European Communities (Developments)

Part of Bills Presented – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 10th January 1977.

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Photo of Mr Neil Marten Mr Neil Marten , Banbury 12:00 am, 10th January 1977

In that case, I shall take not my own views on the Community but those of others who are very pro-Market, who have lived in it and with it, and, to satisfy my right hon. Friend that it is not my own views that I am expressing let me express one or two of those other views in order to put matters in a fair, objective and unbiased perspective.

Before anyone suggests that we should be worse off outside the Community, may I remind my right hon. and hon. Friends that my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) put his signature to our party's manifesto in 1970 in which he said that we can negotiate with the EEC … confident in the knowledge that we can stand on our own if the price is too high. The price is already too high, as the hon. Member for Test pointed out. Therefore, I turn to the first part of that sentence, and I am confident in the knowledge that we can stand on our own if we are not in the Community any longer.

But, for the critics, I call in aid first the President-in-office of the Council of Ministers from July to December. He has been more connected with the Community over the years than most people. In his opening speech he said: the motto 'completion, enlargement and strengthening' has been replaced by the motto 'stagnation, decline and illusion' … The Community apparatus … seems to he sterile and ineffectual. … These signs of disintegration are produced day by day … The realities which at one time were to have formed the basis for our European solidarity now seem to be the cause of differences, of our growing apart and the parting of our ways … the Community structure has reached an advanced stage of erosion, and one may well wonder how long it will be before the European Treaties and everything that has been achieved on the basis of them will simply be a valuable historical curiosity … the Community is suffering from a political anaemia clear for all to see. So, although my right hon. Friend the Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies) may think that I am sometimes biased, all I say is that I agree with that great expert on the situation in the Community.

Then I turn to experts in this country. I have before me the publication called "Facts". It is published by the European Movement. Its view of the Community is as follows: Talk of economic and monetary union … is little more than a sick joke … no progress to reform the Common Agricultural Policy has yet been made. Neither do we appear to have learnt the lesson of the 1973 oil crisis, and still lack any coherent common energy policy. The Community has no common industrial or transport policies, whilst a common foreign policy, still outside Community competence, is little more than a dream … the Community has ground to a halt. Those are the views of British Marketeers.

The hon. Member for Test categorised a number of people who were in favour of the Common Market, including The Times. I notice that on 4th January, in an article entitled "Brussels backstage", Mr. Michael Hornsby wrote under the heading "Bout of depression": Small wonder then, that last month's summit meeting in The Hague should have ended on a note of helplessness and scepticism about the EEC's ability to provide any constructive, collective answers to the difficulties besetting its members. So we have the great authority of the correspondent of The Times.

Finally, I quote about the Council of the European Council and the shambles in which that operates. Speaking in the European Assembly, my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Sir P. Kirk) said: We may have said harsh things about the Council of Ministers before, but we would much rather have them than a European Council which not only does nothing, but prevents anybody else from doing anything too. That is the view of the Leader of the Conservative delegation to the Assembly about the European Council—the so-called summit meeting. Without giving my own impressions of the Common Market, I think that I have produced enough evidence to show that it is not exactly in the best of health.

But one touching little incident happened in the Scrutiny Committee just before Christmas. We met on the Wednesday before Christmas and had a long list of documents that we had to consider. Suddenly there was whisked before us an additional document called "Trichinae in pigmeat imported from third countries". When we inquired what that word meant, we discovered that it meant ringworm. We asked why ringworm should be rushed in front of us like this when we had been told previously that there was no hurry for it as the instrument would not be coming in until later in 1977. A brief from our adviser said: This was explained to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when it telephoned last week to inquire when the Committee were likely to consider the instrument. When asked why a matter which the Commission had had under study since 1972 had suddenly become much more urgent than had been forecast, the Ministry of Agriculture explanation was that the Dutch, who import a lot of pigmeat from outside the Community, 'wanted to get something out of their 6-months Presidency'. Weeping considerable tears, the Scrutiny Committee, after deep thought, said that Christmas was coming and pigmeat and ringworm were important, so in order that the Dutch could get something out of their six months' presidency this regulation should go through. So we let it through. I mention this because it illustrates the pathetic state of the six months of presidency of the Community by the Dutch.

I cannot see how or why there should be any improvement in the state of affairs in the Common Market. Is there any reason why it should not get worse? The Community has a tragic history in the past year in the way in which it has gone downhill.

