Orders of the Day — European Communities

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:35 pm on 31st July 1980.

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Photo of Mr Ian Gilmour Mr Ian Gilmour , Chesham and Amersham 5:35 pm, 31st July 1980

They are obliged to agree on the seat of Parliament and I take that to mean where Parliament meets. I am not sure whether I have understood the hon. Gentleman's question. At present the European Parliament is more or less obliged to meet in three places. Many Members of the European Parliament would like it to meet in only one place. I understand that, but the difficulties of deciding in which of the three it should meet are great.

The right hon. Gentleman gave us an account of the Opposition's approach—or rather his approach—to the Community. He said that he gave it in the most uncontroversial terms possible. It must have cost him a great effort. I am not sure that he was entirely successful. In addition I am not sure how authoritative his account was.

On this, and on many other matters, the Opposition speak with more than one voice. There are those who appear to share the views of the right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin) who said on 5 June: We therefore believe that the time has come for the Labour Party to maintain as its clear policy that we ought to leave the Community and that this ought to be a part of its manifesto. On the other hand, there are those like the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) who said: A more certain recipe for splitting the Labour Party cannot be imagined. He, and the right hon. Member for Stockton (Mr. Rodgers) and Mrs. Shirley Williams were courageous when they said that they would have no part in a manifesto commitment to withdrawal. There are also those who prefer the comparatively safe middle ground occupied by the Leader of the Opposition, who said on 11 June: I have always been a pragmatist about the European Community. That is rather different from the earlier quotation that I gave, which was made when the right hon. Gentleman was in power. I am not sure whether his brand of pragmatism is proving a successful form of leadership.

Finally, the right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar constantly hints at the possibility of withdrawal, without throwing the responsibility of his office behind it. We look forward to hearing where he stands, if, indeed, he knows. Whatever criticisms the right hon. Gentleman can find about the working of Europe—and some are certainly justified—he has singularly failed to produce an alternative. We know that he does not represent all his party, or all of the Opposition Front Bench.

Belatedly, I should like to conclude with four points. First, the fundamental reasons for our membership of the Community are every bit as valid now as they were when successive Governments of both parties in the 1960s applied for entry, and when we joined in 1973.

Second, while it is true that the economic benefits have not flowed as freely and as fast as was sometimes predicted, one must ask how much of that is really the fault of the Community, and bow much was due to other causes—not least world recession post oil-shock—and how much due to our own industrial decline which long preceded our entry into the Community.

Third, there is nothing to be gained and everything to be lost, by changing our mind about Europe now. The House voted overwhelmingly in 1971, and the country in 1975, for membership of Europe. We did not do it on a whim. We did so because the alternatives looked unattractive. We have now come through and, with the budget settlement, largely overcome the problems of transition. Our business men have just adjusted to vast increased trading prospects with Europe, Our partners are just now beginning to accept us as a full partner in the enterprise, with a stake in its future. It would be madness—after seven short years—to throw everything into reverse, and throw away our effort and our reputation with it. There is no case for doing so. I therefore agree with the right hon. Member for Devonport, and others, when they said recently: What alternative do those who oppose British membership of the Community propose? Where also can peace, jobs and freedom be more effectively safeguarded? As the 51st state of the United States? As a neutralised, isolated, ineffective island on our own? That seems to me to be very well said.

Finally, we in the Government have shown by our actions our wholehearted commitment to Europe. It has paid dividends and we have had some remarkable successes. We shall carry on the good work. There is no better course for Britain.