§ 4.43 p.m.
§ Lord GORONWY-ROBERTS rose to move, That this House takes note of Developments in the European Communities: The United Kingdom Presidency (Cmnd. 6887). The noble Lord said: My Lords. I beg to move the Motion which stands in my name on the Order Paper. Debates on the six-monthly White Papers on developments in the Community have 776 become a regular feature of the business of this House. This occasion is different: some might say unique, because, for the first time, I have to present to your Lordships a White Paper covering a period in which Britain has held the Presidency of the Council of Ministers. Where there have been Council meetings it is we who have chaired them; where there have been Presidency initiatives it is we who have taken them. Our involvement in the Community's achievements and in its undoubted difficulties has thus been a double one as President and partner, and that much more intimate in consequence.
§ However, the uniqueness of the occasion can be overstated. The Government's objectives for the Presidency were in fact modest. We decided from the start not to set ourselves grandiose targets for the building of Europe." The Community is today far too complex for any Presidency in six months to bring about a great leap forward.
§ We therefore decided to aim to conduct the Community's affairs with despatch and objectivity, preserving a proper balance between our national interests and our Presidency obligations, tightening up procedures where we could and providing an example of efficient management. We recognised that much of the business which would come before the Community during our Presidency would either be inherited from our prodecessors or dictated by events over which we had no control. Consequently, the scope for control by the chair would be limited to a modest application of the brake or of the accelerator. We set our ourselves, therefore, few concrete policy objectives. The objectives we have pursued we would no doubt have pursued had we not been in the chair: for example, changes in the Common Fisheries Policy; an agricultural price fixing which discouraged surpluses; an attack on unemployment; the completion of work on some useful internal Community measures already in hand, such as standardising motor vehicle requirements and the arrangements for levying VAT. We also looked forward to developing the Community's external relations: in the North/South dialogue and in the co-ordination of Community business and political co-operation, and to giving a sensible lead in the Community's approach to its own enlargement.777
§ These objectives were the background to the keynote speech which Mr. Anthony Crosland delivered to the European Assembly in its first session during the United Kingdom Presidency. Barely a month later that great man was dead. There has not I think been enough recognition of the remarkable way in which my right honourable friend the present Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary took over at very short notice the major role of presiding over the Foreign Affairs Council in these difficult circumstances, doing so smoothly that there was barely a jolt in the conduct of the Council's business.
§ We took the chair in a Community whose basic common policies had evolved to a stage demanding serious re-examination or major new development: for example, the Common Agricultural Policy, the mechanism of Community finance and fisheries. A new range of common policies were also in the stage of discussion and construction, for example, energy and certain types of joint action in the economic field. And, finally, this was a Community poised somewhere between two enlargements, that from Six to Nine, and the prospective step from the Nine to something more. Quite apart from the continuing discussions on further enlargement itself, this perspective made it harder than ever to envisage the Community as something self-sufficient and closed to the outside world. There was plenty to be done in managing and developing therefore both the external relations of the Community as such, and the separate framework of political cooperation.
§ In this opening speech today I should like to review, briefly, the concrete progress that has been achieved in areas like these. I shall be dwelling less on the more general and polemical issues that have been aired in the media and other public discussions of our Presidency. These are legitimate questions, and I shall be very surprised if they are not raised later in our debate. I should be still more surprised if I do not refer to those criticisms when winding up the debate. But to assess our Presidency purely in such terms would do far less than justice to the patient, detailed labour it has involved for so many Ministers and officials all through Westminster and Whitehall, and 778 it would do less than justice also to the valuable if sometimes unspectacular progress that has been made as a result.
§ I mentioned, first, the Common Agricultural Policy. The annual price-fixing fell within the six months of our Presidency. It was completed perhaps rather later than normal, but it also started late because there was a new Commission. There is, anyway, plenty of room for argument over what is normal and what abnormal in this particular field. The important thing is that the common price rise was held down to 3½ per cent., the lowest since the United Kingdom accession. And it was part of a package which was the best, in consumer terms, for many years, which marked our determination to continue fighting for the reforms that are so necessary in this most traditional and elaborate of European common policies, the Common Agricultural Policy. Such reform is not a selfish British interest. It is logical, and indeed essential, if the Community is ever to find ways of discouraging in-built surpluses and protecting consumer interests while assuring a decent return to efficient farmers.
§ The financial machinery of the Community has been evolving ever since its inception and is now ripe for major change. From 1980, the plan is to go over to fully automatic own-resources financing, to supplement the two existing resources (customs duties and agricultural levies) by a third drawn from a notional rate of VAT. Quite separately, it is proposed in 1978 to introduce a new market-based European unit of account. Preparations for these changes have been in hand for some years, but reached a particularly crucial stage during our Presidency. We were able to achieve one very important step towards the goal in the form of agreement on the VAT Sixth Directive, which will harmonise the VAT base throughout the Community and thus open the way for collecting the third "own resource". Valuable progress was made, too, on the other necessary revisions of the financial regulation. But, as your Lordships know, there are political as well as technical issues involved in this area. British Ministers have made it quite clear, for example, that we cannot agree to the regulation introducing the European unit of account into the budget until and unless we receive satisfaction 779 on the question of how this will affect our budget contributions in 1978 and 1979; and that turns on the interpretation of Article 131 of the Treaty of Accession.
§ Compared with agriculture and the budget, the Community's policy on fisheries is a recent creation and consists at present largely of a number of guiding principles, rather than concrete policies and measures. Precisely because it is still in a formative phase, we have to make sure it is built up in a way that fully recognises our special position and special interests. But in spite of the inevitable difficulties this involves—which partly arise from the fact that a start was made before United Kingdom membership—a good deal in the way of agreed foundations have been laid in the last six months. Member States have concerted action to extend their fishery limits in the North Atlantic and North Sea to 200 miles, with a Community system of licensing for fishing by third countries.
§ The Community went on to begin and, in some cases, complete negotiations on arrangements with all the interested parties; these included the Soviet Union, Poland and the German Democratic Republic, who are now negotiating with the Community, as such, for the first time. The publicity given to reactions to the United Kingdom ban on herring fishing at the end of the Presidency period should not be allowed to overshadow the progress made by agreement on other conservation measures, and the rest of the useful groundwork that has been done for a future internal régime. This was, in any case, a non-discriminating conservation measure supported by the Commission and taken on the basis of scientific advice. It has now been made a Community measure. The Community has still to address itself seriously to the central problems of the internal régime; this is an area requiring particularly concentrated attention in coming months.
§ In the energy field, we stand at the very beginning of a common policy. Here, too, the United Kingdom has something very special to offer, and we were able to take the opportunity of our Presidency to provide for wide-ranging discussions on such themes as refining problems, the world energy market, nuclear questions, the development and protection of energy 780 investments and the general issue of conservation. Among measures adopted was a programme of Euratom loans for financing nuclear power stations, and the extension of a scheme for helping intra-Community trade in coking coal.
§ Economic and monetary union has been a preoccupation since the earliest days of the Common Market, but in spite of such basic achievements as the customs union there are still many aspects of the problems where more time has been spent on discussion blueprints than on laying concrete foundations. Britain has devoted much energy since Accession to arguing the apparently simple proposition that it is the foundations which must come first; that is, that the primary task is to establish a basic minimum of economic convergence. the logic of this approach is widely recognised now, and during our Presidency two European Councils have focused their attention on how the Community should be tackling the immediate and related problems of growth, inflation and unemployment. At their second meeting in June, Heads of Government were already able to note the first fruits of the appeal for more effective and co-ordinated use of Community instruments which they issued in March. The Social Affairs Council had agreed on the main lines for reviewing the Social Fund, and would be meeting in the autumn to consider action to deal with unemployment among young people and women; Governments and the social partners had held a constructive discussion at the Tripartite Conference; the European Investment Bank had adopted a programme for extending and intensifying its activities; and the Commission had come forward with a proposal on investment and borrowing in the Community. These are all themes for further work and development in the coming months; there is every reason to hope that the results will not only contribute to the ultimate aim of economic convergence, but will bring very real benefit to ordinary men and women throughout the Community.
