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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 Maurice Edelman Mr Maurice Edelman , Coventry North 12:00 am, 13th July 1972

Tonight I will go into the Lobby to vote against the Government and it may well be that I shall find myself in the same Lobby as the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell). If I do, it will be a coincidence. I do not believe that the right hon. Gentleman, any more than any other of us, can detach himself from the context of his past. We each will be there in our personal capacity, complete with our private beliefs.

I shall be there as one who believes in the principle of the Common Market. I shall be there as one who believes that sometimes it is necessary to divest oneself of a certain measure of sovereignty for transcendent reasons. I shall be there as an international socialist who believes in the equality of men. These reasons which will lead me into the Lobby tonight will certainly not be identical with those of many with whom I shall find myself present at that time.

My immediate quarrel is with the Goverenment, and tonight I shall vote against the Bill with even more conviction than I did on Second Reading because since that time we have had the experience of the manner in which the Government have dealt with the Amendments put before them. We have had the experience of the way in which they have ruthlessly used the guillotine to cut down argument. We have seen that their arrogant manner of national divisiveness is a poor portent for the future of the European unity about which they talk to such a great extent.

I must say that, looking back on those debates in Committee. I could have wished that those among us who are in a general sense pro-Marketeers had taken part to a greater extent and had reaffirmed what the Leader of the Opposition reaffirmed here—that we as a Party are committed to the principle of entry into Europe. Yet at the same time no one, not even the most ardent pro-Marketeer, can say that the Common Market and its institutions as they exist today are in any sense ideal. The instruments are in many ways unsatisfactory. The Commission is bureaucratic. The European Parliament is unrepresentative. The climate of monetary instability in which the EEC exists is unhealthy. The terms, especially those affecting Britain's contribution, are onerous. These shortcomings were strikingly re-stated by my right hon. Friend in Vienna.

I believe that in approaching the Common Market and its institutions it is useless to regard, as the right hon. Gentleman and hon. Gentleman opposite seem to do, the rules of the EEC as being, like the laws of the Medes and the Persians, immutable. We know what happened to the empire of the Medesand the Persians because of their inflexibility and resistance to change.

In making up our minds how we are to approach the Bill tonight, we have, I believe, two completely opposing attitudes—that of the Government, which treats all the conditions and regulations of the Common Market as being immutable, and that of those on our side, who regard the Community as being a continuously evolving and organic whole which can be changed both by its inner pressures and by advice and recommendations from outside.

On the principle of the Common Market—a principle to which, I repeat, this party is committed—I believe that we have two antithetic attitudes. On the one hand there are those who believe that entry is desirable because of the industrial advantages it will bring to this country, and I am certainly one who believes that; who believe that in the interest of employment and trade it is necessary to go into Europe and the large market which is available to us. On the other hand, there are those who consider that the disadvantages of the common agricultural policy mentioned in the Bill are so great that on balance we shall be the losers. But those who treat the agricultural policy as being part of a French conspiracy fail to realise what the common agricultural policy stands for. It is essentially the quid pro quo which the Six ask for in return for the enormous industrial advantage which it seems likely to bring to us.

Here I would like to dispel in passing one of the mythologies which is widely believed, certainly among many of my hon. Friends—namely, that the European farmer is somehow a great plutocrat driving about in a Mercedes. The truth of the matter is that the European farmer is no more than a peasant seeking to make a living from the soil. He is a peasant who is in no sense represented by the caricature which is so often presented of him.

Therefore, in weighing up the advantages and disadvantages of the Common Market, we have to recognise that there is in the common agricultural policy a quid pro quo for the advantages which we shall get in industry, in our exports and in our trade. But that does not mean that we should bear the burden of European mismanagement. It does not mean that because French and to some extent German agriculture is inefficient we should pay a disproportionate contribution.

It is absolutely right, as my hon. Friends have so often emphasised, that the common agricultural policy should be the subject of a continuous renegotiation. In this connection the Government have tried to anticipate entry by a whole pattern of derogations which they have already applied. In recent weeks they have shown that when they have their back to the wall they are capable of a kind of levitation above their principles to get out of trouble.

That is what they did in connection with their new policy of industrial interventionism. It is what they did over their policy towards sterling. I cannot see any possible miracle happening between now and the time of our entry to the Common Market in January which will somehow make it possible for Britain to return to a fixed parity. We shall, I am sure, have to ask for certain derogations from the terms of the treaty, just as the Government have already gone in for a whole series of anticipatory derogations.

