Foreign Affairs

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 19th March 1974.

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Photo of Mr Russell Johnston Mr Russell Johnston , Inverness 12:00 am, 19th March 1974

First, I should like to echo the congratulation from the right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir A. Douglas-Home) to the Foreign Secretary on his appointment, and in so doing I must express my own admiration for the way in which the former Foreign Secretary conducted himself during his own term of office. To back benchers like myself—and this applies not only to my party but to all parties—it is very important that senior Ministers conduct themselves with reason and politeness throughout, and these are characteristics of both the right hon. Gentlemen. This is one of the reasons why our democracy works.

In the limited time available to me I want to concentrate exclusively on the future of Britain, within or without the European Economic Community. This is a basic, if not the basic, point of the Queen's Speech and one on which the Foreign Secretary spent some time. I refer to the Government's intention to embark upon a fundamental renegotiation of the terms of our entry. I want to examine this proposition and its consequences.

There is no doubt about the Liberal Party's continued dedication to the idea of European co-operation, and equally there can be no doubt about our deep dissatisfaction with the way in which that co-operation, particularly in this last year, has been working. There is no doubt at all that this has not been a good year for Europe. It has been a bad year for Europe. It has been a year in which the long-term interests of the Community —the long-term good of the Community, which means the long-term good of the individual members of the Community—have given way on every side to short-term domestic political pressures.

The oil crisis broke, so the British attitude was "To hell with the Dutch. Let us make sure that we are all right". The Germans suddenly said "Let us stop the regional fund". So the French went to the Washington energy talks and took a straightforward nationalistic view. They said "If we can get a good deal but our Community colleagues cannot get the same deal, then it is tough luck". I underline what was said by both the Foreign Secretary and the Shadow Foreign Secretary. I entirely accept that our concept of how the Community may work is a concept of a Community in partnership with the United States. In short, this last year the advance of the Community—which, in our belief, offers the only hope of economic stability for this country and the only possible safeguard against the inflation which affects all of us, through common monetary policies and common economic policies—has yielded to excessive nationalism.

I suspect the Government of excessive nationalism. I shall come in a moment to the Secretary of State for Trade, who is sitting quietly and decorously on the Front Bench beside the Foreign Secretary. I suspect them of excessive nationalism. If what I suspect is true—I shall come to some of the points in a moment—I believe that it will do lasting damage to the very things that the nationalist wants to protect. I believe that there is an innate contradiction here.

At the last election—and, goodness knows, it was not long ago—Labour candidates in Scotland where I fought, while wrongly, in my view, resisting the argument for self-government for Scotland, rightly attacked the Scottish National Party for slogans such as "Rich Scots or poor British". Yet they seem to be advocating that very point of view on a British scale vis-à-vis the rest of the Community.

What is the concept of the Community? I do not believe that a Community such as we are in can work other than by the very free collective bargaining which the Government, as we heard it so wonderfully expressed yesterday by the Secretary of State for Employment, believe in. In short—it seems to me that there is this clear assumption in their present attitude—the Government's attitude is that we must always have everything our own way in the Community. That is just not on if we are to remain in the Community at all. If the view is that we must never put in more than we get out, that is not a principle which I accept. It is also contrary to any possible evolution of a regional policy, and the Government have always expressed themselves, on a domestic British scale, as being in favour of a regional policy.

Let me take two basic points about the nature of the Community. First, and I think it would be hard for the Government to rebut this, the economies of the countries of Europe are becoming so interlocked that it is becoming necessary for some agency to control them across national boundaries. It seems to me most extraordinary—and I have always felt this in regard to the Secretary of State for Trade, whose sincerity I have never in any way questioned—that someone who is so persuaded of the necessity for improving, or, rather, strengthening, the management of the domestic economy by the State should seem to resist the development of some agency to manage economies across national boundaries.

How are we to control the multinational company other than through some sort of multinational agency? I do not know what the answer is.