HL Deb 03 April 1974 vol 350 cc917-32

2.49 p.m.

LORD O'HAGAN rose to call attention to relations between Western Europe and the U.S.A., and the implications for the United Kingdom; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, before I begin, I hope that I may express deep sympathy to Madame Pompidou and the family of the late President of France.



By his death, it is not only France which is the poorer, but Europe.

My Lords, I do not rise in your Lordships' House to-day to put forward any grand theories or any "instant O'Hagan" solutions. My aim in introducing this debate is much more limited. In this opening speech, in what promises to be a long and outstanding debate on the relations between Western Europe and the United States of America and the implications for this country, I want only to set the scene and to touch on some tender areas of decision-making, in the hope that the collective widsom of your Lordships' House may benefit Her Majesty's Government.

As a newcomer to these subjects I am reminded of the theory of continental drift, the theory that the earth's land surface is a disjointed jigsaw puzzle in which the interlocking continents split, mingle and reunite, imperceptibly but continuously. In the political counter-part of that physical continental drift I would suggest to the House that we may be at a moment of increasing movement and stress, if not fundamental change. In five weeks there will be a new French President; in five months there may be a new American President; in ten months we may be out of the European Economic Community; there is a serious possibility of a world food crisis.

I am convinced that there are no simple open and shut alternatives for Britain. All economies are much more interdependent than they used to be, so we cannot opt out of world relationships or world problems, and we cannot escape Europe, even if we break faith with the European Economic Community. But to play our part and to do the best for the people in this country, all plans for the future should be based on a realistic assessment of our standing in the world to-day.

Perhaps I might mention a few cold statistics. In 1950 our share of world trade was 11 per cent.; last year it was under 6 per cent. In 1950 our share of world reserves was 7 per cent.; in 1960 it was 6.2 per cent.; in 1973 it was 3.5 per cent. Between 1950 and 1973 the value of this country's import market grew over four times; that of West Germany grew over 18 times and that of Japan nearly 400 times. I would suggest to your Lordships that we should remember these facts when looking at the options open to Britain to-day.

I believe that NATO has just had its 25th birthday. In the United States of America there is a respectable and considerable body of opinion, inside Congress as well as outside, that looks to Europe to deal with its own defence. The argument about costs must not be glossed over, if only because it tends to be an umbrella for other deep concerns. Vietnam has turned many Congressmen against having so many troops abroad: besides, "Bring our boys back !" is always a good electoral cry. The Americans may be defending America by being stationed in Europe, but it is carrying French logic a little too far to presume that every American will perceive the connection.

Again, how can American leaders counteract anxious questioners about Europe's reliability when the E.E.C. goes in for so many public cat-fights at the top? Therefore it is not surprising that Dr. Kissinger—Ariel to the President's declining Prospero—tries to cajole the member-States of the European Economic Community into some more coherent public stand. He must do so. But still, the next time he feels like questioning the legitimacy of the Governments of Europe I hope he will study what his own Vice-President has just said about that great organ of democracy, the Committee to Re-elect the President. May I in this context ask the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, to say what consultations the present Government have had with the United States of America about the Defence cuts planned by the present Government?

Then, my Lords, there is trade. The Americans have lost ready access to our markets since we joined the European Economic Community. We remember that there was a bit of a squabble about soya beans. What is the attitude of the present Government to Article XXIV(6) of GATT? Where do Her Majesty's Government stand on the question of compensating the U.S.A. for our membership of the E.E.C? And are the Government in agreement with our partners in Europe on this question?

I believe that American grain reserves are very low. Can the Government tell us whether we shall be able to look to the United States to provide us with grain in the event of a world food shortage? Perhaps the noble Lord could say at the same time whether, if we did leave the European Economic Community, he would hope that we could acquire elsewhere the food that we acquired cheaply from Europe as a result of our being a member of the European Economic Community.

