European Economic Community (Summit Meeting)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 17th October 1972.

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Photo of Mr Eric Deakins Mr Eric Deakins , Walthamstow West 12:00 am, 17th October 1972

the hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell) has spoken as passionately as he always does on the Common Market issue, although this time he rightly introduced a constituency element which worried him. Many more hon. Members in the months and years to come during the, one hopes, fairly short period of Common Market membership by Great Britain will increasingly face problems in their constituencies directly resulting from membership of the Common Market on the present terms.

I was just a little disappointed in the hon. Gentleman, for whom I have a great respect on this issue, in that he appeared in closing to have given up the struggle. I can assure him and pro-Marketeers on both sides that although one stage of the struggle ends today a new and much more important stage is now beginning on a different level, a struggle to ensure that British interests are adequately represented in Europe and that we make no further concessions until there can be an alternative Government of this country which will resolve to put the issue once and for all to the British people for their final verdict.

We are concerned today with the summit meeting. The very idea of a summit meeting conjures up thoughts of a gathering of Olympian deities disposing of the fates of nations. I do not know whether the Prime Minister is a historian. I suspect that he is not, but if he is he may well have been thinking back to the early days of the Congress system after the Napoleonic Wars, between 1814 and 1822, and perhaps thinking that the system that worked so well then might well be refurbished today in the form of constant Common Market summitry. But the Prime Minister, whatever his other virtues, is not an Olympian deity. Indeed, I think his only Olympian characteristic is his sublime disregard for the real problems which face the British people. The summit will not help in any way to resolve those problems, which are mainly economic but which are also social. The decisions taken there may well end up by exacerbating those problems.

For the Prime Minister attendance at the summit is not a matter of representing the British people, the British nation. It is really a matter now of party politics, because for the first time since the war we no longer have a bi-partisan foreign policy in one of the most important foreign policy areas of this country as an offshore island of the Continent of Europe. We have different party policies in our attitude to the Common Market.

While other leaders of the Common Market countries at the summit this week may well he able to claim, rightly or wrongly, to speak for their electorates, their parliaments and their nations, that is certainly not a claim that our Prime Minister will be able to make. I fear that he will carry much less weight at this summit than he should if he were to play the proper rôle of a representative of the British nation, because he goes there as Prime Minister of a nation completely divided on the issues which will be raised at the summit later this week. His weight will also be that much less as the Labour Opposition and many other people in Britain constantly reiterate their claim that the terms are not good enough and must be re-negotiated. The Prime Minister's presence at the summit will be somewhat insubstantial, lacking authority, rather like the ghost at Pompidou's banquet. It will be a sight that might well have frightened Macbeth, but I doubt whether the Prime Minister will carry much weight or influence with the other Common Market leaders that he will be meeting on equal terms.

Why cannot the Prime Minister speak for Britain and the British people later this week? There are a number of obvious reasons, and as they have not been spelt out so far in this debate, except by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition at the beginning, I shall pause a moment to summarise them. The first is that the Labour Party, the one alternative Government of this country, is completely opposed to the terms of entry. That needs saying again and again until it is finally heard and understood in the Common Market countries. That includes the Commission. Further than that, we must make it perfectly clear that it is not only the Labour Party that is opposed, but the British people. A majority of the British people go much further than the Labour Party in their opposition, because a majority are opposed to entry on any terms. Their point of view carries no weight in any of our debates, and will play no part in the summit.

I realise that these considerations will count for nothing with the Prime Minister or those he will take with him. He is above all a technocrat. He would have made, and could still make, a very good Chairman of the Commission in Brussels. But, with the greatest of respect, I do not regard him as a good democrat. I believe that he is one of those people who think they know what is best for the country, and say, "To hell with those rather tiresome, bothersome democratic procedures", procedures that must be overcome before the technocrats can have their way. There is a certain unselfconscious arrogance in the man in claiming to speak for the British people at such an important international meeting, one of the most important that any British Prime Minister has attended this century.

It has been wisely said by a person much better informed and more elegant than I, "Le style, c'est l'homme". That applies to the Prime Minister. There is no misunderstanding him or his motives. They are plain to see. Any doubts about the weakness of his addiction to democracy and democratic procedures will have been dispelled by his conduct during the European Communities Bill earlier this year.

The second reason why the Prime Minister will not be able to speak for the British people or Parliament is that there is an item on the agenda, the subject of European—that is, West European —economic and military union, which has never been debated in this Chamber and has never been publicly debated or put to the British people in an election or in any other way. It is an issue which has been kept in the background. The Prime Minister will not be able to claim that on this agenda item, which I understand he wholeheartedly supports and approves, he has the whole hearted consent of the British people or Parliament, since neither has discussed it. Therefore, if he seeks, as he will be seeking at the Common Market summit later this week, to commit the British people and nation to acceptance of the basic principles of West European economic and monetary union, he will not be speaking for all of us or the whole of the British people, certainly not for the alternative Government, Her Majesty's Opposition.

Does the Prime Minister realise exactly what economic and monetary union involve? His contretemps earlier this year in the little matter of fixed exchange rates suggests that he does not know what he is letting himself in for. The fact that his earlier Common Market agreement was broken so quickly could provide a useful precedent for a future Government.