§ I turn now to our achievements in external matters, and political co-operation. Perhaps, they do not need much advertisement. Ever since Accession, the special contribution Britain can make in these areas has been universally recognised. During the Presidency, we have continued to give a lead in the construction 781 of an outward-looking Community, united and constructive in its dealings with other world Powers and organisations, and generous and far-sighted in its relations with the developing world.
§ Among specific steps forward, I might mention the influential and positive role the Community was able to play at the CIEC and UNCTAD; the successful meeting of the Second Joint ACP/EEC Council which reaffirmed the Lomé tradition with all it stands for; the speedy establishment of a good working relationship with President Carter's Administration; the signature of the Mashraq agreements completing the network of agreements with Mediterranean countries; the arrival on 1st July of virtually free trade between the EEC and EFTA: and the progress made in developing relations with interlocutors as varied and important in their different ways as Japan and the countries of the CMEA.
§ Political co-operation has brought the Community to the Belgrade Review Conference on the CSCE with a comprehensive, consolidated position; has brought the full weight of the Nine behind the search for peaceful solutions in Southern Africa; has helped the Nine to co-ordinate policies over the Cyprus dispute and to carry forward their dialogue with the Arabs. This busy and fruitful area of joint activity was fittingly crowned by the joint statement on the Middle East issued at the June European Council.
§ Each of the events and achievements I have mentioned so briefly represents a tremendous amount of detailed preparation, and of time and trouble expended at every level from Ministers downwards. We have tried throughout the process to conduct business efficiently and promptly, giving a clear steer whenever necessary to help matters forward. I think it very significant that, whatever else commentators at home and abroad may have said about our Presidency, none of them has given us less than full credit for our conduct of business and our influence on the Community's working procedures. This is the heart of the matter.
§ In the long term, our Presidency will be judged by the very practical criterion of how many bricks we have added to the collective enterprise of building Europe. And I think it will be seen that where the 782 result was dispute and disagreement, it was because the conditions for a firm common position did not yet exist: because we refused to be a party to making bricks without straw. It will also be seen that our Presidency achieved important progress in a number of fields, and set an example of efficiency and forthrightness. Our management both of Council business and of political cooperation has been described as technically perfect. Above all, I believe that the United Kingdom's Presidency in the first six months of the year was marked by a proper relation of national interest and Community obligation. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That this House takes note of Developments in the European Communities: The United Kingdom Presidency (Cmnd. 6887).—(Lord Goronwy-Roberts.)
§ 5.5 p.m.
§ Baroness ELLES
My Lords, I should first like to express our gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, for having given us a review of developments within the Communities during the United Kingdom's Presidency. There is, of course, on this side of the House considerable agreement on many of the aspects on which he touched, and we should certainly like to join with him in congratulating and thanking all those officials in all the Ministries concerned—and, presumably, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, in particular—for the way in which the mechanisms of this Presidency have been handled. I would certainly confirm that on all sides we have heard nothing but good words for the technical detail, and the way in which the meetings, agendas and so on have been prepared. With this I would certainly agree. We would also agree that one does not expect spectacular matters to occur the whole time, but that the on-going processes of the Community should be encouraged and dealt with as efficiently and speedily as possible, without necessarily rushing things to a possibly unsatisfactory conclusion.
But as the noble Lord himself said, there are certain matters within the six months' review which are polemic and which, as Opposition spokesman, I naturally feel it is my duty to raise before your Lordships this afternoon. First, I should like to say that on 1st January 1977 we could have 783 had a day of hopeful optimism for the 67 per cent. of the British population who believe that it is in the best interests of the British people to remain within the European Community. Then the United Kingdom had for the first time a President of the Commission, a British Chairman of the Economic and Social Committee and, above all, the Presidency of the Council of Ministers for the coming six months which ended on 30th June.
This unusual combination of British chairmanships could have been a great opportunity for Britain: first, to show willingness to co-operate in European Community affairs to influence constructively and contribute to the furtherance and development of Community policies; secondly, to carry on in the spirit in which Mr. Crosland so ably started the Presidency of the United Kingdom, when he made what has become a famous speech in the European Parliament in January of this year, which noble Lords will recall was universally acclaimed in this House at the time, and said that a great deal of Community spirit would be needed during the coming six months if events were to proceed smoothly and success was to be achieved; thirdly, to make a positive contribution following a stagnant period in Community affairs, after the holding of the referendum, and, fourthly, to endorse wholeheartedly the words of Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn, when he wrote in the Tribune—and his letter is worth quoting—Having campaigned so long to win for you the right to have a referendum, I am proud to serve in a Government that has promised that the final decision will be made by all the electors through the ballot box. The whole nation and all political Parties are divided on the Common Market question. We must respect the sincerity of those who take a different view from our own. We should all accept the verdict of the British people whatever it is, and I shall certainly do so".Whether or not he has done so is open to considerable question. One can only quote from the speech of Mr. Jenkins as President of the Commission, when he spoke in Glasgow on Friday, 1st July, and said:No one any longer expects us to be a rich country, but with an almost touching faith they still hope that we will be consistent and reliable. It is exactly this store of remaining national credit which the false democrats who first demanded and now deny the referendum seek to undermine".784 No more comment is needed by me to show which way we are thinking and the way in which the United Kingdom Presidency is judged to have been carried out over the last six months.
To be fair—the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, has outlined several of these matters—there are fields of policy where certain welcome initiatives have been taken. Progress has been made over association agreements with Mediterranean countries. This progress is vital for the development of good relations between Europe and other parts of the world. Also, there has been a continued and concerted effort to reach a satisfactory policy at Belgrade in preparation for the review of the Helsinki Final Act which is to take place in October. Then a common position has resulted in a joint Statement on the Middle East, which again is of vital importance to a possible peaceful solution in that area of the world. Initiative has also been taken on all aspects of foreign affairs and matters external to the European Community.
Without putting too fine a point upon it, it is perhaps surprising that no common stand has been taken or publicly considered in relation to the foreign policy of the United States Administration. I am referring in particular to Mr. Carter's speech in May of this year. I should have thought that considerable significance and importance ought to be attached to that speech by the Member States of the European Community, but I have seen no formal statement by the Council of Ministers on the forign policy of the United States; nor did I find anything in the White Paper which is before your Lordships' House upon which I could comment regarding that country's foreign policy.
There are two other aspects which are worth mentioning. In the White Paper there appears to be no reference to the European Community's delegation to China, which I believe is in China at the moment. Surely this is a matter of considerable importance so far as relations with China and prospects for the further development of commercial and trade relations with that country are concerned.
What has happened during our Presidency? The Session of the European Parliament opened with that stirring speech of Mr. Crosland which included in 785 particular his statement regarding direct elections. For those who do not understand the attitude of the present British Government and who believed that "perfidious Albion" was an historical terminology rather than one which is still relevant today, what are we to believe with regard to the way that our Presidency has been conducted in many of the fields which are under review? Do the reactions of other Member States to the way they have been carrying on and the immense resentment caused by the kind of tactics which have been used by certain Ministers during our Presidency never concern the Government? The Government should be aware of the immense harm, both in the short and the long term, which has been done by the way in which they have behaved. Their behaviour will affect decisions which are to be made as well as those which have been made during the past few months. It is not surprising that Community reaction to the United Kingdom Presidency has been unfavourable and that co-operation may well be minimal when the main subjects under regular discussion—and, indeed, of greater significance—are energy, agriculture, fisheries, employment, the environment, social security and, recently, direct elections. One does not need to emphasise to your Lordships that the Ministers responsible for these matters happen to be Mr. Benn, Mr. Silkin, Mr. Booth, Mr. Peter Shore, Mr. Orme and Mr. Michael Foot. What do these gentlemen have in common? We know, of course, that in another place they all voted on 7th July against the principle of direct elections.
