D-mark at a new and higher level and then the units of account which are the basis for calculating the common agricultural prices are raised in line, which is what Germany would almost certainly insist upon, there will be a new wave of increases in Common Market food prices and import levies. As the Sunday Times put it, The United Kingdom faces a massive dollar crisis bill. In such a situation, this country would be mad to accept these terms. I challenge the claim by my noble Friend Lord George-Brown in another place, or by my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart), that a Labour Government would ever have accepted them. We never accepted the new financial arrangements for the common agricultural policy in our February White Paper. When the Chancellor of the Exchequer tried to suggest that we had, he dare not quote that Paper to the House. I suggest that he looks at paragraph 26.

Nor did my right hon. Friend the then Prime Minister accept them in his statement to the House on 10th February last year. He said: Even now we do not have a complete picture of the future shape of the Community's agricultural policy."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th February, 1970; Vol. 795, c. 1081.] It was against that tentative background that we produced our estimates. I know that no Government of which I was a member would ever have accepted them.

Yesterday in another place Lord George-Brown pleaded with us in the Labour Party not in a final frenzy of self-inflicted frustration".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 26th October, 1971; Vol. 324, c. 567.] to jeopardise the interests of this country. We all know Lord George-Brown as a sincere man, but we also know his capacity—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—for optimistic euphoria. I agree that he could sell anything. I plead with him not to be the prisoner of his own auto-salesmanship but to sit back and assess quietly and objectively the new situation with which we are now faced.

Another great argument for rushing us into Europe is melting before our eyes, and that is the growth argument. For 1971 has been a watershed not only in the political development of the Community but in its economic development, as some of us have warned it would. The great growth bubble on which all the arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook rests has burst at last. As Ian Davidson pointed out in the Financial Times of 13th October: It is ironic that, just as Parliament reassembles for its historic debate and vote on the question of principle, the papers should be full of the economic difficulties of the Common Market countries. The euphoric generalisations of the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster fade before the facts.