We must maintain our links with the United States of America. But alliances evolve. If they stand still they are already dead, and we must be aware that change may happen on the other side of the Atlantic very quickly. The American leadership may change any day. The President's successor may well be very isolationist and we are too small nowadays to be of real use to the United States in world power politics. I am sure that Her Majesty's Government will give a warm but guarded welcome to the febrile hand of friendship that is stretching across the Atlantic. I am sure they will remember that young Congressmen do not wake up each morning wondering what they can do for Europe or Britain to-day.

Exactly where we stand in the shifting scenario of détente and disarmament I am far too ignorant to guess; nor can I offer any perceptions about the U.S.S.R. or China, and I will leave these matters to other noble Lords who are more knowledgable. But I should like to touch for a minute on the Third World and the Commonwealth, because I hope that these countries will not be squeezed out between Europe and the U.S.A. Europe must widen its trading links with the poorer countries who are now more aware of their own power and I should like to support wholeheartedly what Mr. Callaghan has called for in this context. On the other hand, I hope we are not going to hear too much humbug about the Commonwealth. I value the Commonwealth, in so far as I know anything about it, as a forum for inter-racial and international discussion; but, as I understand it, it has little economic clout.

I understand also that world prices have risen above the prices that were guaranteed for various producers in the Commonwealth who produce difficult commodities. That is not to say they will not fall again; I would not commit myself to that vain hope. I think we must recognise that many members of the Commonwealth have made alternative arrangements; New Zealand has turned towards Japan; in defence, Australia has turned directly to South-East Asia and it is no use our hoping, in a moment of post-Imperial nostalgia, that history can be re-written. We have continuing responsibilities towards the Commonwealth, but the Commonwealth countries go their own ways nowadays.

I believe that Britain's best future—not "only" but "best" future—lies within the European Economic Community and in close links between the European Economic Community and the United States of America. Can the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, say precisely what Her Majesty's Government propose to do in order to improve the processes of consultation between the E.E.C. and the U.S.A.? Do they propose formal arrangements or do they merely propose a better exchange of information, and if so, at what stage in the decision-making process?

Can the noble Lord say what our partners in Europe think of the plans of Her Majesty's Government? I would say something to your Lordships that I have said before; namely, that I challenge any Member of this House to provide a workable alternative scenario for Britain outside the European Economic Community. I hope to hear some alternatives to-day, but I have not heard one to date. I would hope that scenario would not be one that involved us in becoming the Tristan da Cunha, or something equivalent, of the North Sea. I still believe that in Europe, with our oil and our skills, we can make a better contribution to the world than if we remain in self-satisfied isolation.

Your Lordships may be aware that I thought the previous Government were far too brusque and aloof, especially in European Economic Community matters. On the Continent, the British behave far too often as if they were Clive in the process of rediscovering India. I am sorry to say that Mr. Callaghan has kept up this tradition in the rather hectoring and dismissive tone of his speech at the recent Council of Ministers. I would never have guessed from that tone that some of the people he was addressing were fellow Socialists.

My Lords, this country has a great role to play in the crucial task of building links between the Community and the United States of America. I welcome what Mr. Callaghan has to say in Clause 18 of his statement to the Council of Ministers on this subject. It is important, so I will read it. Speaking of Her Majesty's Government, Mr. Callaghan says, We shall not always be able to agree with the United States, but the Community in devising its procedures and its common positions must always try to work with America whenever it can. Conversely America must try and work with us. Only if the Nine work harmoniously with the United States on both economic issues in the framework of the Community and on political issues in the framework of political co-operation, shall we surmount the difficulties to which President Nixon and Dr. Kissinger have recently drawn attention. I could not agree more. Let us bury Dr. Kissinger's Declaration of Atlantic Solidarity; he will be happy to pay the funeral tribute. Let us get on with the job of improving communications.