There are some people, including the past President, Mr. van der Stoel, who believe that all the problems will be solved by direct elections to the European Parliament. I believe that people who think like that include a number of my right hon. and hon. Friends. They really believe that direct elections will make some difference. I do not agree. I think that they are merely clinging to direct elections like someone clings to a raft to save himself from drowning when he is in very rough seas. That is what direct elections are all about.

If one looks at it, one sees that, despite all the efforts of my colleagues who attend the European Parliament from time to time, it is an ineffective Assembly which has no power. It is a powerless body. If it is directly elected, will this increase its powers? If so, what powers will it have? If it is to have legislative powers—the Tindemans Report and the summit communique of 1974 referred to an increase in legislative powers—surely this Westminster Parliament will become inferior and the European Parliament will be superior. I do not think that that is at all acceptable to the people of this country, and it is certainly not acceptable to the French people. My right hon. Friend the Member for Knutsford referred to the judgment of the French constitutional council which made this position quite clear when it put out a warning that any move towards a federal Europe, or a loss of power by the French Parliament, would be opposed. Exactly the same would happen in this country. I know that my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench would oppose any move towards a federal Europe.

If the European Parliament is to have no extra powers—and this is the soft soap which is sold to us—why send 81 highly-paid people, complete with their researchers and secretaries, to sit on what is a toothless and powerless Assembly? Then there is the cost of it—the salaries, expenses and so forth. My concern is that my own party, which is so keen on direct elections, will spend a lot of money out of its hard-collected funds on direct elections because we rejected the idea of any public money being allocated for political activities as recommended by the Houghton Committee. Public money in this case includes money from the EEC, to which we have already contributed. Therefore, unless we as a party intend to operate double standards, we must accept that there will be no acceptance of any public money from the Community for direct elections if they ever come about.

I want now to look ahead. The problems of fishing have been mentioned, and I shall not go through that again. On the common agricultural policy I will make some comment, because both Front Benches have talked about reforming the CAP. In fact, nothing substantial has ben achieved at all in two or three years. The Prime Minister, in answering questions put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), said something to the effect that the CAP was the price we had to pay to get into the Common Market. Of course, my party said that once we got into the Common Market we could ensure that the CAP was changed. But the fact is that there have been only very insignificant, if any, worthwhile changes made. I asked the Prime Minister about this myself, and he told me that the difficulty was that there were so many vested interests that it was very hard to get any worthwhile change. He is quite right, and this is why we have the CAP as it stands. That is why I commend the Government for using this card of the green pound in order to get a change in the CAP.

The Financial Times in its second leading article today referred to the "grotesque defects" in the CAP, and it is my view, which I have expressed inside and outside this House, that the CAP is an absurd system. There is nothing to justify butter, which costs 45p a pound at present, going up to 72p a pound at the end of this year, except the system. There is no reason why it should go up except that this is the CAP system.

Skimmed milk is another example. We have had an awful mountain of skimmed milk, which the Intervention Board of the Common Market buys in at over £500 a tonne in this country and sells back to the farmers at £100 a tonne. This is an astonishing system. It is a system which builds up a surplus of this and that—of wine, butter and skimmed milk—and then sells it at cut prices to people outside the Common Market. If we were outside, we could buy all these surpluses cheaper than we can buy them inside. That demolishes the argument that by being in the Common Market we have security of supplies of food. If we were outside, the Common Market would be very willing to sell to us. The argument that the surpluses are there for security of supplies does not stand up to scrutiny.

The President of the National Farmers' Union, Sir Henry Plumb, said on 3rd January at an Oxford farmers' meeting that any attempt to scuttle the CAP would signal the break-up of the European Community. He said that those who attacked the CAP were well aware of the fact that without the CAP the EEC could not survive. Sir Henry added: Make no mistake that the end of the CAP will certainly mean the break-up of the Community. Does the Community really hang on a system which is as crazy as the CAP? It is a pathetic system and the sooner it is changed into something else the better.

Now is the time to consider the future, because clearly we cannot go on like this. The sooner the Common Market, its members and supporters recognise that the Community still consists of nine independent sovereign countries, the better. There will always be an attempt by people to move the Common Market into a federal State, to make it one unitary State. But within the Common Market there are certainly two countries which would always veto that move. One of them, I am proud to say, is my own country, and the second is my second country, France. Neither of those countries would accept any move toward a federal State.