To take agriculture, the tactics of the Minister of Agriculture during the negotiations over the farm price proposals caused not only immense resentment but also, as has been pointed out by our Commissioner, Mr. Tugendhat, an increase in cost to the European taxpayer—from £104 million to £417 million—and the creation of more surpluses. This was an opportunity to bring about the much needed reform of the Common Agricultural Policy. Everybody agrees that the CAP is not perfect; everybody agrees that it needs to be reformed. At that time we had an opportunity to make a contribution, but the Government—including, of course, Mr. Benn—continued to decry the CAP. Naturally, they have taken no measures to inform the public 786 that the CAP is not the cause of the rise in food prices. During the campaign at Grimsby, Mr. Foot took the opportunity to inform the electorate of Grimsby that prices, unemployment and inflation were all caused by Britain being a member of the Common Market. Happily, the White Paper puts the record straight. I refer to Annex 3 on page 17 where we read at the foot of paragraph 1:The resulting average increase in food prices in the United Kingdom was estimated at one-third of one per cent. in the period to April 1978".Surely the fact that the United Kingdom belongs to the European Community and benefits from the CAP ought to be shouted from the housetops. When food prices as a whole went up by 84.4 per cent. during the period February 1974 to March 1977, and by 21 per cent. alone during the last 12 months, surely it is relevant that we can say that, thanks to being members of the Community, those foods which are affected by the CAP will go up in price by only one-third of one per cent. over the next year. Mrs. Shirley Williams, who must have official sources for her statement, said in a speech on 1st July that the cost of food due to the CAP had risen by only a maximum of 2 per cent. which, in the case of the Retail Price Index, meant an increase of only ½ per cent. Surely this is something to be proud of, not to decry.
Why is it that we always hear the Government decrying the effects of Britain being a Member of tile Community? The advantages of our membership of the Community ought to be broadcast in order to put the housewife right. When one sees that opinion polls show that 50 per cent. of the housewives of this country believe that food prices have gone up because Britain is a Member of the Community, one feels that it is up to the Government to say that they have risen not because Britain is a member of the Community but for other reasons. The Government can use which reasons they like—I do not mind which—but they should state that it is not membership of the Community which has caused the rise in food prices.
Similarly with energy, because of the capital investment of European Community funds which will be involved, is it surprising that there is reluctance to site JET at Culham? This reluctance by European Community members to 787 invest for the future in Britain has, on the other hand, not hindered the payment of about £1,500 million in loans and about £500 million in grants to the United Kingdom over the last four years. These payments will continue to be made, regardless of the attitude of this Government. These are sums which have come out of various funds which have been established within the Community. At this point, I should like to pay particular tribute to Lord Thomson of Monifieth, who was largely responsible, by his courage, perseverance and persistence, for the establishment of the Regional Fund from which we have benefited and from which we are continuing to benefit.
The noble Lord has mentioned the question of the convergence of our economies. The convergence of the economies of the Community countries is referred to frequently throughout the White Paper, but of course it has not been forthcoming. On the contrary, the increasing disparity between our rates of inflation and those of other Member States is very marked. In the United Kingdom it is about 17.1 per cent., whereas in Germany it is only 3.8 per cent., and in France about 9 per cent. Surely the very statistics quoted show that it is not the Community which has caused the economic situation of this country to be so drastic. The responsibility for the state of prices, inflation and unemployment in this country rests fairly and squarely on the shoulders of the present Government because of their economic, fiscal and commercial policies.
Finally, I should like to say a few words about direct elections. To most of us, direct elections should be, and are, an inspiration that the people of this country and of the eight other Member States will be represented by members of their own choice in the only forum which is available to all these people for the outlet of their needs, aspiration and opinions. We see it as essential for the European people to have this opportunity to choose whom they wish to send to the European Parliament. But direct elections have become a form of political semantics in this country. We only have to take the last paragraph of the White Paper now before your Lordships' House, to see that and, although I shall not go 788 into a lengthy analysis of every single word, I should like to pick out one or two things which strike me as being a new form of political semantics. The last sentence on page 31 says,In common with other Member States we have taken steps to provide for direct elections…It does not say that every other Member State already has its legislation in draft ready to be ratified, if it has not already ratified the Convention of 20th September 1976. It does not say that we are the only country which is not ready for elections in 1978 or, indeed, that it is almost impossible for us to be ready by that date.
Another curious statement which has been made, admittedly not in the White Paper, but nevertheless providing an interesting study in semantics, was this: the Liberal and Labour pact which was reported in The Times on 24th March of this year stated,We agree that legislation for direct elections to the European Assembly in 1977 will be presented to Parliament in this Session".Since when has the phrase "legislation will be presented" to a Parliament not meant that that legislation would be completed during that Session? This is a new definition of the word "presented" and we are now warned that when the Liberals and the Labour Party refer to presenting legislation to Parliament it does not necessarily mean that they have any intention of seeing it through both Houses before the end of the Session.
But perhaps the most significant interpretation will be applied to that oft used phrase "the use of the Government's best endeavours". How often have we heard that phrase in your Lordships' House and, indeed, in another place in debates throughout the year! Does it mean that the Government are making an all-out effort to take the necessary steps to be ready? Does it mean that they will implement their signature to the Brussels decision of 20th September and honour their international legal obligations to ratify? Does it mean that they are not prepared to let down those eight other Member States and to uphold for once the standing of the United Kingdom, not only among the Nine but in the eyes of world opinion? Does it mean that the Government will implement their 789 undertaking contained in the Queen's Speech to legislate for direct elections during this Session? Regrettably, it appears that the answer must be, No, because, in the words of the Prime Minister on Wednesday, 6th July:It will not be the end of the world if it is not 1978. I have always said to my colleagues on the Continent that it might have to be 1979 if the procedures were proper".—(Official Report, Commons, 6/7/77; col. 1271.)To my knowledge, no noble Lord from the Government Benches in this House has ever admitted in public that there is a possibility that we shall not be ready for the elections by 1978; how is it that the Prime Minister can say he has always told his colleagues abroad and yet he has failed to tell it either in the House of Commons or, through Ministers in this House, to your Lordships?
One must really ask whether, if the Liberals seek to maintain a Party in office which has shown by its record not only that it is not wholeheartedly committed to co-operating in the European Community but also is not going to be ready for direct elections (and we remember that the Liberal Party has always worn the mantle of a Party which has been in favour of European commitment and of direct elections), they are to continue with the pact with Labour or are to come out and have the courage to say, "We will not go on with this because we believe that we must have direct elections". Or was the correct position indicated in the reply by Mr. Thorpe in the House of Commons recently when he was asked, "Which is more important, the direct elections or the electoral system?" and he replied, "The electoral system"? To us, this is an unacceptable position, and a Party which is prepared to put its European commitment after the question of how that commitment is to be fulfilled is not a European Party.
So, in the last resort, I must quote the words of the Leader of my Party when she said that the Conservatives are the European Party. We shall certainly encourage and honour our obligations in co-operating with other Member States in the European Community and see that we, at least, try to honour our obligations to our fellow partners.
§ 5.26 p.m.
§ Lord BANKS
My Lords, I, too, should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord 790 Goronwy-Roberts, for the very comprehensive review which he gave us of the six months' British Presidency of the Council of Ministers. I certainly appreciate that a great deal of hard, painstaking and efficient effort must have been put in by Ministers and Civil Servants, whatever I might say about the general political stance adopted. There is much ongoing work in the Community all the time. It has many encouraging aspects and some of those aspects were enumerated by the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, at the beginning of her speech. But the White Paper was heralded in the Press as a defence of what the Daily Telegraph called "Britain's controversial six months' Presidency of the Common Market" The Guardian described Mr. Callaghan as "the first President of the EEC who has openly declared himself to be an agnostic about European union". We know that Dr. David Owen, the Foreign Secretary, is on record as being in favour of the Community remaining as a fairly loose alliance of nation States rather than as a closely integrated supranational entity.
The noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, knows that I believe the fundamental question of the direction in which the Community is to move—not the speed at which it moves but the direction in which it moves, whether towards a supranational European union or towards l'Europe des parries—to be of the greatest importance. I believe that only limited success can be hoped for unless the supranational aspect is strengthened and the power of national governments restricted in matters within the competence of the Community and in the establishment of a common foreign policy. That is why I felt very strongly over the treatment meted out to Mr. Jenkins at the time of the summit meeting of the industrially developed nations held in this country a month or two ago. It seemed to me that, within the EEC, national interests were being boosted at the expense of the Community point of view. However, we had the opportunity to debate this on 25th May and on that occasion the noble Lord replied very fully so I shall not pursue that particular point further today. But, even within the limits which the Government set for the development of the EEC, we are bound to ask whether the six months reveals any strong commitment to Europe. Wilhelm Hadler, writing 791 in Europa, published with The Times on 5th July, had this to say:Few governments have been criticised so much for the management of discussions in the Council of Ministers. And no 'Council power' has ever admitted so blatantly that it is primarily concerned with looking after its national interests in Brussels even during the term of its Presidency".He went on to say:They"—that is the British Government—risked a crisis when they took the traditional marathon on agricultural prices to the brink of collapse; they blocked a decision by the ministers with responsibility for research on constructing the Joint European Torus (Jet) because there was not a majority of the partners for the British Site at Culham in the vote; and they provoked the Irish into going it alone on fishing policy, although a Community solution was in sight which had been worked out by Dublin and seven other Community countries. By the end of the British presidency even circumspect heads of delegations were giving vent to their displeasure".That is an impression which has been created. It may be said it is one person's opinion, but I think it is a very fair description of an opinion fairly widely held among our partners. Mr. Roy Jenkins, the President of the EEC Commission, said recently:Our Governments have been too inhibited by the minority of unreconstructed anti-Europeans in their midst".I can well understand that it must be difficult for the Government to take a bold positive European line when the majority view is so obviously not accepted by a significant minority.
If we are to believe yesterday's Sunday Times report, the Government will shortly be faced with a strong attempt from within the Labour Party, and no doubt from within the Cabinet, to overthrow the British commitment to Europe entirely. I must confess that I am profoundly depressed at that prospect and at the paralysis of action to which it could lead. We on these Benches look to the Government to reject firmly any campaign of that kind. We regard a positive attitude to our European commitment on the part of the Government to be an essential basis for all Government policy. We are not happy, as I have indicated, about the attitude taken by the British Government throughout its Presidency, although we fully recognise that some very difficult issues arose where British interests were 792 deeply involved, and we appreciate, too, that it would be wrong to suggest that the United Kingdom is always the odd one out.
However, it has not always been a question of conflicting national interest. Some of the issues have divided opinion in Britain, and indeed in other countries of the Community. Nothing demonstrates this more clearly I think, than the current difficulties over pigs. British consumers want low food prices; Britsh farmers want high prices for pig products. Our farmers complain of the subsidies given by the EEC to the exporters of pig products from other EEC countries. These products are subsidised, making them cheaper for British shoppers. This is done because the unit of account in which payments for agricultural goods are made has not been altered, at British insistence, to take full account of the devaluation of the pound. Therefore, if there were no compensating subsidy, the Danes, for example, would get less money than they ought for the goods which they sell us and would have to raise their prices. Confronted by angry British pig farmers, the Danish Farm Minister summed up the dilemma in these words:if you want low prices for consumers and high prices for farmers, I do not know a magic formula for that".He went on to explain the difficulty he had in explaining to Danish housewives why they can buy Danish bacon and butter in Britain at half the price they can in Denmark, and he said:If British consumers do not want to pay the price to cover farmers' costs, you have a problem".So very often the problem is created by a consumer-producer clash of interests and not any conflict between nations or between Britain and the rest of the EEC.
I would touch briefly on two matters referred to in the White Paper. Just at the time when the customs union is fully completed and the common external tarriff has been adopted by all the Nine, there is much talk of a relapse into protectionism in the Community. We did have the opportunity to discuss this last week when we debated the report of the Select Committee on the Common Commercial Policy. I am glad the European Council at their meeting on 29th and 793 30th June, while referring in their communiqué to their concern at the effects of the employment situation on the Common Commercial Policy, nevertheless reaffirmed their strong attachment to an open and liberal commercial policy. I hope that that attachment will be firmly upheld.
I note that the Foreign Affairs Council have been considering the possible enlargement of the Community from Nine to 12, and indeed the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, referred to this in his opening speech. There is to be a report on that subject from the Select Committee of this House in the near future, so I will not attempt to go into the details of the economic consequences of enlargement on that scale. I will simply say that enlargement has strong political pressures in its favour, but it gives rise to considerable problems for the Community's institutions. It raises in particular the question as to whether the present unanimity procedure in the Council of Ministers will be possible with 12 nations or whether it would paralyse decision-making.
In this connection one wonders about the modest institutional reforms proposed by Mr. Tindemans. Are they ever going to be considered? Perhaps there is hope, my Lords. Mr. Simonet, the Belgian Foreign Minister, at the beginning of his country's Presidency of the Council of Ministers, has drawn attention to this problem. He has urged more recourse to majority voting in the Council of Ministers, which he said implied the progressive surrender by members of their right of veto on matters of vital national concern. Mr. Simonet saw only two alternatives to this course: either an enlarged Community would grind to a complete halt or it would degenerate into a loosely knit free trade area dominated by a nucleus of big countries.
Parallel with this institutional development the Belgians want to see some progress towards economic and monetary union. There is no doubt that during their terms of holding the Presidency the Belgian Government will try to make progress along the path indicated by Mr. Simonet. So, I end with the same point with which I began. I think the Belgian Government are right. I wish them well. I wait to see what support they will get from the large EEC nations, including Britain.
§ 5.48 p.m.
Lord BRUCE of DONINGTON
My Lords, the House must have awaited with some keen sense of anticipation the debate that is taking place today on the conduct of the British Presidency over the first six months of the year. From all the reports that we have seen in our national newspapers there has apparently been grave disquiet over the unco-operative attitude of Ministers. It has been complained that by their actions, by their demeanour and by their policies, they seem bent on wrecking the community. So, when today's debate was scheduled, I must say that I anticipated a full-scale attack on the Government by the noble Baroness, Lady Elles. I am amazed. We have had this afternoon from the noble Baroness what amounts to an accolade on the policies which have been pursued by the Government.
The noble Baroness appeared to be a little dissatisfied with her own moderation, because, of course, inevitably, she had to bring in the dubious activities or the mischievous activities—whichever way she put it—of anti-Market Ministers within the Government. This, of course, is in accordance with her Party's policy, which is, every time anything is done in Europe, to draw attention to the activities of those Ministers who, prior to the referendum, were anti-Market.
§ Baroness ELLES
My Lords, I interrupt because it is a question not of Party policy but of constitutional rectitude that people who are in Cabinet follow the policy and honour the international obligations of the country which they serve.
Lord BRUCE of DONINGTON
My Lords, I could not agree more with the noble Baroness, Lady Elles. As the noble Lady will observe, Command 6887 is a Government document issued on the responsibility of the entire Government. The noble Baroness referred to rectitude and I shall also refer to it in connection with the actions of her colleagues in Europe on the various questions to which she has directed our attention. Her accusations became specific in only two cases—as regards my right honourable friend John Silkin and perhaps half-heartedly as regards the right honourable Anthony Wedgwood Benn. That was the principal area which she sought, 795 albeit half-heartedly, to attack. The noble Baroness has been reticent this afternoon, but her colleagues in Europe were not so reticent. I propose to acquaint the House with the attitude taken by her colleagues in the European Parliament at a time when British Ministers were doing their best within the Community to safeguard British interests in so far as it was proper to do so.
I shall quote Mr. John Corrie. I should perhaps mention that unlike the House of Commons and possibly also this House, in the European Parliament in this instance it is apparently not the case that one declares one's interest when one speaks upon a subject from which one can derive some financial benefit. Both the gentlemen to whom I shall refer are farmers.
§ Baroness ELLES
My Lords, if the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington intends to make any recriminatory statement about an individual who serves his country both in another place and in the European Parliament, will he kindly do it outside this House as well?
Lord BRUCE of DONINGTON
My Lords, certainly with the greatest possible pleasure. However, I shall pass no observation on either of the honourable gentlemen to whom I shall refer. I shall merely quote what they said. Mr. Howell said:Mr. President, it is my very painful duty on behalf of the Conservative Group to criticise a British Minister for his appalling behaviour as President of the Council of Agricultural Ministers. He has embarrassed and humiliated the British Members of this House and he has done no credit whatsoever to his country. We find it totally inexplicable: his methods are nothing less than blackmail".That is a quotation from the speech of Mr. Howell on the occasion of the review of agricultural prices. Mr. Howell, of course, is a farmer. At page 142 of the report, Mr. Corrie said:It is a sad day for Europe, Mr. President, and it is a sad day for Britain. I say all this in sadness rather than in anger. How can we expect the eight other countries to help Britain in the tremendous troubles that she is in just now, if we treat them in this way?… The British Minister who is President of the Council is being nationalistic and narrow-minded in his thinking. It almost makes one ashamed to be British. We in this House are Europeans, we are not nationalists.796 That accusation was against a British Minister of the Crown and the President of the Council who had been doing nothing more and nothing less than presiding over the Council of Ministers.