My Lords, if we are to carry out this task, we must retain the confidence of both sides. I am sure that the Foreign Secretary's colleagues have read the Labour Party's Manifesto before, but I doubt they minded hearing it again. But I think what saddened some of the people Mr. Callaghan met in Bonn, and most of his audience in Luxembourg (I cannot say this with confidence, but I am going to Luxembourg to-morrow and I promise to check) was the almost scornful dismissal of those who hope that one day the Community will be something more than a customs union. I find this so hard to understand, because in the House of Commons the other day the Foreign Secretary talked most movingly of the occasion when French and German delegates first sat down together after the war in the Council of Europe. Yet in Luxembourg, the Foreign Secretary refused even to meet the President of the European Assembly.

There are many areas of friction between Europe and the United States of America, not least their relations with the oil-producing countries. I understand from the Press that this country is now in agreement with the Community approach. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, can say how Her Majesty's Government propose to reassure the Americans in this context, and whether our standpoint is in fact in accord with the other Member States of the Community. Mind you, I do not think we want to be too pernickety about this, because the United States of America did not choose to consult its allies either about its general Middle Eastern Policy or about its declaration of a State of Emergency. So Europe need not go running to the White House.

There is so much for this country to achieve as part of Europe with a special link with the United States of America. We cannot do it on our own, but Europe must somehow learn what the Russians and the Americans between them are up to, because Europe will have a very uncertain place if the disarmament talks move forward without our point of view being taken into account. I do not want to say to the present Government, "Change your policy in Europe". I will leave that to my colleague in' the European Assembly, the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn. All I am asking is, please reconsider your tone to our partners in the E.E.C., because United States' co-operation in security cannot be detached from Europe's own co-operation in economic and political affairs.

My Lords, at home I have pinned above my desk these words from Thomas Browne's Religio Medici: There is no man's mind of such discordant and jarring a temper to which a tuneable disposition may not strike a harmony. The Foreign Secretary has no need of these words when he is here. But may I commend to him that he might consider putting them in his briefcase when he goes to Europe. Finally, may I say to the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, "Croesaw irty hwn." My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

3.8 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, for giving us the chance to debate this most important and fundamental issue, the relations between Western Europe and the United States of America and the implications for the United Kingdom. First of all, I should like to join with him in paying a tribute to the very great French statesman for whom we mourn today and who I think, perhaps, will always be remembered in this country for the fact that he put his faith in Britain. He asked us to join Europe, and his faith was matched by the votes in both Houses of the British Parliament. Also, may I join the noble Lord in expressing our great sadness to Mme. Pompidou, to his family, and to the people of France as a whole.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, made a very interesting speech. I think that the tragedy of the death of President Pompidou is that it comes at a time when France and her colleagues in the Community have serious cause to question the belief of Her Majesty's Government in the political necessity of the union of the Nine. The noble Lord rightly talked about this period of movement, stress and fundamental change. I must say to my horror I heard him say that within ten months it might be possible that this country should withdraw from the European Community. But he went on to declare an act of faith himself, when he said that he thought there was no alternative, that Britain should be within the E.E.C., and should have close links with the United States. But there is without doubt a dangerous lack of confidence among our partners in the Community as to Her Majesty's Government's real intentions on renegotiation—not just because the details of Britain's demands have not been revealed, but above all because Her Majesty's Government appear blind to the essential need to work for political unity and for the strength and peace of Europe as a whole. When the Foreign Secretary says he is an agnostic on political union and seems to regard this great endeavour as no more than a customs union, he creates doubt; and where there is doubt there is weakness. Nothing could be more fatal to the security of Western Europe and of the United States.


My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Baroness can help us, as she is spelling this out in such firm terms: what has she or her Party in mind in terms of political unity in Europe?


My Lords, we knew about the decision of the Summit Conference, that we were to work towards political union by 1980; and I feel that the political need for Europe to unite is even greater than the economic advantages, although they too are very great indeed.


My Lords, could the noble Baroness be a little more helpful, because this is clearly the important point? Does this mean a form of federation, or what? We should like to know what the noble Baroness has in mind when she speaks of political union.


