European Community

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:27 pm on 26th May 1982.

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Photo of Mr Roy Hughes Mr Roy Hughes , Newport (Monmouthshire/Gwent) 8:27 pm, 26th May 1982

The debate has revealed that the issue of our continuing membership of the Common Market will not go away.

One views with disdain the developments of the past few days. When Britain is fighting over a sovereignty issue in the South Atlantic, our national sovereignty is being eroded by the Common Market.

Our so-called Common Market partners have dallied and dillied, dillied and dallied over the sanctions issue, and, when Britain is in a corner over the Falkland crisis, they have simply stabbed us in the back over food prices.

I want close and friendly relations with the countries of Western Europe. However, such a relationship can be best obtained without the Treaty of Rome.

It has been said many times in the debate that during the referendum campaign of 1975 we were all told by the right hon. Members for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Jenkins) and so on, that if we did not like certain developments inside the Common Market, we could always use our veto. Now, we know all too well that the reality is somewhat different and that the Luxembourg compromise of 1966 has been set aside. As I said to the Foreign Secretary in an intervention, that seems to mean that the basis on which the British people give their consent to our continuing membership of the Common Market has been overturned. To give the Foreign Secretary his due, he seemed to agree with that.

Then we had the reaction of the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food after the veto had been overruled. Following this arbitrary and dictatorial decision on the part of our partners, it was said in The Times that the matter would be considered urgently by the Government. However, despite all the furious talk the Government simply caved in. President Mitterrand has been unyielding. He has told us that we are bound by the Treaty of Rome and if we do not like it we can always quit. From time to time the Prime Minister has been referred to as the "Iron Lady". However, the Common Market seems to have turned her into a paper tiger.

I am concerned about the effect of the food price rises on ordinary families. We know that the price of basic items, such as bread and sugar, will rise. Butter will rise by 8p a pound and cheese by 7·5p a pound. Consumer organisations have estimated that those increases could cost the average family something like £1·50 per week. Even before the current increases the position of housewives and British taxpayers was simply deplorable as a result of the common agricultural policy.

The April edition of the Journal of the Institute of Economic Affairs carried an article by a Professor Stephen Baker, who said: Membership of the Common Market has raised the cost of some food to almost 5 times as much as comparable world prices. Why should the British housewife or taxpayer continue to subsidise inefficient continental farmers? Why indeed? Again, as Professor Baker says: The costs of the CAP are borne by consumers who pay higher food prices than they would otherwise, and by taxpayers who contribute towards the costs of operating the policy. When I raise these issues with Ministers from time to time, particularly with the economic whizz kids in the Welsh Office, they tell me that these increases are only marginal, and they gloss over them. When I was a student of economics, I was taught that everything was decided at the margin. Long ago, Mr. Micawber gave an elementary lesson in this respect: Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen six, result happiness.Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery. Those figures, of course, were before decimalisation. Perhaps there is a moral there. However, they illustrate the effect that these food price increases have had on the British economy.

It is my contention, and it has been my contention for a long time, that these increases put an impetus into wage claims. As a result, our products become less competitive in the world markets. Foreign imports then flood in, our factories close, and people are put on the dole.

There is another aspect to consider. Last Saturday, a driver employed in the National Health Service came to see me. He carried valuable cargoes of items necessary for hospital operations. He showed me his pay ticket. It showed £64 gross, £51·40 net. I can only say that he has not got much leeway to pay these increased food costs. It seems to me that Mr. Alan Fisher, general secretary of the National Union of Public Employees is now well justified in increasing the percentage basis of the wage claim on behalf of his members.

The food price increases have made Health Service workers more determined to fight for a just pay settlement. I believe that the Government, if they have not the backbone to stand up to the Common Market, should provide the money for public bodies to meet legitimate wage claims. It is not only Health Service workers but also low-paid workers who bear the brunt of these increases. Then there are the pensioners. One hears talk about a bit of butter. It can only be a bit when pensioners are paying five times world market prices for it. The low paid and the pensioners contribute to the estimated £1,700 subsidy paid to each agricultural worker in Europe. This is again a statement of Professor Baker writing in the Journal of the Institute of Economic Affairs.

One should not forget the £1 million a day membership fees revealed in a parliamentary reply to the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) some weeks ago. I would have thought that the money would be better spent in attracting new industry to Scotland, Wales and the North-East of England. If the Labour Party is anything at all, it is the champion of the underprivileged. That is its raison d'être. I shall certainly support tonight the amendment of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot). We want a fundamental reappraisal of Britain's relationship with the Common Market. That is not to lose sight of the fact that our party's policy is to withdraw from the Community. This was passed by a six to one majority at the last Labour Party conference. The National Executive of the Labour Party reaffirmed the decision by a very large majority only a few days ago.

Last weekend, in Swansea, I attended the annual conference of the Labour Party in Wales. An emergency motion was moved by my own union, the biggest, the Transport and General Workers Union. The resolution deplored the conduct of the EEC. It also said that the Government should indicate their intention to withdraw. I fully support that decision.