§ Baroness ELLES
My Lords, will the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington confirm that the Minister of Agriculture, by common agreement with all our European partners, refused to come to a settlement on the day given on which the annual farm price review should have been completed; that he used delaying tactics for some considerable time; and that in the end the result of his delaying tactics and negotiations was that the European taxpayer was made to pay instead of £104 million, £417 million? I have been referring to the speech of the Commissioner Mr. Tugendhat. None of us was present at the time when the Minister was reported to have behaved in this way. I can only say that the whole of the European Press said exactly what was said by my colleagues in the European Parliament.
Lord BRUCE of DONINGTON
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness. I am not quite sure from what she has just said whether her principal complaint is that the British Minister agreed to too high a price or whether he agreed to too low a price. However, this much I do know: the other Ministers on the Council and, indeed, the Conservative Group in the European Parliament and the Christian Democrats in the European Parliament, were demanding price increases significantly in excess of the 3.5 per cent. which was ultimately agreed in the Council. One of the reasons for the delay in the Council was that our Minister would not go above 3.5 per cent.
§ Baroness ELLES
My Lords, would the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, not agree that the original proposal from Commissioner Gundelach was something in the nature of 3 to 3.5 per cent. but that we also had to devalue the Green Pound and that it was on the question of the devaluation of the Green Pound that the negotiations stuck?
Lord BRUCE of DONINGTON
My Lords, I am aware of what the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, has said, but what 797 she is apparently not aware of is that these matters were debated in the European Parliament before they ever went to the Council of Ministers. In particular, they were debated by the Committee on Budgets which, as the noble Baroness knows, comprises MPs of all nationalities and of all Parties. The Committee on Budgets decided that the Commission proposals were too high. It did not want 3 per cent. over the entire spectrum; it wanted 3 per cent. only on those agricultural items that were not in structural surplus. Moreover, the Budget Committee resisted any change whatsoever in the monetary compensatory amount.
Therefore, if there is to be a denunciation, surely the denunciation should have been of Parliament's Budget Committee? I point out to the noble Baroness that, included in the Budget Committee supporting these reduced proposals were, in fact, two Members of her own Party. It is true enough that they chickened out at a later stage in the Plenary when Sir Henry Plumb had cracked his whip at his pet poodles. Therefore, was there any denunciation of the Budget Committee?
§ Baroness ELLES
My Lords, I do not want to continue this type of argument across the Floor of the House. However, I remind the noble Lord that matters which take place in the European Parliament Committees have always, to my knowledge, been confidential and should not be reported outside.
Lord BRUCE of DONINGTON
My Lords, on the contrary, I point out that I am quoting precisely from Document No. 9/77 (Annex of 22nd March 1977) which can be obtained from the Vote Office. I have disclosed nothing to the House that is not already contained in the report. Moreover, I shall follow that report with another. The Budget Committee considered this matter further on the first Supplementary Budget for 1977 and reiterated the views that it had expressed. Therefore, the responsible Committee in the European Parliament took a far more astringent attitude towards the price proposals than that taken by the Commission—certainly more astringent than that taken by the Council. Moreover, the Socialist Group in the European Parliament, uniquely representing nine nations, entirely backed the 798 stand taken by the Budget Committee and repudiated the stance taken by the European Progressive Party which, apart from one person, is a British Conservative Party, together with the Christian-Democrats.
Therefore, where does the sin of Mr. Silkin lie? As is quite clearly set out in the report we are now considering (Cmnd. 6887), this is the first time that the Council of Agricultural Ministers has taken consumer organisations into consultation. Whatever the noble Baroness may say, and whatever her national newspaper editors may say—indeed, what-ever Sir Henry Plumb may say—the consumers of Europe are very grateful indeed to Mr. Silkin for the stand that he took.
There is a very difficult question and one that I have had to face. It will be within the recollection of the House—and I make no apology for it—that, before the referendum, I campaigned actively against Britain's entry into Europe. I gave an undertaking to this House that once the referendum was decided, it must be made to work; but I reserved my right, in so far as it lay within my modest power, to endeavour to protect Britain's interest to at least as great a degree as other members protected their interests. It is very difficult to know which way to go. The impulse is as far as possible to unite Europe. The advantages of that are obvious, though not all of us would go in the federalist direction so completely as some noble Lords in this House and indeed some Members in another place. However, we must forge the unity of Europe. That has many advantages.
But, while we are doing that, is it to be said that every Minister and every Member who goes to Europe and participates in Euro-Community activities should back down purely because he might be accused of being anti-EEC if he ventures to dissent from his nine colleagues? Is that the suggestion? I cannot believe it. I have now had two years' experience of Europe and my experience is that the other representatives of the nine expect candour and frankness; they expect one to stand up for one's country when it is necessary; they view with contempt those who do not and those who bow down every time European unity is mentioned for fear of being called anti-European. I venture 799 to suggest that that is not the stance that Her Majesty's Government or any delegation from this House or another place should adopt.
The other snide remark that was mentioned—and it was snide—relates to Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn. It is somehow suggested that by his conduct and his insistence on JET coming to Culham he had wrecked the European energy policy. No doubt noble Lords will also recollect that France is not even a member of the International Energy Authority and that France, Germany and Italy have not been backward in backing their own claims for the siting of the JET project. Is it to be held against Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn that he has insisted in this one instance that JET should be sited at Culham? Nobody who listened to the noble Lord, Lord Hinton of Bankside, in the famous debate that we had here on 18th May could fail to be impressed by the absolute objectivity and lack of jingoism with which he put forward his argument.
At present Britain has no Community installation at all. In 1978 Britain will pay £562 million net into the Community coffers. The other night when I spoke I asked the question: what for? That question has still to be answered. How ever, there is one thing that I can say in the meantime. As an instalment towards the massive contribution that Britain has made and is making to the Community, it would do her no harm if JET comes to this country on the merits that have been stated.
§ Baroness ELLES
My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord would allow me to make one remark on the matter of Mr. Wedgwood Benn as he has raised it. No one doubts the way in which Mr. Benn has presided over the Council of Energy Ministers over the past six months. Indeed, I have heard nothing but praise for the way in which he has done so. However, what is in question is this. He is a sponsor of the Common Market Safeguards Committee which is known to be anti-European; he is also on the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party, which has had a great deal of press coverage over the weekend about its daft proposals as to the relationship between the United Kingdom and the Community. What is 800 in doubt is whether Mr. Benn believes that the United Kingdom should remain within the Community and play its full part under the Treaty. It is not for me to say whether he believes that or not. I can only quote the great feeling of resentment in the Community about his attitude to Europe, an attitude which is known through the Press, his statements and his associations. He has been very careful to make only implicit remarks. There is no statement that I can pin down or read, and I do not pretend to know.
§ Lord GORONWY-ROBERTS
My Lords, I hesitate to intervene in this interesting debate between my noble friend Lord Bruce of Donington and the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, but it would be interesting to know whether the noble Baroness condemns Mr. Wedgwood Benn for his opinions in the national DNEC or for his practice as chairman of the Council of Energy Ministers. I understand that he has been an outstandingly successful European chairman of the Council of Energy Ministers, whatever opinions he expresses when he is home and to which he is entitled.
Lord BRUCE of DONINGTON
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Goronwy-Roberts. I am particularly gratified that the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, has withdrawn any imputation against the professional ability, the political acumen and the political will with which Mr. Benn has carried out his duties in the Council of Ministers. The noble Baroness amazes me. What on earth has it to do with this debate on the record of the Government's Presidency over the past six months whether or not Mr. Wedgwood Benn is a member of the National Executive Committee? Whatever views he may hold there, what is their relevance to the British Presidency and the action of the British Presidency? However, I am most grateful that that matter has been disposed of and I hope that we shall have no more of it.
My own view of the matter and that of a large number of Europeans, not all of whom read the British national daily Press, is that the British have made a very good job of the Presidency, particularly in the field of agriculture. It is all very well for the noble Baroness to say that the agricultural policy should be reformed. She knows perfectly well that it will not 801 be reformed because the French would veto it and therefore the Opposition can fulminate against the Common Agricultural Policy and get many plaudits thereby, knowing that they are quite safe.