My Lords, it is not only what I have in mind but what the late Conservative Government were working towards with our eight partners. It is true that we were a long way off achieving it, but the idea was little by little to try to have a convergence of our joint ideas, so that in the end it would be natural that the nine countries would form a European Community and would be able to speak with one voice.

On these Benches we certainly welcome the Foreign Secretary's remarks on the need for good relations between the Nine and the United States. But if the United States is vital to the security of Western Europe, Europe is also vital to the United States as her first line of defence. Within NATO there is, of course, a good measure of understanding, as noble Lords know: such as the achievements of the European Defence Improvement Programme, and the most recent satisfactory German/American offset agreement on the cost of United States forces in Germany. So that when the United States Congress considers the burden of Western European Defence it is worth recalling that European members of NATO provide 90 per cent. of the land forces, 80 per cent. of the naval forces and 75 per cent. of the air forces in Western Europe.

Good Atlantic relations are, of course, also vital to the future prosperity of Europe. The American trade and payments situation is now stronger than that in Western Europe, and one would therefore conclude that the United States can be more helpful in its trading policy, and in its approach to international monetary reform. The United States has always wanted European nations to unite it has always said so for many years, and for many years it was impatient at our apparent inability to do so. But when, of course, at last it was achieved, for a time it appeared that there was a fear that the Community would become such a powerful trading block that it would be harmful to American interests. But when, for example, the review of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade took place, the Community as a whole took a great deal of trouble to meet the fears of the United States, particularly in relation to compulsory reverse preferences in the negotiations just starting with certain African States.

Therefore, our methods of consultation with the United States are, surely, of prime importance. For example, on the Middle East it is obvious that American power and American diplomacy are essential in the search for peace, as they are also in trying to secure our supplies of oil. On the other hand, it may not be automatically understood across the Atlantic that Europe has an historic interest in the Middle East, and is, of course, far more dependent on imported oil. Therefore, when we consider how we can consult on policy matters that affect both the United States and ourselves and the Community, we must surely ensure that we do not in the course of doing so, damage the integrity of the Nine. For example, we on these Benches do not support the idea, which Press reports claim come from the Foreign Secretary, that American officials should see the working documents of the Nine in the early stages of their preparation. That seems to us to be much too formal, and, as indeed France maintains, this would mean a Europe of Ten.

Therefore, we must develop procedures that ensure that the thinking of the Nine and that of the United States are a constant two-way exchange of ideas, so that neither of us will be given cause to lapse into our own kind of isolationism. I would, therefore, like to ask either the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, or the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, when he comes to wind up, to give us the thinking of the Government on the method of consultation which we should encourage within the Nine, remembering we are members of the Nine, and with the United States, which is not too formal but is constant and is constructive. Of course, as Europeans, we shall not, and we cannot, always agree with the United States, but do let us have our differences out into the open.

It is, I think, true that within the Community we should rather have had longer to shake down together. It may be we are going through all the stages that we used to ascribe to nations emerging to independence: the stage of dependence, after the last war very much so, on the United States; then a long struggle together of the Nine to independence, as some thought, notably France; and then, I hope, to an understanding on both sides of the Atlantic of the true nature of interdependence. Of course, we in the Nine all have inflation, enormous difficulties over energy, changing Governments and social disruption, the kind of scene that leads to nationalism. The United States has domestic problems of great gravity, and the possibility of another Presidential election. But the Atlantic Alliance is vital to all of us on both sides of what the international pilots call the "pond", the Atlantic Ocean. I would think it wise in this time of change and uncertainty to do our best to put our own house in order. Because in this country, surely, small as we are, so dependent on raw materials and imports of food, we need every good friend we can find, and we need to do our best to keep our friends. Therefore, I would only say in conclusion that it is vital for Britain's survival that we should work for the political cohesion of the Nine, because we shall be no kind of ally to America if, by default or by design, we wreck the confidence of Western Europe.

3.18 p.m.