We must, therefore, recognise that it will not come about, and, recognising that, we must accept that the Common Market will never make very much progress. The only way it could ever work would be as a federal State, and that it will never become. We must think, therefore, of how the Common Market will develop, because it cannot go on as it is. It must aim at achieving maximum co-operation with all countries, particularly in Europe—and I include Scandinavia in that—and even with countries outside Europe.

Its trading policy should move much more towards a free trade area concept rather than the concept of a closed circle sitting behind a tariff wall. We should stop the Common Market's supranational law-making machinery making farcical laws which only bring it into disrespect when it seeks to harmonise water, tachographs, honey and a list of much more peculiar items than that.

A very good example of what I mean is the attempt by the EEC to have a passport union. It would mean that all our passports from, I believe, 1978 would have "EEC" stamped on the front of them. I hope the Government realise that to put those letters on the front of all passports will be extremely offensive to the 8 million people who voted "No" in the referendum and who wanted nothing to do with the Community. I would not think that those who voted "Yes" in the referendum—I think that if it was held again their number would be a lot smaller—would object to not having "EEC" stamped on the front of their passports.

The Nordic Union has a passport union, but each country uses its own passport without stamping "Nordic Union" on the front. The Common Market could do the same, but the reason for this move is purely cosmetic. The Government should consider the offence it might cause to those who opposed entry.

Let me turn now to the Scrutiny Committee, of which I am a member, and the way in which it deals with Common Market matters. The Committee does a good job. Usually the tributes are paid to the chairman of the Committee, who is my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden). I gather that he has just got married and is having his wedding reception at about this moment. I express my congratulations and best wishes to him.

The Committee which my right hon. Friend chairs receives about 20 or 30 documents each week. We let a lot of them through because they are unimportant, but we recommend that many of them should be debated because they are important and because we think that the House of Commons should have the chance to express a view about them. At the last count, 77 of the documents that we had recommend for debate had not been debated. When we debate them our debates are usually a mere farce. They are held late at night and they are usually too short. There has been a tendency recently to hold them on Fridays, when hon. Members with country constituencies like to be away in them.

I raised the question of statements earlier today. In 1976 there were 54 meetings of the Council of Ministers. Ministers ought to make a statement to the House after these meetings to tell us what they have done and what is going on, but oral statements were made on only 11 occasions last year. I do not know whether Ministers are embarrassed by the failures of their meetings and, therefore, do not want the House to find out or to stand at the Dispatch Box and face the House. I hope that in the new year they will tell us more about their meetings.

Recently we had an interesting debate on the value added tax harmonisation structure. Many important points were raised and many of the answers that we were seeking were not given. The House expressed itself almost wholly against the exemption ceiling for VAT being pegged at £5,000. The Minister has since had the negotiations, but he has not told us what he has agreed or what is happening. I have tabled a Question for Written Answer for Wednesday, so I hope to get the information then. That is the wrong way to treat the House of Commons.

We are here handing over power to the Executive, and Parliament must always fight against that. Parliament must fight the Executive when it thinks that the Executive is doing wrong. The House should question from time to time the cost of all the regulations which pour out of Brussels. We should ask how many more bureaucrats are needed to administer the minutiae which the bureaucrats of Brussels have cooked up in order to keep the bureaucrats here in jobs.

I believe that the country is becoming more and more disillusioned about the Common Market. A Gallup poll was published last September, although I did not see it reported in the newspapers. It asked people whether, if they were told that the Common Market was to be scrapped, they would be very sorry, indifferent or relieved. The results were that of those asked 25 per cent. said that they would be very sorry and 65 per cent. said that they would be indifferent or relieved. That latter figure breaks down into 30 per cent. who would be indifferent or could not care less and 35 per cent. who would be relieved that the Common Market was to be scrapped. Only 11 per cent. of those asked did not know. I give those figures in support of the theme of my speech, which is that there is a general feeling of growing disillusionment in this country with the Common Market.

Let me summarise, therefore, by saying that Parliament must begin to think about what will happen. If the Common Market is to disintegrate, as the Dutch Foreign Minister and others, but not I, say it might, we should have a policy to cover such an eventuality. As the Government's pamphlet during the referendum stated, The British Parliament in Westminster retains the final right to repeal the Act which took us into the Market on January 1, 1973. Thus our continued membership will depend on the continuing assent of Parliament. That means that we always have the right to come out.

I am not suggesting that we do that at this moment, but we should take seriously the trend of events in the Common Market. As the hon. Member for Test said, we should not just brush it aside. The time has come for us to take the future of the Common Market very seriously, to consider where it is going and how we on both sides should approach the problem.