It can be said about the British Presidency, in particular in regard to Mr. Silkin, that for the first time he challenged the automatic right, through the Ministers of Agriculture, to have the will of Sir Henry Plumb put straight into legislation in the European Community. For that we are grateful. On reflection, I think that the very considerable moderation which the noble Baroness has displayed today is in itself an adequate reflection of the resounding success that has attended our Ministers' efforts over the past six months.
§ The Earl of LAUDERDALE
My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, sits down, perhaps he would clear up one point. He referred to the siting of the Joint European Torus. He commended Mr. Benn for his very stout-hearted campaign to get the project to Culham. Will he go so far as to say that the Secretary of State's tactics were right in blocking the vote of funds for the JRC research programme until a matter of a couple of weeks ago in order to further Britain's cause? Secondly, the noble Lord mentioned the noble Lord, Lord Hinton of Bankside. Is he aware that the noble Lord, Lord Hinton of Bankside, who is not here today and who in any case has lost his voice and could not speak if he were here, has expressed the view that on scientific grounds the case is very evenly balanced as between Culham and Garching in Germany?
Lord BRUCE of DONINGTON
My Lords, first, perhaps I could answer the last part of the noble Earl's question. I have the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Hinton of Bankside, before me. He said, at column 1316 on 18th May:In hoping that Culham will be chosen as the site for JET I am not being chauvinistic. If it could be proved that results could be obtained more quickly and more statisfactorily at Garching, I should be in favour of building JET there. But I think that, with the present load of work on Garching, results will be obtained most quickly at Culham.I would remaind the noble Earl that the Select Committee which considered the evidence which was provided came firmly down in favour of the Culham site.
§ The Earl of LAUDERDALE
My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that I was chairman of that Select Committee, so I know about it?
Lord BRUCE of DONINGTON
My Lords, I have the report here. May I reply to the first point of the noble Earl's question as to whether Mr. Benn was right in pursuing the tactics that he did? I am not in a position to offer any opinion about that because I do not know all the circumstances. I know something of the atmosphere in which nine Ministers and their official advisers meet. I know something of the tensions that arise. I know something of the temporary and shifting alliances that are formed between States when decisions are made. I am not in a position to pass any comment on tactics. This much I will say: although Mr. Benn's action in vetoing particular expenditure—or rather putting certain expenditure at referendum, which is the same thing—put the Commission to some inconvenience, I am happy to report to him that, as Rapporteur of the Budget Committee, I myself arranged for the necessary transfers to be approved from other funds.
§ Lord ALPORT
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord the Deputy Leader of the House whether he will confirm, when the time comes for him to reply, that it is entirely contrary to the practice of this House that any Member should criticise by name the actions or motives of any Member of another place?
§ 6.2 p.m.
§ Lord GEORGE-BROWN
My Lords, since this is a short list and in the hope that my noble friend can resist any further attempts to get him to make a third, fourth, or fifth speech, I thought I should like to put one or two thoughts to the House. The noble Lord, Lord Bruce, began by saying that the noble Baroness had made a moderate and only halfhearted attack. The response it produced in him must make us all happy that that was so. Had she made an all-out attack we might have had quite a crisis on our hands and had to send for a doctor in the House.
The noble Lord seems to misunderstand one major criticism of the actions of the British Ministers who occupied, because it was the British six months of Presidency, 803 the Presidency of various sectors of the Community. It may or may not be to one's taste that they should act as firmly and as vigorously in a nationalist way as in fact they do. I confess freely that it is not wholly to my taste. But what they are criticised for is not doing that but the fact that everyone of them did it when he was occupying the presidency of the Commission or its sectors when he should have been acting as the European President and not as the national delegate. It was this that folk found so hard to understand.
It is indeed difficult to see how, until this Government or their supporters, or those whom they have so far nominated to go to Strasbourg, really get it clear in their minds that when they are acting on behalf of the Community they are Community spokesmen and not national delegates, this Government, on behalf of this country, will be playing the role that we claim we wish to play. I am not going to get into the arguments about Mr. Silkin in particular, or the agricultural agruments that went to and fro between the noble Lord and the noble Baroness, except to remind the noble Lord that he was in the House of Commons 30 years ago when I was a responsible Minister at the Ministry of Agriculture. I just want to remind him, with the greatest of respect and in that very dignified way which is now my mien, that I had as much trouble with him, and some of the fellows now vigorously against the CAP, about the British Marketing Boards and support prices for the British farmers as ever we are having now.
The fact of the matter is—and again this is according to one's taste—they are for cheap food even at the price of cheap farmers and cheap farmworkers. There always has been a sector of the Labour Party of which that is true. It was true in 1947 when Tom Williams and I were fighting some of these measures through the Commons, and sitting very late at night to force them through against our own Back Benches, and Mr. Jay—the one who is still at home, I mean—was as vigorous in leading the opposition to the British farm support measures of the Labour Government in 1947 as Members are in opposing them on the CAP. Not very much has changed. Whatever is wrong with the CAP is not, in my view, what they are basically against.
804 May I turn to the speech of the Minister of State, with whom I had such a happy association when he was at the Foreign Office in the same capacity and I had the privilege of being the Foreign Secretary with whom he worked. That leads me to say even more sadly how much I regretted, knowing the part he played then, the air of complacency that he felt constrained, or maybe was under instructions, to convey to the House this afternoon.
He said something about bricks. I thought he was going to say we had not dropped any bricks, which seemed to be rather a great claim, but even if true it is not necessarily something to write home about. I have myself been a great believer in occasionally dropping bricks. He said we still believe in not making bricks without straw, which I suppose is a reasonable proposition, and that we had been complimented all round the place on our technical conduct of business. But the issue is not whether we know better than the Continentals—not, incidentally the Europeans; we are Europeans too, and always have been—how to conduct a meeting from the chair, how to read the agenda, how to take the votes at the proper times. The issue is the content of what we put into our conducting of the meetings.
With great respect to the Minister of State, I hope that he will take back to his colleagues at the Ministry that this six months' tenure of office by us has been the great lost opportunity. I speak for a wholly united Party—it comprises me, and we do not have much trouble in coming to our general views. We, in my Party, feel that the purpose of carrying the referendum, as we did, by such a magnificent vote of two to one in pretty well every area of the country (with one tiny exception where it was about the same), and arriving at the point where we would hold the Presidency, and the time when one of our people would be the President also of the Commission, was that it provided the great opportunity that everyone until now had missed; to realise that making Europe is not a matter of a balance of agricultural prices, or whether an energy station goes into this part of Europe or that part of Europe.
It was to take a step towards realising the ambitions, aims and aspirations not 805 only of those with experience of two World Wars who set out to foster the idea—Mollet, Schumann, Winston Churchill and others—but also of those carrying the ambitions, aims and hopes of millions of young people in our Continent that we would never again see the conflicts or the balance of power arise inside this Continent again. That is the opportunity we missed and that is why some of us who would not normally follow the noble Baroness—some of us who now sit half way from grace and half way towards grace, depending on which way one looks at it—feel so tremendously let down. That is why, with great respect, I fear very much for the future, so far as Europe is concerned, under this Government.
The Minister of State will know as well as I that when those bitter fights were going on inside the Government—the noble Lord, Lord Gordon-Walker, will remember them too—to get authority to lay the application for signing the Treaty of Rome and adhesion to the Communities (they will both remember, one because he was a member of the Cabinet and the other because he was present with me at all the briefing meetings that went on) the then Government consisted of very few of us who were believers, and for the rest consisted of people who spanned the spectrum from agnostics to unbelievers.
If the Prime Minister today says he is an agnostic, it is fair to say he has been consistent all the way through; that has always been his view, never much of a believer and not an anti-believer, a follower of the traditional role of the agnostic who would go along with what came out in the end. He went along with the decision in the end to table, but he is not in any sense out of character in saying that in his view it will not be the end of the world if this, that or the other does not happen so far as Europe is concerned.
