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Orders of the Day — European Communities Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 13th July 1972.

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Photo of Mr Peter Shore Mr Peter Shore , Stepney 12:00 am, 13th July 1972

That point has been answered before in our exchanges and my view on it, whenever I have been challenged, has been very simple. I think there is an enormous difference between the 30-odd page White Paper and the two volumes of treaties, the 43 volumes of Community law and the eight volumes of subordinate treaties with which the House was presented last February. That is the profound difference. The proposition that has been argued so often before us is not whether we have a good feeling towards Europe, and whether, if all things were equal, we would wish to become a member of the European Community, but whether we accept the treaties that have been negotiated and the Bill now before us. That has been the matter upon which hon. Members have voted. I do not interpret the votes of hon. Members on the Opposition side as ungenerously as I think the hon. Gentleman interprets them.

I was intending to deal with matters relating to the treaty even though we have not been able to discuss directly the treaties themselves. More important than any particular chapter or protocol in the treaty, I think that the nation and the House has the sense that the broad effect of the treaty arrangements is damaging and that the enterprise is going wrong even before we have embarked upon it. That is the feeling in the country today. The evidence moves very heavily in that direction. The people note that with such a large European market looming, British industry is showing no signs of an imminent revival. It is not like a camel crossing the desert and sensing an approaching oasis. On the contrary, British industry in the period since the negotiations were substantially completed has become gloomier and gloomier in its view of future prospects.

We might well ask what has happened to the euphoria about economic growth that gripped business and Government only a year ago when the White Paper was presented. Far from backing its words with its cash, British industry has greeted the prospect of entry with the biggest collapse in investment for more than a decade. As the confidence of industry has sagged, so, too, the vast surplus in our balance of payments has melted away. Less than three weeks ago we were forced to float the £ and now no one has any doubt that the flotation was a prelude to its devaluation. Our payment to Europe, the subscription that we must make, has yet to begin. On 1st January our first annual payment of, according to the Government, about £120 million net becomes due. By 1977, on 1971 figures, no less than £750 million will have to be paid out, and at least double that amount in direct subscription to Europe in the five years thereafter.

On 1st January, as the people are all too well aware, involved as they are in the fight against a sustained inflation far worse than anything we have experienced in peace or war, a new factor which will force prices up will be injected into the economy of this country. We shall be forced to adjust the price of our food to bring our practices into line with those of the Continent, and to adopt the value added tax.

The nation has sensed another truth about joining. It is that whatever the Government are seeking to join in Europe, it is not what the people understand by the word "community". The truth is that the negotiations took place under the threat of a third French veto and we were allowed in only because the Prime Minister was brought to abandon every major British interest involved and to pledge himself at the Elysée Palace to support what is essentially a French design for Europe. Yet, as the Prime Minister must now see, it has won him little regard and still less consideration in Paris. It would be tedious and almost distressing to run over the innumerable incidents during the last six months in which the British Prime Minister has been subjected to what I can only consider to be humiliation at the hands of France. I shall not run through them but I shall mention two because they are immediately important to us at the present time.

The whole question whether there is to be a summit this autumn seems to depend simply on President Pompidou receiving sufficient guarantees in advance that he will get his own way with the prospective members of the Community. If he does not receive those guarantees, there will be no summit. We have had most recently from the President himself the clear threat of our exclusion in spite of the Treaty of Accession. The threat was that if we do not stop floating the £ by 1st January we shall not be allowed in. Following the meeting in Bonn with Chancellor Brandt he said European economic and monetary union is our fundamental aim". How many times I have tried in the last two years to interest the House in the meaning, reality and danger of economic and monetary union for this country. How many times have I been told that this is not something for tomorrow or even for the next decade, but for 20 or 30 years ahead. The President of France went on to say that a return to fixed parities— is an essential and indispensable basis for European economic and monetary union, and this basis must exist before it finally comes to the point of expanding the Community. If there is any further doubt about it, I refer to the words of M. Giscard d'Estaing when he spoke in the National Assembly, that body which does not meet all that frequently, on 29th June when he said that the return of the £ to a fixed parity is necessary accompaniment for Britain's entry into the Common Market next January". No wonder the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who I regret to see is not here today, was silent in the debate we had on 29th June. No wonder he did not answer the direct questions put to him by the Leader of the Opposition and my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey). No wonder he did not even move his head when asked to assure the House that he had given no pledge to end the float before 1st January. Perhaps the Chancellor of the Duchy would like to take the opportunity when he winds up the debate, or, if he wishes, to intervene now to clarify the matter. Is it or is it not the case that France has threatened to keep us out unless we return to a fixed parity on 1st January, and what have the Government told the French in reply?