Orders of the Day — European Communities (Developments)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 3rd December 1975.

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Photo of Mr Willie Hamilton Mr Willie Hamilton , Central Fife 12:00 am, 3rd December 1975

The hon. Gentleman made his speech and walked out. He has only just returned to the Chamber. A members of his party should have been present—the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mrs. Ewing), who represents his party in Europe. The hon. Gentleman talked about participation. The least that the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn might have done would be to put in a courtesy appearance for the debate. She has been singularly absent throughout. She might have thought fit to justify her vote in support of General Franco and his Fascist regime. If the hon. Gentleman wants facts, let me tell him that that is what is happening in Europe.

That brings me directly to a point to which I wanted to refer—the triviality of so much of what takes place in the Assembly. I have now been there for three or four months and I can recall only three or four memorable debates. The first took place when we had hardly got there, and that was a debate on political union. Then there was a debate on the oil crisis, involving my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. We had another debate on Spain. Those were about the only debates of real substance. The other debates have been what we would call statutory instrument debates. However, there is no reason why we should not put this matter right, and why the Assembly should not evolve into something better.

That brings me directly to the point raised by the hon. Member for Flint, West about the Prime Minister's speech—a speech that had very little coverage in this country—on the inauguration of a public accounts committee in Europe. The implications of that speech were very great. The Prime Minister was spelling out, in his own inimitable way, the fact that we were in Europe to stay, because he wanted to propose some machinery to control the vast expenditure that takes place in the Community, not least—indeed, in too large a measure—on the common agricultural policy, over which we as parliamentarians have no control whatever, either here or in Europe.

The Prime Minister indicated to me, by that speech, that he was intending to raise this question at the summit conference in Rome, which ended yesterday. I should like the Minister who is to reply to the debate to indicate whether the Prime Minister raised this question, particularly with the Germans, because I think that this matter was initiated by the German Federal Chancellor. Will the Minister indicate what response the Prime Minister got on this matter? That seems to be singularly important. It is extremely important from our point of view to get, in the Community, the kind of control of public expenditure which we have here—although recent revelations may suggest that we are not all that good at it, either. At any rate, over about 100 years we have built up a system that is as good as any in the world, and probably better than most. That is all that one can say for it. However, one can learn and develop that kind of control in Europe, as we have developed it for over a century here.

Similary, several hon. Members have spoken as if it were somehow obscene or undesirable to pursue the concept of a European regional policy. I remember that when the present Secretary of State for Energy was very much a pro-European he said that the only way in which one can protect the little man from the big multinational company is to provide a big multinational political counterpart. That argument is as pertinent today as it was then. If we are to prevent the big multinational companies from blackmailing small national States—be it Scotland, England, Wales, Holland, Denmark, or any other—we must, by having a common regional policy in Europe, prevent them from playing the one off against the other.

At a recent meeting of the Regional Policy Committee, of which I am a member, I persuaded the Committee to visit Scotland and Lancashire. Its members will be coming in the spring of next year. This is part of the educative process. Ordinary men and women in this country are affected, and will continue to be affected, by decisions taken in Europe—not in Edinburgh or Westminster, but in Brussels. That being so, we had better have adequate representation in Brussels before these decisions are taken and not afterwards.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Mr. Ellis), who has had to leave the Chamber owing to a previous engagement, is strongly in favour of a common energy policy in Europe. We shall be the greatest energy producers in the Community. The coal reserves in England are vastly greater than the oil reserves found in Scotland, but together they put us in a very powerful position to model the common energy policy in Europe. That is how we should be thinking. We should not be wanting to hold on to the oil that happens to be near our coast, or the coal that happens to be under our county, and saying "To hell with the rest of the Community". That is counter to the ideals that hon. Members on this side and, I presume, some hon. Members opposite hold dear.

Direct elections are a highly desirable, democratic procedure but the nuts and bolts of the system will be extremely difficult to work out. It is no good pretending that this can be done overnight. One of the great attributes of our democratic system is the fairly close relationship between an hon. Member and his electors. In a European Parliament there would be, perhaps, five members representing the whole of Scotland, and it would be very difficult to maintain this relationship. On the question of the timetable, I do not think that our European partners understand the tremendous constitutional implications of the devolution White Paper, the debates on which we are soon to embark upon. That will be the biggest constitutional upheaval in this country for hundreds of years and it will take a long time to get it through the House. It is bound to make the question of direct elections in Europe that much more difficult to work out.

The hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) talked about the European passport as if it was something terrible. I have one British and one European passport in my pocket. I do not give a damn if I lose the British passport. It means not very much to me. I support the sentiments expressed by Ernest Bevin, as Foreign Secretary, in 1946, when he looked forward to the day when he could go from Victoria Station to anywhere in the world without a passport. The new European passport is a small step in that direction. They can have my British passport back in Petty France any time they like. I hope that this is the approach that the House will take during the next generation. We are building for our children and their children. It is no good continuing to fight the pre-referendum campaign. Whether we like it or not, the British people have decided that we must solve our problems in a bigger political and economic context than we have tried so far. That was the clear message they gave us, and we would be denying their faith if we sought to undo what they decided should be done.