European Union

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:18 pm on 17th June 1982.

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Photo of Mr Tim Smith Mr Tim Smith , Beaconsfield 4:18 pm, 17th June 1982

Although this is not my maiden speech, it is my first speech as Member for Beaconsfield. I hope that the House will allow me to observe two of the conventions that are normally associated with a maiden speech.

I should like to start by paying tribute to my predecessor, the late Sir Ronald Bell. As I travelled around the constituency in the recent by-election I found many electors who respected Sir Ronald Bell not only for his independent views but for the tremendous work that he did for his constituents. He was an assiduous constituency Member. His constituents respected him for his independent views. He was a great libertarian, who had a tremendous sense of the concept of nation, and I pay tribute to him.

I should also like to say a few words about my constituency, which is in a delightful part of Buckinghamshire. Many people go there to live because it is a charming and delightful environment. As Member for the Beaconsfield constituency, I hope that I shall be able to protect the interests of the constituency and defend it against the attacks that it will inevitably come under from various environmental intrusions such as aircraft noise and gravel extraction.

One of the underlying themes of the recent by-election in Beaconsfield was Britain's role in the Common Market. The Falklands crisis raised difficult questions in people's minds about Britain's role in the world. One thing became clear to me, and it was that now only a vocal minority questions Britain's membership of the European Community as such. I was interested to see a recent report—I think in the Financial Times that the TUC campaign for withdrawal from the EEC has had an apathetic response from most of the unions which were called upon to make constructive proposals about what Britain might do were it to withdraw. The most positive response to the TUC's request for helpful comments came from its own steel committee, which said that its members saw no realistic alternative to membership of the Common Market. It said that the present relationship between the United Kingdom and other EEC members should be maintained. We never hear precisely what the Labour Party, the TUC and others who propose that we should leave think we should do if we left.

Recent events have highlighted the strengths and weaknesses of the European Community. On the plus side, we have the positive support that we have received from most of our partners in the Common Market during the Falklands crisis. There is no doubt that, had we not been members, we should not have received their support, and our job in the South Atlantic would have been that much more difficult. Also on the plus side, I pay tribute to the recent British Presidency, which my right hon. Friend the Minister of State mentioned in his speech, and to the work of my noble Friend Lord Carrington at that time.

On the minus side, we have had the majority decision on farm prices. This is a difficult question and it is one to which this document addresses itself. However, I do not understand why the Opposition are making so much of this document. It is a modest document. It does not propose any changes in the treaties, or any changes in our legal relationship with the rest of the Community. It is a political document, and its object is simply to give the development of the Community some further impetus. As my right hon. Friend the Minister of State said, the object is to ensure that that development is both pragmatic and evolutionary. That is the Government's objective, and I support it.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) said that the entire document is irrelevant. He thinks, I suppose, that the Community's objective of an overall economic strategy to combat unemployment and inflation is irrelevant, and that the priority which is to be given to encourage productive investment and improve competitiveness as a basis for creating durable jobs is also irrelevant. In my opinion, those proposals in the document are relevant, not just to Britain but to the rest of the Community.

Three major questions will have to be resolved if we are to make further progress towards European co-operation. First, there is the budget, about which the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Jenkins) spoke. Secondly, there is Britain's budget contribution. Thirdly, there is the Luxembourg compromise. In my opinion, all three are connected, because it would be difficult to make progress on the budget if we could not first make progress on the Luxembourg compromise.

Farm prices would perhaps not loom so large if we were in a position to deal with the difficult problems of the budget and the fact that the whole budget is dominated by the CAP. The object in the budget must be to agree arrangements which place less emphasis on agriculture and more on industrial and regional policies, and thus design something which constitutes a fairer reflection of the needs and aspirations of all members of the Community.