I wish to make it quite plain that, in my view, it could be a contributory cause of the end of the world that we know, and most certainly the world we hope for, because unless we can make of this Continent an entity, a reality, we will lose all opportunity of affecting world events. We will have no chance of stopping the polarisation. I would not like a Giscard-Schmidt arrangement any more than I liked the de Gaulle-Adenauer arrangement. 806 I did what I could to see that that did not happen any more. It was one of the great reasons for forcing my way through, ultimately by the use of subterfuge, to table the application in the name of Britain at WEU. The Low Countries supported us loyally all the way through for that more than for any other reason. They feared, distrusted and disliked a Europe where France and Germany together could dominate all the other Continental countries and separately could threaten all the other Continental countries with another conflagration. They saw Britain's role as a leading one; they saw Britain as bringing a new dimension to the situation in Europe.
I ask those who have been members of the delegation seriously to ask themselves: Have we as a country been making it clear, under our presidency or even before—our presidency gave us so much of a chance—that that was our vision, the reason we decided to sign the Treaties and join such Communities as existed? I repeat, the EEC and the Steel and Coal Community are only there, not because that is the way the founding fathers wanted to begin, but because, as Mollet put it both privately and publicly many times, he wanted something they could be busy with while they were waiting for Britain to come in so that we could resume the grand march that Winston Churchill described so vividly at The Hague conference.
The fact that the White Paper, as the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, pointed out, is issued on the authority of the whole Government means little if anything, for so was the commitment to direct elections, as was the Bill issued on the authority of the entire Cabinet, with certain Cabinet Members having their names printed on the front of it; but that did not stop them from voting against it. In the present situation nobody believes—I say this with great sorrow to my ex-colleagues and my friends in the Labour Party—that we mean what we say. They feel we are interested only in fighting our nationalist battles; farm prices, budgets, the citing of particular institutions and so on. There is nothing wrong with fighting those battles—this, with respect, is the point which Lord Bruce misses—provided that they are fought within a much bigger fight to create 807 a more real, unified integrated Europe. They become wrong when those are the only things one shows interest in.
I worry very much about direct elections. Frankly, I do not think the Prime Minister—it is not just that he does not regard it as the end of the world if it does not happen this coming year—has yet seen or taken upon himself the case for direct elections. There are members of the Labour Party, Members of the Government and members of the National Executive of the Labour Party who are now busy, as a fall-back position (just in case we get direct elections) organising so that the powers of the European Parliament will be circumscribed and restricted before direct elections take place. It is all to be done in the name of the supremacy of the national Parliament, but one cannot have nine supreme national Parliaments and a united integrated. Europe with a European Parliament controlling the Ministers and Commissioners.
If that Parliament became a talking shop, no better than the Assembly or the Council of Europe—perhaps not even as good—it would be destroyed from the beginning. I feel that if we get to the direct elections, some of us will make it very plain that the only Parties putting up candidates who have the right to claim to be in favour of the concept of an integrated Europe, are those who are willing to accept the consequences, who accept that this makes a changed situation, and that it restricts and circumscribes Germany, and France, and all the rest, just as much as it would ourselves.
I will finish on that point, my Lords. There will be other opportunities to come back to it. If the Bill for direct elections, by whatever form or method gets past the two Houses but does not come into effect before the next General Election in this country, which many people suspect is what the Prime Minister would like to happen, then many people will feel that we have in fact no interest in what is, unquestionably, the next step along this road. Europe has been waiting for us to make progress since the great Congress, since the formation of the Communities more than a decade ago, and it is not for us to come and tell them what they did wrong during, the ten years we deliberately absented ourselves, but for 808 us now to take the lead in creating a new kind of Continental Europe, in a world in which very soon only continents will be able to speak again.
§ 6.22 p.m.
§ Lord ARDWICK
My Lords, I must apologise for intervening without having put my name down on the list of speakers. It was an inadvertence. I want to make a very brief intervention, and I speak as an unreconstructed pro-European. In the two years that I have been in the Parliament in Europe I have been surrounded by the disillusion and despair of the old European idealists. Nevertheless, I still feel as keen on the European idea, and of Britain's participation, and my hopes remain that the Community will go on to great achievements. I had intended to say a mild word in defence of our Presidency, but my noble friend has put up such a terrific case that any words of mine would be an act of rather mild supererogation. I should like to say to the noble Lord, Lord Banks, that if he was troubled by what he read in the Press this morning, I hope he will take heart from the robust reply that was given by my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in another place this afternoon, when he was questioned on the subject of the Government's attitude to Europe.
I should like to say a few words to the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown, who has just spoken. I wonder what opportunity it was that we missed on our achieving the Presidency? We certainly lost the opportunity of a rhetorical triumph. We did not try to go for that. My own view is that the economic situation of Europe did not permit an advance, nor did the political situation. One must take into account that almost all the Governments of Europe have very tiny majorities, very fragile coalitions, and in fact sometimes they have mysterious ghostly coalitions, as we have in this country with the Liberals, and as the Italians have in theirs with the Communists. In circumstances like these, it is impossible to make a great leap forward. I was very pleased that my noble friend in opening the debate—
§ Baroness SEEAR
My Lords, surely the noble Lord is not suggesting that what he 809 calls, not altogether flatteringly, the "ghostly coalition", is in any way holding the Government back in their European activities?
§ Lord ARDWICK
I am quite sure, my Lords, that it is not holding the Government back, but it is an indication of the fragility of Governments, and of their difficulty in proceeding to bold policies. Almost all Governments have not only these narrow majorities and unstable coalitions, but they are facing electorates who are aggrieved at the result of the inflation of recent years. This applies to whatever country one visits. It applies even in Germany, where the rate of inflation has been so conspiciously low. This was not a time for boldness; this was not a time for a great leap forward.
I was very glad that my noble friend this afternoon referred to the speech by the late Anthony Crosland. It was the last great intellectual work of one of our great thinkers. And it was almost totally acceptable to all members of the British delegation, no matter what their political views, no matter whether they were pro-Market or anti-Market. Somehow he managed to put the general British point of view. Of course, he was very strong on the question of convergence. I sometimes wonder whether the words of convergence and divergence are a well chosen metaphor. I have always understood that it really meant that the key economic indicators, particularly those of growth and inflation, were running together. I think that there was a small flaw in Crosland's argument when he seemed to suggest that before any substantial progress can be made towards monetary and economic union, there has to be something like equality of living standards. I do not think that anyone had ever imagined that Europe had to wait until the peasants of Fontamara had caught up with the living standards of washing machine makers of Dusseldorf.
I believe that quite a number of people have gone wrong on the question of convergence, and I wonder whether it is the right phrase; whether we ought not to say that when the countries of Europe are marching together again in prosperity according to their fashion and their standards, when their growth rates and their inflation rates are roughly parallel, then it might be possible to make some 810 progress towards some form of monetary union, or an approach to monetary union, on the kind of modest lines that Mr. Duisenberg has suggested.
I believe that this afternoon we have left out one of the greatest developments in Europe that has occurred during the past few months; namely, our beginning to get an industrial policy, a structural policy, a sectoral policy. This will cause us much thought and many pains, because we have been, and we are, a low tariff area, and we have been extending the markets of Europe to the undeveloped nations in Lomé, and to the Mediterranean nations, too. But now we are in trouble. We are in trouble in steel, in textiles, in boots and shoes, in shipbuliding, and so forth. There will have to be a working out of some forms of defence—perhaps only a temporary defence, one hopes—of these industries.
People become horrified if one uses the word "protection" in Europe. Europe does not believe in protection. Nevertheless, these are protective devices in a special sense of the word. The great problem is that we are doing all this pragmatically; we have not yet evolved a European philosophy about it. The great problem is to reconcile this immediate need, to prevent great industries from being destroyed and millions of people put out of work. We have a primary need to maintain a liberal world trade, because we are still a great world trading community. We must also reconcile our needs with moral obligations to the developing countries which can develop only if they begin to industrialise; and they can industrialise successfully only if we are willing to go on importing their manufactured goods.
But this is the great turn, I think, in European affairs over the past few months. The Economic and Monetary Committee, on which I serve, was at one time occupied all the time on rather airy-fairy schemes of monetary union, parallel currencies and so forth, but now it is down to this hard and practical work of, what do we do about these threatened industries? and, at the other end of the scale, What do we do about the high technology industries of aircraft, computers and so forth, in which we have pretty well missed the boat and as to which we shall be very lucky if we catch the next 811 boat, in the next decade? This is the way in which the Community is developing.
