Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 11th June 1974.

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Photo of Mr John Cronin Mr John Cronin , Loughborough 12:00 am, 11th June 1974

The right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling) took my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary to task for suggesting that Britain might have a relatively low standard of living in 1980. The right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) made the same point. They should both bear in mind our situation at present in relation to the other members of the Community. As I understand it, we have a lower gross national product per head than any other country in the Community except for Ireland and Southern Italy. The suggestion that we might be in some real difficulty in 1980 has considerable foundation because the other countries will not be standing still between now and then. We must make the provision which my right hon. Friend very sensibly made in his statement.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his speech last week and on his amplification of it today. We must all admire the strict and rigid way in which he has held the Labour Party manifesto to his heart and how it has emerged from his lips in a most palatable form. I am always uncomfortable in praising my more distinguished colleagues because it might indicate that one has a special interest. At the same time, if my right hon. Friend achieves the renegotiation which he has in mind he will probably go down in history as one of the great Foreign Secretaries. But it is a big "if". There are many stumbling blocks to the negotiations.

One must also be grateful for the rather precise arrangements which are to be made for parliamentary control in the negotiations. Of course they are not perfect and do not satisfy quite a few hon. Members. Nevertheless they are a genuine and substantial advance in getting a real say by this House in the negotiations.

But one or two things in my right hon. Friend's speech rather disturb me. He said that politically it would be undesirable for us to leave the Community. I think that the majority of hon. Members would say the same thing. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I accept that there is a strong minority of hon. Members who would disagree, and I accept their view, but it is fruitless to argue it now. I still maintain, however, that the majority of hon. Members would agree on this point with my right hon. Friend. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Possibly they are not in the Chamber at the moment.

I am rather concerned, though, when my right hon. Friend says that he is not certain whether there would be any real economic disadvantages in our leaving the Community. He may be right. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister of State will pursue this point in more detail later.

First, what disadvantages should we have from losing the removal of tariff barriers and of non-tariff barriers, which I think are important? My right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) pointed out that there was a considerable deficit in our trade with the Community countries last year. I think he might agree with me, however, that most of the deficit was due to the floating of the pound, an exceptional situation. I suggest that in terms of the volume of trade we broke roughly even with the Community. I want to know what forecasts there are of the extent to which trade is likely to increase during the next two years.

There have been some suggestions of alternatives—for example, that if we leave the Community we can start up a free trade area with the EFTA countries. But if successive British Governments have spent 10 years negotiating to get into the Community and as soon as we are in we break the Treaty of Accession —that, in bald terms, is what it means— what country will regard us in future as serious negotiators? That is a matter of considerable doubt. The idea of starting another free trade area with the EFTA countries seems to be dubious. What interest would they have in going ahead with us? How would it help?

The Commonwealth countries are also negotiating their own arrangements with the Community. Until recently France made it a point that there should be preference in the EEC for members of the old French community. If we leave the EEC, France will insist again on that situation. We may then find that there is discrimination against us by Commonwealth countries.

Again, what interest would the eight members left in the Community have in a free trade area with us? How would it help if we left the Community in a blaze of odium? What incentive would there be for them to enter into arrangements with us to have a free trade area? All this is very doubtful.

What my right hon. Friend is proposing today, and what he proposed in Luxembourg, is diametrically opposed to the interests of France, and France will unquestionably be the stumbling block in the negotiations. How is my right hon. Friend to get round that? I do not think it is possible to overestimate the aptitude which the French possess for having their cake and eating it. Let us look at the way they treat the United States. The United States is almost a political outcast to France, yet France depends on the United States for its defence. That is a typical example of how the French get away with the most unreasonable positions.

Somerset Maugham once said that the French regarded themselves as being the most intelligent, cultured and civilised people in the world and that the most intolerable thing was that they were completely right. Perhaps not everyone will agree with that, but I think that my right hon. Friend will have his work cut out in dealing with the French.

There are only two ways of coping with the French. One is to show that any package deal which my right hon. Friend gets will produce a net advantage to them. The other way will be to show that worse will befall them if they do not fit in with the terms he is negotiating. But I cannot imagine that the French will feel disturbed at the prospect of our leaving the Community, thereby leaving them and the Germans as the dominant forces in it. I cannot imagine that my right hon. Friend can frighten the French by inducing the Germans to contribute more to the Community budget, because Germany in the long run will always back France rather than ourselves as the winning horse.

That might well be a strong card in the Foreign Secretary's hands in our vote on the common agricultural policy price-fixing next year. That might well be an inducement. He must produce positive inducements to the French to overcome their objections. One objection is the fear that the French have of economic domination of Europe by the United States. That might be an unreasonable fear but anything which can reduce that fear would help. I suggest that a common Community policy instead of a policy in association with the United States of America with regard to the Arab States might do something to assuage that fear.

It might be helpful if my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary were to make proposals to ease the financial difficulties of the French balance of payments in the face of the approaching oil crisis. We are feeling the effects of an adverse balance of payments now, as probably are the Italians, but the French will feel it soon. One could draw money from the International Monetary Fund. Surely it would be better if in consultation with the French we could set up some sort of reserve fund in Europe which was exclusive of American help. The French Government would regard this as an attractive proposition.

Germany is seriously worried about her future with regard to oil imports. An assurance to Germany that North Sea oil could be flowing into the German refineries would be an inducement to Germany to assist us in our negotiations.