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Orders of the Day — European Assembly Elections Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 7th July 1977.

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Photo of Mr Robert Ellis Mr Robert Ellis , Wrexham 12:00 am, 7th July 1977

I merely make the point that the nineteenth-century nation State is so outmoded that something must be found to replace it. It seems to me that the only practicable proposition is to go along with this European venture. No one knows where it will take us. It will not necessarily be federalism. It may be something that we have not thought of yet. In politics one is obliged to travel, and I always feel that it is better to travel hopefully.

I give one illustration of why it is important and why I disagree entirely with the right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith), who seemed to think that it was simply a matter of institutions, of jiggling them about, and that nothing would change. He is profoundly wrong. The European Court is already in certain narrow sectors becoming a federal court within the existing institutions.

Ralph Dahrendorf summed it up when he said: The first community is dead. Long live the second community. In the first 18 years of the Community, when we all went along in the wake of the great American engine and prosperity was all over Europe, simple institutional measures were adequate. We were able to rely on a bureaucracy and everyone was happy. It came to an end on 15th August 1971 when the Nixon Administration went protectionist. Other things have happened since then. That is why now we must have a political Community.

One case illustrates exactly what I mean. On Wednesday the Commissioner responsible for steel made a statement about the steel industry. We all know that the steel industry in this country and in Europe is in a serious position. I do not think that we all appreciate how desperately serious is the position. The Commissioner said that the Commission was to introduce a variety of proposals in an attempt to rescue the steel industry. He spelled out the various proposals, including many that are well known to hon. Members. He said that he was anxious to take along with him the trade unions, managers, owners and Governments so that the directives that the Commission planned to impose would be accepted. The Commissioner has considerable power under the Paris treaty over the iron and steel industry.

I can visualise the time arriving when, for the good of the steel industry, the Commissioner becomes cruel to be kind and imposes directives that will prove to be difficult pills for Governments to swallow. The Commissioner could demand that a steel works must close. He would be working within his legal rights. He could make that demand and the Government concerned could say "Not on your Nellie". The Commissioner could then take the Government to court. The court could rule in the Commissioner's favour. The Government could then say again "Not on your Nellie". That would produce a political crisis and the Community would be in a make-or-break situation. That event could occur in respect of steel. It could also happen as a result of difficulties in other industries. The engineering, shipbuilding, airframes, aero-engines, computer and machine tools industries are in serious situations. We are trying to compete with the multinational sector.

I give another example from regional policy. Paris is the most developed region in France. It occupies 2 per cent, of the area of that country, contains 19 per cent, of the population and takes 54 per cent, of economic capital investment. That is not because of the perverse, mal-administration of the Fench Government. It is because that Government can do nothing about it, any more than this Government can do anything about regional policy.

I can give an example of what I mean. A large multinational company may say that it wishes to build in London. The Government says that it may not do that and offers grants as an incentive to build elsewhere. That company may then say that it will build in another country if it cannot build in London and it eventually establishes itself in London. It is the duty of all hon. Members to try to correct that situation where we as a nation and Government are impotent. In the European Parliament we are introducing a kind of parliamentary control and authority which will lead to a genuine European Parliament. We shall rue it if we fail to go ahead with that policy.