My Lords, may I associate myself with the condolences your Lordships have given to the family of President Pompidou and to the people of France on the sudden death of President Pompidou. I think President Pompidou will occupy a great place in the history of modern France, following as he did the Presidency of President de Gaulle. It required great courage, I think your Lordships will agree, for a man like President Pompidou to follow, working, as he did, right to the end, and I think some of your Lordships will also agree that it probably required greater courage from those of his relatives, his wife and family, who were so close to him during these difficult times.

May I also extend my personal gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, for giving us the opportunity of discussing vital and important matters as to the relations between Western Europe and the United States. The noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, appears to me to have significant qualifications for raising these matters. He is a Cross-Bencher and a member of the European Parliament. He is to be found regularly walking through the corridors at Strasbourg—which has no power—watching the in-fighting and the struggles that appear to take place in those corridors, without the presence of any member from the United Kingdom Labour Party.

May I, as a mere member of the United Kingdom delegation to the Council of Europe and the Western European Union, say that I walked through those same corridors, which again have no power, though they have an atmosphere made pleasant by the senators from 17 nations and not nine and they have also been made more attractive by the very strong team from the United Kingdom Labour Party, who have been most assiduous in their attendances at Strasbourg in the discussions of the Council of Europe and the Western European Union. May I congratulate four of that team who are now members of Her Majesty's Government in the Cabinet, and the other one, who is now the Solicitor General.

I hope that it will not be considered discourteous if I do not follow the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, or the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie, in all the issues they have raised before your Lordships today. I propose to confine myself to one fundamental issue relating to defence and foreign affairs; namely the basis of European security and the Atlantic Alliance. I shall hope to develop, so far as is possible, a method by which, at least in the short term, machinery can be developed for better co-operation on foreign policy and defence policy between countries of Western Europe, and between those countries and the United States of America.

I am encouraged to take this point with your Lordships because of the suggestion made by the noble Earl, Lord Avon, in the course of the debate on the gracious Speech. He made one suggestion. Your Lordships will recall that the noble Earl had been discussing the problems arising from détente and from defence in the light of his great experience. He went on to say and I quote from column 163 of Hansard dated March 14: I have just one suggestion to make about the future of Western Europe itself. We have heard many arguments about the possible reform of the Common Market. He then said that he did not propose to enter into these possible reforms; nor shall I discuss possible reforms for the Common Market. He went on: If progress between the Nine becomes difficult for a while, as almost certainly it will … then it might well be that progress could be made in another direction. This will be the theme of my address to your Lordships this afternoon. He continued: Could not we make more use of W.E.U.? This comparatively modest organisation was intended at the time of its formation, some twenty years ago, to take its place as a leading influence in the new Europe. It has never quite worked out that way. The noble Earl went on to describe how he made a plea to General de Gaulle about the future of the Western European Union. General de Gaulle had been sympathetic. The noble Earl then proceeded in his speech to give a limited example of activity for the Western European Union. I would strongly recommend the Government to use the Western European Union more. As your Lordships will be aware, the Western European Union comprises seven countries which are all members of the E.E.C. Eire and Denmark at the moment are not members of the Western European Union, but I understand that there would be no procedural difficulties if they wished to join. I understand that there would be little procedural difficulty in getting collaboration with the Government of the United States of America in this forum. As I shall mention later to your Lordships, the Foreign Secretaries of France and Germany have expressed sympathetic views for the use of this forum in the difficult times in which we now find ourselves.

It seems to me that the time has come where we really must be practical and urgently endeavour to establish some kind of new machinery, or certainly a modification of the existing machinery, for greater collaboration not only between the countries of Western Europe but between the countries of Western Europe and the United States. I again make a strong plea to the Government that they should support the use of the Western European Union as a forum for this matter. May I echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, and ask your Lordships, rhetorically: what does the ordinary American Congressman consider is happening in Europe at the present time? They see European Community institutions apparently powerless to solve the problems which face Europe. The European Commission seems to them to be losing its role as a motive power in the European Community, and the Council of Ministers seems at the present time to be incapable of taking its place, largely because of the conflict of national interests.