However, I think there is method in the Prime Minister's madness. He wants a federal Western Europe, and he, like many undeclared federalists in this House, wants economic and monetary union, because that would put the seal on the process—it would be a vital stage towards achieving that federal Western Europe which he and many other right hon. and hon. Members wish to see. An undeclared federalist, without the courage of his convictions, afraid to have the issue openly debated in this Chamber and before the British people, is not a very good example. Yet one can sympathise with the right hon. Gentleman, because if the issue of economic and monetary union were explained to the British people, if the real, basic issue of federalism in Western Europe were explained to them, how much more violent would be their anger, resentment and rejection of the Government's attitude on this issue! Yet the Prime Minister will go to Paris later this week and sign on the dotted line, trying to commit the British people and nation in favour of a vital step on the way to a federal Western Europe.

The Labour Party, fortunately, has looked at some of the consequences, though not yet all, that would flow from an economic and monetary union. We have looked at the idea of permanently fixed exchange rates, and we have rejected them. We have looked at the idea of harmonisation of indirect taxation, which is inevitable in an economic and monetary union, not to mention ultimate harmonisation of direct taxation, company taxation and so on, and we have rejected these ideas as well. But there are many more features of economic and monetary union which are totally repugnant to the Labour movement of this country and the British people. Let there be no doubt that the Labour Party and the Labour movement, and, I suspect, a majority of the British people, will not be behind the Prime Minister when he agrees to economic and monetary union later this week.

An earlier speaker in the debate—I think the Foreign Secretary—mentioned that my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1966 or 1967 had approved the idea of West European monetary co-operation. But that is not the argument. My right hon. Friend favoured, as I suspect most of us in this Chamber do, the closest possible co-operation in monetary matters with those countries with whom we have interests in common. There is a great difference, and it is not just a semantic difference, between co-operation and integration. The project of West European economic and monetary union is not a project of economic and monetary co-operation; it is a project of economic and monetary integration. I sometimes wish that some of my right hon. and hon. Friends who are pro-Market would also appreciate this distinction, because it puts into perspective the argument we heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins) about internationalism.

The alternatives are not to accept integration with Western Europe or to be isolationists. They are to accept integration or to deny integration and have close co-operation. Internationalism can mean either, and the sooner that is appreciated the better. The fact that most people in the Labour movement reject international integration does not mean that they reject international co-operation.

If the Prime Minister were really concerned with British interests at the summit this week there would have been a rather different agenda. We know from Press reports that he made very little attempt, other than on the issue of regional policy, to have any major changes made in the agenda. First, there should have been no mention of economic and monetary union. That issue should have been swept to one side, because it he is successful in promoting that idea and if, which I think is unlikely, he stays in power long enough to see it to successful fruition, he will do more than anything else could do to cripple the British economy and the powers of the British Parliament and people over it. His efforts in that respect would be even more successful in crippling our economy than the Industrial Relations Act, the European Communities Act and other inflationary measures that we have adopted.

An item that should be on the summit agenda, but is not, is the re-negotiation of some of the onerous terms that were forced on us during the abortive negotiations. I regard them as abortive, because they really amounted to a surrender all along the line. I should like to see a re-negotiation particularly of those terms which will cause increasing inflationary pressures in the British economy. That is an argument that should appeal very much to a Prime Minister, Cabinet and Government who regard inflation as the most important economic problem facing the nation.

There are two inflationary items which need to be dealt with. First of all, the balance of payments burden, which I will not attempt to value, but, obviously, it will be that much worse as a result of hidden devaluation of the £ or the floating exchange rate, and that will pose for a future Government of this country the problem of how to cope with the consequences of a balance of payments crisis. I suspect that the argument of this Government and possibly of another Government would be that we must have an export led boom to get over the balance of payments burden, but an export led boom must inevitably increase the inflationary pressures on the economy, which goes against all that the Prime Minister is urging on the nation at the present time.

The second item in the inflationary package negotiated in Brussels earlier this year concerns the cost of living. We have debated this a good deal—food prices going up, value added tax, and so on, and the ultimate harmonisation of value added tax. So in spite of what promarketeers say it will ultimately have to apply to food, rents, home ownership, fares and so on when we are brought into line with other Common Market countries. Will this not lead to demands for higher wages and pensions and social security benefits—to justified demands? And if they are met, as they will have to be, does this not increase further the inflationary pressures on the economy?

The summit decisions taken in negotiations earlier this year have imposed and continue to impose great burdens on the British people. Some of us would say that those burdens can never be resolved in terms of the Common Market. Britain socially, economically and politically will be so worsened by Market membership that only withdrawal, the British people's consent to that course of action having first been obtained, will enable us to resolve them.

I should point out that withdrawal will not leave us friendless, isolated, alone to face a hostile world, because we shall still have an industrial free trade area with the enlarged Common Market and the EFTA countries which are not joining, and we shall, therefore, be able to enjoy the economic advantages for which we are paying such a heavy and exorbitant price in terms of economic strength and loss of sovereignty.