Environment, Housing and Construction

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 26th November 1976.

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Photo of Mr Julian Critchley Mr Julian Critchley , Aldershot 12:00 am, 26th November 1976

I hope that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and the House will forgive me if I move away from housing to talk very briefly about some aspects of high politics as opposed to low politics. Those hon. Members who wish to stick with low politics will now have an opportunity to leave the Chamber and have an exquisite light lunch of the kind that we can always get in the House of Commons. We have very infrequent opportunities to talk of high politics, as opposed to low, in part because of the weight of legislation. Most of the important subjects are squeezed out of the calendar of debate, so I want to talk very briefly about the threatened Scottish and Welsh Assemblies, and about the prospect of the unity of Europe. I promise that I shall keep my eye firmly on the clock.

Many people find it very difficult to justify why the present Government should be spending the whole of the next year in having a debate on devolution at a time when the country slips slowly beneath the waves. The reason, perhaps, is that devolution is a device whereby the Labour Party hopes to hold on to its fiefdom in Scotland. Just as the EEC referendum was a constitutional innovation designed to keep the Labour Party united at the expense of the sovereignty of this House, so the whole idea of Scottish devolution is a device to keep up the strength of the Labour Party in Scotland at the price, perhaps, of the unity of the United Kingdom. I for one shall vote against the devolution measure step by step, and I hope that my example will be followed by our distinguished Front Bench.

Quite clearly, we suffer from far too much legislation. I cannot recall when the House debated the short list of important subjects I am about to mention. When did we have a debate about the threatened spread of nuclear weapons? When did we debate the MBFR talks in Vienna? When have we had a debate on SALT, the strategic arms limitation talks? Indeed, we have not focused on the need for a Euro-SALT, that is, a SALT concerned with strategic nuclear weapons in Europe, which ought to follow any signing of SALT 2.

Lastly, have we ever debated the extent to which the Soviets and others are complying with the Helsinki Agreement, Baskets I, II and III, on the freer movement of people and so on? In fact, the Nine and NATO are acting as watchdogs but the information that they have collected on compliance or non-compliance has been made secret. It is classified, and is not available to Members of Parliament. I know that life is one humiliation after another, but this is ridiculous. Parliament has become an assembly of eunuchs who have nothing to show each other save their scars.

I am no economist, and my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) knows that I am no moral philosopher, either; but seeing what economics and economists have done to this country, I feel no sense of shame whatsoever. I make one suggestion to our recast Front Bench. That is that were they to introduce into our policies the one simple proposal that income tax ought to have a ceiling of 50 per cent., as is the case in the United States of America, that alone would work a transformation in Britain over a five-year period. The aim and objective of the Tory Party, surely, is to make work once again worth while.

I return to the subject of devolution for a moment. Surely the idea of separation, of loosening the links within the United Kingdom, runs counter to what is supposedly the great theme of our time, which is the eventual unity of Europe. We in this House, on both sides, with some vociferous exceptions, are committed to that as a particular end of politics. Why is it that, despite all the rhetoric, so little progress is ever made? The reason is that humbug is the necessary lubricant of politics and public life and that there is no subject that suffers more from the application of humbug than the future prospect of the unity of Europe.

What is the reason for Europe's lack of self-confidence? Is it that we in Europe are unable to believe our good fortune? We all call ritually for European unity, but Europe plainly has all the unity that it wants. The calls we hear so frequently for new initiatives serve as universally acceptable substitutes for action that no one really wishes to take. The Europe of today is a confederacy rather than a union.

A united Europe would be a federation dominated by France and Germany, which is why, despite all our ritual incantations, few of us seek real progress. The small States of Europe wish European unification as a means of controlling the big States, and not as a means of magnifying their power. We should remind ourselves that the original motive for European integration was to control Germany, and, further, that that desirable objective could be achieved only by the involvement of the United States within Europe.

Thus, the debate on European unity has been as much about the relationship of Europe towards America as about the relationships of Europeans one to another. The question that has not yet been posed but must be asked is, how long will the existing relationship between United States and Europe last? No one can say when the United States will finally leave Europe, but neither can anyone seriously assert that they will not eventually leave. When that happens we shall have to be a "European" Europe—a thought which frightens many of us today.

What are the reasons for our fears? On one level there is fear of Russia, but, more particularly, there is fear of uncertainty. Deep down, we fear that the natural state of Europe is violence and political excess. We believe this still, despite the prosperity and stability of the past 30 years. In that period the United States have exempted Europeans from the need to think seriously, to pay the proper price, or to guarantee their external security. How can we, as Europeans, complain that Europe is weak and at the same time refuse to provide an adequate defence?

Our anxiety about the natural condition of Europe, which we suspect to be chaos, has led us into dependence upon the United States and reliance upon them for the solution of all our problems. America's sheltering presence in Europe not only has solved the Russian problem for Europeans; it has solved the German problem and the Oder-Neisse problem. Even now we wait, impatiently and apprehensively, for America to solve the Italian problem—will Communists be allowed in the Government?—the Spanish problem and the Portuguese problem.

So why are Europeans so hesistant and lacking in self-confidence? Every European who opens his eyes and looks about him knows that the major States of Europe are great Powers in all important respects—population, size and sophistication of industry, gross national product, education and the sophistication of our work force.

In many vital respects, Sweden, Germany, France and Holland are more modern societies than the United States. Britain and France as the third and fourth nuclear countries in the world both have a capacity for "assured destruction". Even in conventional warfare, a traditional military alliance of France, Germany and England adds up to an industrial and potentially a military force on the same scale as the Soviet Union. France and Germany together form an industrial agglomeration larger than the Soviet Union. The EEC possesses a combined GNP more than twice the size of Russia's, and we also have a larger population. We have nothing like the military forces of Russia but that is because we spend, on average, 2·5 per cent. of GNP on defence each year while America and Russia spend five times as much.

One reason why Europe does not do more to secure itself is that we do not believe, deep down, that the Soviet Union poses a serious threat to us. Since the Americans are still in Europe we can excuse ourselves from worrying over the consequences of being "wrong". In turn, we wish to change nothing in Europe because a unity of sorts already exists; there is a commercial unity and a moral unity derived from what European civilisation has survived in this century. We have no wish to break the spell.

The real issue for Europeans is how to accomplish the psychological transition towards unity and how to rid ourselves of a transatlantic dependence which cannot be sustained for ever by either Europe or America. Despite all the hyperbole, Europe has preferred its security to its unity. It will only be when we are obliged to ensure our own security that we shall make any progress towards the achievement of political unity.