European Community

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:13 pm on 12th November 1982.

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Photo of Mr David Stoddart Mr David Stoddart , Swindon 12:13 pm, 12th November 1982

The Under-Secretary of State said that this was one of the most important and relevant periods of the EC, and that Britain had recently been its President. So why on earth did the Government arrange the debate for a Friday morning, and around a motion for the Adjournment? Bearing in mind all that has happened during the past six months—there have been some important developments—surely the Government should have arranged the debate for any other day, when most Members would be in the House rather than in their constituencies. They should have tabled a motion that was not only debatable, but amendable. One can only assume that the Government are so worried about the adverse developments of the past six months that they wanted to sweep the debate under the carpet.

This has been a significant period. We lost the veto on farm prices—not only on that occasion, but for ever. The House should not make a mistake about that—having lost it, we shall never retrieve it. The assurances given in the White Paper on the future use of the veto and the standing of the Luxembourg compromise will cut no ice. While we have been in the Common Market we have seen one erosion of our sovereignty after another. The loss of the veto on farm prices was another erosion. From now on, our power to have a real effect on the increase in farm prices year by year is over, or at the very least considerably weakened.

The assurances in the White Paper cut no more ice today than they did during the time of the referendum, when the then Government—who were Labour—with their pro-Market allies assured us that Britain's national interests would be protected by the veto and the so-called Luxembourg compromise. Yet there has been a further sell-out to the supra-nationalists in the veto on farm prices.

It is even worse than that. We have tried to undermine Denmark's veto on fishing limits. We told Denmark that it either agreed to the policy agreed by nine members or the other EC countries would implement it and impose it, if necessary by force, on Denmark. If anyone doubts that, he should have listened to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on the programme "World at One", when he made it absolutely clear that the Government would if necessary take forcible action against the Danes if they did not comply with the arrangement.

Hon. Members often tell us and the country that through membership of the EC we can build good relationships with other countries which are our European allies and partners. Is the way to do that by threatening them with force unless they adhere to an agreement reached by nine of the 10 partners? It is not. Far from assisting good relationships with other countries, membership of the EC undermines them. We quarrel not about great world affairs, but about small nitty-gritty items that offend one or another of us. If we are not quarrelling about fishing, we are quarrelling about finance. It is a continuing quarrel that undermines our decent and good relationships with the Community on world-wide common interests.

In the same period the EC, as my hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) said, stabbed us in the back. I do not think that I can improve on that expression. The EC stabbed us in the back at a most crucial point in the Falklands war. Indeed, the EC's decision to renew sanctions for only a very limited period towards the end of that war could have resulted in the loss of further British lives and could have affected the possibility of a negotiated settlement. So there is no question but that the equivocation of our so-called partners in the EC during the Falklands war did injury to Britain and its people. Even worse, some of our so-called European partners attempted to use the tragedy of the Falklands war to gain concessions from Britain in their own national interests. Those are not the actions of allies and friends. They are the actions of small-minded people who are out for their own personal gain, irrespective of the harm it can do to other people.

I hope that the Government took note of those actions during the Falklands crisis. I hope that they also took due note of the absolute commitment of New Zealand, Australia, Canada and other Commonwealth countries to our cause during the Falklands war. There was no backsliding by them. There was no stabbing in the back by them. They came to our aid and comfort at the earliest possible stage, they remained with us throughout and they remain with us today. The British people noted and greatly appreciated their commitment, even if the Government did not.

Before we joined the EC we were assured that the interests of New Zealand, in particular, would be protected. We have seen how those interests have been protected. New Zealand has lost access for its cheese, and its butter exports have fallen from 150,000 tonnes a year to 87,000 tonnes a year under the new agreement, but even the 87,000 tonnes are at risk.

The French Government have always disliked the continued importation of New Zealand butter into the United Kingdom, and they are now saying to us "Unless you abandon your principles concerning the export of cheap butter to the USSR, we shall block the importation of New Zealand butter into Britain." That is a blackmailing tactic. We are being called upon to abandon a principle which, rightly or wrongly, the British Government—supported, I believe, by the British people—have enunciated and upheld.

The New Zealand economy is at constant risk, and with it the jobs of many of my constituents who work at the Anchor butter packing factory in Swindon. If there is no further access for New Zealand butter, there will be no need to pack it in Swindon and my constituents will be out of a job.

The interests of New Zealand must be absolutely upheld by the Government, and absolute assurances must be given that there will be continued entry of New Zealand butter into Britain, not only for a number of years but for all time.