European Community Affairs

Part of Bill Presented – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 27th November 1973.

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Photo of Mr Russell Johnston Mr Russell Johnston , Inverness 12:00 am, 27th November 1973

No words of mine and no words of any hon. Member would deflect the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, Southwest (Mr. Powell) from the views which he holds with the passion which he has just expressed. I do not want to embark upon such a course. It would be a matter of theological fundamentalism.

I do not go into Europe feeling in any way subordinate. I do so with the feeling of a free partner in a great enterprise which I believe to be for the benefit of the British people, for the benefit of Europe and for the benefit of the world. I agree that such matters are not susceptible to easy proof one way or another.

It seems that the Government hoped that regional policy would play a major part in the debate. It is with a certain amount of trepidation that I and many other hon. Members who represent the peripheral areas await the outcome of the vital meetings of the Council of Ministers on 3rd and 17th December. They will decide the size of the Community fund. It is with a certain amount of cautious optimism that I wait to see whether the Community will allow itself to be persuaded to make a commitment, as the Minister indicated, that the regional fund should be allowed to grow substantially from its starting point to a much higher figure at the end of the initial three years.

Given the fact, and I believe that it will happen, that an adequate sum will be set aside by the Community to help bring the poorer regions of Europe up to or nearer the level of richer regions before the latter begin to race away again and benefit from the advantages which I believe will accrue from the development of economic and monetary union—I now express a fundamentalist belief—there will be required a tremendous amount of thought and care when considering the administration of the regional fund. Many of the decisions will be political rather than economic.

Before turning to this, may I pay tribute to a political opponent, the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. S. James A. Hill), for the work he has done as chairman of the Regional Committee of the European Parliament. I have witnessed his work. It has taken a great deal of his time and he has done very well.

It would be a serious mistake to believe that regional policy, if it is to be successful, can be imposed from a regional centre. If it is to be successful it must receive the backing of the people in the regions concerned. The only way in which that can be achieved is by active participation in the decisions which go to make up the formulation of policy.

I should like to know what sort of guarantee I can give to my constituents, and which other hon. Members can give to their constituencies in Scotland and Wales, about direct representation on the Council of Ministers' Regional Advisory Committee when it is set up. Equally, it will be interesting to know on a broader scale what sort of thinking there has been in general as to the representation of the constituent parts of the United Kingdom.

It is basic, if regional policy is to succeed, that the Government must understand from the beginning that any regional aid must be regarded as an additional source of income. It must be regarded as a supplement to the national aid programme. It is not to compensate or replace national aid programmes. The Government must not get the impression that any Community aid will enable them to make cutbacks in their own schemes or that we must get back from regional policy what we lose with the CAP. If that view is adopted the regional policy will not succeed. Any concept of juste retour on contributions to the fund will be inimical to an effective policy. Aid must be given where needed without regard to national considerations. It is for that reason that I welcome the Commission's criteria as set out.

In practice there will be extreme difficulties. Scotland, for example, clearly meets the criteria which have been set out, but within Scotland, and within development areas and regions of the United Kingdom, there are tremendous variations. Methods must be devised to concentrate on the areas within development areas and regions which most require assistance. It is a fact that in Britain's case, perhaps much more than in the case of Ireland or Italy, regional disparities are the hangover of the failure of national Governments and their policies. That responsibility will soon become shared with the Community, and especially the Commission. Because that is so, the acceptability of Community institutions within the regions may eventually become dependent upon the capacity of the Community to devise solutions which at times may be in conflict with the views of national Governments.

I now turn to wider matters. As has been mentioned by both Front Bench spokesmen, since the last occasion the House had a discussion on Europe a vital new factor has emerged. Europe's unity has been put to the test by the Arab boycott of oil to the Community. It is my opinion and the opinion of the Liberal Party that that above all else emphasises European vulnerability and the necessity for co-ordinated political action by Community member States. It is too easy to argue that, if the Community had a more developed energy policy, things might have been easier. It is easy to argue that, had there been more consultation regarding a foreign policy, the situation might not have arisen. The fact must be conceded that in neither of those areas was the Community adequately prepared at the time of the war to cope with the consequences of the war.

Some consolation can be taken from the fact that the Council of Ministers met and agreed a formula. In spite of that, relations within the Community will inevitably be strained as the fuel crisis continues. There have already been calls for solidarity with the Dutch. The proviso must be accepted that, if the Community has not been consulted about national policy, it is not possible to guarantee solidarity. In such a situation our attitude is to some extent inevitably coloured by our attitude to the whole Middle East situation.

The second point, of course—well taken by the right hon. Member for Stepney (Mr. Shore)—is that if we obey the Treaty of Rome we cannot deploy any oil embargo within the Community because we breach fundamental Treaty of Rome regulations if we do—indeed, the whole intent and purpose of the Community as well. Possibly more important in the long run is the fact that Europe's dependence on oil from politically-sensitive areas has in no uncertain fashion been emphasised and that we must, therefore, devise some oil-sharing mechanism.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mrs. MacDonald), who is not present, during her recent election campaign used the slogan, "Poor Britain or rich Scotland?" because of the North Sea oil situation. I do not blame her necessarily, but it was her party's policy. It is an interesting side of the broad question as it were. But it is not my approach to the use of natural resources, and it certainly should not be our attitude towards the Netherlands or any other country particularly under threat.

The key question is the development of a long-term policy. The United States, for example, already has its long-term energy crisis provoked not by a war but by demand outstripping supply. Even without the war, a similar situation will eventually develop in Europe and we must develop effective mechanisms for dealing with it.

However, I think that the basic question we have learnt and have had emphasised, in these last few weeks is that the political union of the Community to which, as the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West said, rightly or wrongly we are by the Council of Ministers' decision pledged by 1980, must be vigorously sought after. There are several paths that any such union might follow. I have no intention, in the limited time available, of embarking upon the constitutionalist's dream that this offers, but it would be a good thing to have some idea from the Government, even if only to promote public debate, which is absent, of whether they are set on federalism in the conventional sense or, in much less ambitious terms, on perhaps Ministers remaining the power centre, assisted by the Commission, and the European Parliament having, not constituent or sovereign powers, but negative powers of accepting or rejecting by qualified majorities what Ministers propose. We want to know what the Government are thinking, because it is important in itself and because in no other way can any consensus be developed.

Reference has been made to the Select Committee which examined Community "secondary" legislation—and I take the point made here by the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West. It recommended a special House of Commons scrutiny committee to examine important proposals and to be on the lookout for proposals which embody matters of importance so that they may be examined even before the stage where they have been formally transmitted from the Commission to the Council of Ministers. This, I think, in itself is a vitally necessary innovation at this stage because there is virtually no check on whatever decisions are made by the Council of Ministers. I accept the criticism on that ground.

But I want to lay one thing fairly on the line from the Liberal point of view : that national Parliaments must resign themselves to a certain loss of their ultimate law-making authority if we are to remain within the Community. However many scrutiny committees we may care to establish, this can never compensate to such an extent as to ensure parliamentary control from this House over Community law-making comparable to parliamentary control as it now exists over domestic law-making unless the supranational nature of the Community itself is to be denied. The authority thus lost can only pass, in my opinion, to the executive arm of government until such time as there is established a Parliament representative of the people of Europe with full democratic powers.