The declarations of the Summit Conferences, to which the noble Baroness referred, at The Hague in December, 1969, Paris in October, 1972, and Copenhagen in December, 1973, were welcomed in the United States of America, but the normal Congressman does not see them at the moment as capable of being put into practical effect at least for some time. There appears to the American to be a paralysis of the European Community institutions, largely due to the failure of these institutions to become subject to effective democratic and Parliamentary control. The Times leader of March 18 summarised the situation so amply: Europe is seen as struggling to reconcile its military dependence with its political and economic aspirations, but is still very unclear about where it is going.

Herr Brandt, speaking on March 28, summed up the position in regard to Europe, as he has been reported in the British Press, by saying that it seemed to him that Europe was a sorry tale of in-fighting and stagnation. He went on to say that there could be no system of Western European unity without the security of the Atlantic alliance. On the same day the German Foreign Secretary, Herr Scheel, who is designated to be the President of the Federal German Republic in about six weeks and who has a great reputation in Europe, and indeed the world, urged that there should be urgent consultations with the United States of America, which should not be degraded to a mere exchange of information.

France still refuses to become a member of NATO, yet at the present time it appears that the German Foreign Secretary and the French Foreign Secretary seem sympathetic to the use of the Western European Union as a forum. There has also been during the past few months a growing consensus of opinion among European Parliamentarians and in the U.S.A. that the Assembly of the Western European Union could enable, at least in the short term, effective consultation to take place between the countries of Western Europe on defence and foreign policy matters. Thus, in November last year I had the privilege of hearing Herr Leber, the Defence Minister of the Federal Republic of Germany, speaking at the Assembly of the Western European Union and urging that institutional machinery should be set up for consultations between the countries of Europe and the United States. At the same Assembly meeting we had the privilege of hearing the Foreign Secretary of France, M. Jobert, speaking about defence matters between the member States of the Western European Union, and he favoured using the Western European Union organisation as a forum for further discussions between the Western European countries. May I continue with this modern history in support of the Western European Union?


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord, to say that as an ex-member of the Western European Union, as a delegate like himself, when I was there first there were only six members—now we are given to understand there are seven. Could he tell noble Lords what is to happen to the agreement that was arrived at at the termination of the Second World War concerning what is known as the British sector, the Russian sector and the French sector, bearing in mind all the time the suspicion that Russia has for the rearming of Germany itself, even when this suggestion comes from within the E.E.C.?


My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Lord, Lord Slater, for his intervention, but of course there has been a great change in the atmosphere in Europe since the time when the noble Lord was a distinguished member of the United Kingdom delegation which went to the Western European Union. He will know that the Treaty made immediately after the war was modified by the Treaty of 1954; and since then, as a matter of procedure, there have been modifications in relation to the attitudes towards the Western European Union. I was merely reciting to your Lordships the facts known to me and to many others of the attitudes of distinguished Parliamentarians from Western European countries of Europe at the present time.

If I may be allowed shortly to come to my conclusion in this matter, on November 21 last there was a debate in the Assembly of Western European Union on the wider question that consideration should be given to the drawing up of plans for a permanent consultation between the Western European Union and the United States of America. Indeed, from reports dated March, 1974, (which have not yet been published), I am in a position to say that the rapporteur of the General Affairs Committee of the Western European Union is urging, with considerable support from other countries, that it now seems that the natural forum for foreign and defence policy consultations is the forum of the Western European Union.

The matter of defence and the Atlantic Alliance is an urgent and crucial one in its implications for the peace of the world, and I hope therefore that urgent steps can be undertaken by the Government at least to consider whether, in the crisis in which we now find ourselves in foreign policy and foreign affairs, associated not only with the individual Western European countries but also between the Western European countries and the United States of America, the auspices of the Western European Union with its machinery and its organisation can be of assistance to the country at the present time.