The question, raised by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and answered, I believe wrongly and ineffectively, by Dr. Sicco Mansholt is whether it would be possible for a British Government in future to seek to renegotiate the terms of our entry. Obviously if there were to be any unilateral attempt at what might be called "real negotiation", that would be the equivalent of repudiation. I do not believe that there can be any such kind of one-sided renegotiation.

Nevertheless if we look at the history of the Common Market we can see how President de Gaulle, when he first came to power, proceeded almost forthwith to a whole series of renegotiations in which eventually he had his way. President de Gaulle was at least as hostile to the whole concept of the Common Market as is my right hon. Friend the Member for Stepney (Mr. Shore). The most polite thing he said about the Commission was that it was a kind of Areopagus in Brussels where the Commissioners spoke a sort of gobbledegook. Yet through his persistence, his insistence on renegotiating certain aspects of the bargain, he was able to change the conditions, and although we may disapprove of it, although it may be unwelcome to us, although eventually a French pattern emerged superimposed on the Market, the fact is that he was able to engage in that kind of renegotiation.

In other words, although in his case it was a matter of force majeure which produced this peculiar French pattern, it is in principle possible to renegotiate by consent. It is a point which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition emphasised at the meeting of the Socialist International at Vienna. I feel that those who say that somehow or other, once we are in the Market it will be impossible to amend thetreaty—as is said by the Government and as was expressed by their inflexibility in dealing with Amendments tabled by my hon. and right hon. Friends—are not qualified to take us into Europe, and even those of us who believe in the general principle of the Comomn Market are perfectly right to vote against entry under their leadership and on the terms on which they have insisted.

Our partners in the Six are willing to listen to us. They range from Herr Brandt to M. Mitterand who, incidentally, has just concluded a political pact with the French Communists. It may well be that there were some, who because the Communists were opposed to the Common Market, thought that it would be impossible ever to have any kind of negotiation with those on the Left in France, who might have been sympathetic towards the idea of having Britain in Europe. Yet the Left in Europe wants to discuss its and our regional policies, its and our employment policies, the question of the Third World, and above all it wants to talk about political unity.

In the course of our discussions the point which has struck me above all has been the way in which the question of political unity in Europe reflected through the instrument of the Bill has been understated and under-played. The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West has very properly been concerned about the question of the surrender of sovereignty. I venture to say that I have been in the House of Commons as long as he has and am as attached to it as he is; I am as concerned with the rights and privileges of this House, as concerned with the sovereignty exercised through this House as he is. Yet there are times when sovereignty has to be qualified, when a divestment of sovereignty is an act of self-interest. We have only to look at our international treaties such as GATT, treaties which have set up international courts, to see this.

There is a conscious divestment of sovereignty for specific purposes. Our divestment of sovereignty in Europe, properly controlled and observed, may well be to our advantage. I was astonished to hear one of the Liberal spokesmen saying that the question of war was something which was banished from Europe and no longer valid as an argument. Looking around at the international picture of communities tearing each other to pieces, although the thought of nuclear war may now be remote if not impossible, it remains the fact that neighbours who historically have quarrelled either for material or more abstract reasons, who have quarrelled over coaland steel, for possession of a river or basin or whatever, are united through institutions which interlock, through interests which give the man incomparably greater opportunity of living at peace than nations which are in conflict and divided by those causes of war.

The motive behind the Bill, the general principle of European unity, is related not only to economic interests, but to transcendent interests of war and peace. The Coal and Steel Community has locked together the hitherto conflicting interests of France and Germany. I do not agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ilkeston (Mr. Raymond Fletcher) who said that the possibility of clashes between neighbouring countries of that kind is no longer present.

I feel there is no inconsistency between defending our national interests and being international Socialists, which I feel most of my hon. Friends are. The only thing which has divided us in the past has been the way in which the institutions of the new Europe shall be developed and maintained and democratically elected. I deplore the Government's failure to move from the rigid position they have taken, which resulted in their refusal to accept any Amendments to the Bill. I deplore the combination of bombast at home and servility abroad which has characterised the Government's procedures. This attitude can bring only disadvantage to the European idea. When eventually Britain takes its rightful place in Europe, I believe that it will be on terms and conditions which will serve the British people and the ordinary people of Europe and will lead to a Europe not only united but truly democratic.