I come back to Anthony Crosland's address. He saw this very clearly, and he bade those who could think only in terms of monetary union not to be in despair; that the Community is advancing all the time on the industrial front, on the commercial front and on the world political front. This was the message of hope that he brought, and I think that, had he lived during the past few months, perhaps a rather different style might have been brought to our Presidency in Europe. But at least he set the beginning, and I hope that that speech will stand as the historic British intervention in its first Presidency.
§ 6.32 p.m.
My Lords, I, too, did not put down my name to speak, but I am stimulated to do so briefly on two matters. One general comment first, if I may. We were asked by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, about our view of the Presidency during the six months in which we held it. I must say for myself that I feel it has been a very undistinguished period, and that our attitude to many major questions has been rather less than half-hearted. I feel that the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown, provided the answer to this when he said that there was a failure on the part of quite a number of senior Ministers, Cabinet Ministers, to see Britain's interests in the European context, which is what the European Community is all about. I have observed this. I will not go into details; it is just my personal view.
I think this must be due to the fact, which everybody knows, that a number of Cabinet Ministers who were always against our joining the Community (although one of them, oddly enough, was the Chief Whip at the time that the Labour Party was "whipped" so fiercely into the Lobby in favour of our joining the Community; that is, the present Minister of Agriculture) refuse absolutely to accept the decision in the referendum, which led the Government to decide that we were right to remain in the Community, and that in spite of the fact that the majority in the Referendum was two to one in favour of our remaining in the Community. I think this is deplorable and 812 very regrettable indeed. In fact, it goes rather further than this, because these Cabinet Ministers, and junior Ministers as well, actively campaign in favour of our withdrawing from the Community, and indeed against the kind of common policies which are enshrined in the principles which we read in the Treaties. So there is nothing to be proud of here; and this, I think, accounts for the half-hearted attitude of Her Majesty's Government during our six months of Presidency.
I should now like to turn very briefly indeed to the section on the Middle East. I have a word of praise here, and perhaps this is the exception which proves the rule. I warmly welcome what we read on pages 9 and 10 about the Middle East. The first time, under this system of so-called political co-operation, that the Nine Community countries spoke out boldly in favour of peace in the Middle East on the basis of Resolutions 242 and 338 was in Copenhagen in November 1973. That was reiterated, but it has never been reiterated so clearly as it was recently. I think that what we read in these paragraphs is very much to be welcomed. I cannot say that I have high hopes, after the recent visit of Israel's Prime Minister to the United States, because he seems to be in a very invidious position. While he says that everything is negotiable, he makes it clear at the same time that there will be no withdrawal from the Left Bank; and, as is made quite clear here, the occupation of territory by force is inadmissible, and therefore it is necessary,for Israel to end the territorial occupation which it has maintained since the conflict in 1967"—and I was there quoting. This simply cannot be gainsaid. There will be no lasting peace until that happens.
Of course, there are bound to be minor adjustments, but here I am not talking about the Golan Heights, or anything like that. However, mentioning them leads me to say that I also welcome the fact that in the last sentence or two the Community countries have made it absolutely clear that they are willing to participate in guarantees within the framework of the United Nations. This presumably means that we would be willing, if asked and if wanted, to provide some kind of forces 813 for demilitarised zones; and it would be absolutely essential, of course, that such demilitarised zones should be policed on both sides of the frontier. One of the things that went wrong last time, when the 1967 war broke out, was that the United Nations peace-keeping forces were on only one side of the frontier. The Egyptians told them to go away, and, therefore, there was nobody left. So I hope that this really means that, if asked and if wanted, the Community countries are willing to contribute to peace-keeping forces in demilitarised zones until Israel and her Arab neighbours can learn to live together in security, within recognised boundaries, with the peace for which undoubtedly most of the peoples in those parts of the world long.
There is only one other point on the Middle East that I should like to make, and that is about the representation of the Palestinians. One reads here that the Community recognises,the legitimate right of the Palestinian people to give effective expression to its national identity",and that this must be translated into fact. This is all fine, but it rather skates around the issue, I think, the issue really being that these things are unlikely to happen, and I do not really think they will happen, unless the Palestinians are actually rep-resented at a Geneva Peace Conference.
Of all men in the world who ought to recognise the need for this, the Israeli Prime Minister, Mr. Begin, is perhaps the first who comes to mind, because he himself was a leading member of the Irgun Zvei Leumi, which was a terrorist organisation in the same context as one talks about the more extreme Palestine organisations being terrorist organisations. The Irgun and the Stern Gang had a powerful influence during the partition discussions in the United Nations. In exactly the same way, I feel that the PLO must be directly represented, and I very much doubt whether they can be asked to play second fiddle to Jordan, or take part in some other compromise like that.
So I warmly welcome what is said here about the Middle East, and I hope to goodness that there really will be a follow-up now from the Community, because these things have been said before but it has been left to the United States to make all the running, and everybody knows under 814 what colossal Zionist pressure the United States Administration comes, and how much its hand needs strengthening by the Nine Community countries, which have a deeply vested interest in peace and stability in the Middle East and in friendship with Israel and the Arab countries. So much for that, my Lords.
I should like to turn lastly, and equally briefly, to the question of direct elections. I have spoken on this subject in your Lordships' House before, and I do not want to repeat everything I have said before—that would be stupid—but I should like to say that I do not honestly feel that anybody can now say that Her Majesty's Government have used their best endeavours. I do not think it is true, as we read on page 31, to which my noble friend Lady Elles, who spoke from the Front Bench, referred, thatwe have taken steps to provide for direct elections …".That is a sort of throw-away sentence. I do not believe it is true, and I have two reasons for saying that. First of all, there has been a totally unnecessary delay. We were warned in the first week in August last year, in the Second Report of the Select Committee of another place, that unless we got a move on we would be too late and would prevent all the other eight countries from holding direct elections. Nothing happened at all. The Queen's Speech told us that we were going to have legislation. We did have it, but not until six months later than we could have had it presented. Six months went by which need not have gone by. It was an unwarranted, unnecessary and, I think, quite disgraceful delay, for which there was no excuse.
The only action that could have saved the situation and enabled Britain to come into step with legislation so that direct elections could be held in May or June next year, would have been the Government permitting another place to choose one of the two methods which are incorporated in the direct elections Bill. It is said—and this is almost certainly true—that the majority of Members of another place favour first-past-the-post, our normal system. I do not happen to do so, and from the debates that we have had in the past I do not believe the majority of your Lordships appear to do so. Though my views do not matter, of the two 815 methods in the Bill, the regional list system on the basis of proportional representation is much the better of the two; but it is by no means a perfect system.
Be that as it may, the refusal of the Government to allow Members of another place to choose which method they prefer was absolutely wicked and un-justified. If it is correct to say that the majority in another place favour the first-past-the-post system, that would only be possible if the Boundaries Commission were briefed to get on with their work right away this week. Then there would just be time. But there is not going to be time. The Bill will be in the Queen's Speech later in the year. It will have a Second Reading, I suppose, in November in another place. It will drag on in Committee with every conceivable opportunity for delay. The guillotine will undoubtedly be necessary but I doubt whether one will be imposed.
Therefore one must come to the conclusion that the unnecessary delay and failure to allow Members of another place to choose which method they prefer, add up to the fact that we shall not be able to get legislation on the Statute Book in time for direct elections to be held in May or June, and this is going to prevent their being held at all. I honestly believe that this is the situation in which we find ourselves. This is a disgrace.
We shall do great harm to our reputation in Europe, which does not stand particularly high at the moment, and the reason for this is perfectly clear. I come hack to how I started my short speech. The reason is that the Prime Minister is frightened of the Left Wing of the Labour Party because they do not want direct elections to the European Parliament on any terms whatsoever. They feel that this is going to prevent the onward march of Socialism, or whatever they like to call it. Some of them, frankly, would be happier if we belonged to the Warsaw bloc.
There is—and I regret to say this—no doubt whatsoever that the only democratic Party in any of the Nine countries beloning to the Community which is against the whole principle of the European Community, is the Labour 816 Party. I do not think that there is any other democratic Party in that situation in any of the other eight countries, not one. What comfort it brings to the Labour Party to know that the Communist Party and the National Front are also against our remaining in the Community, I have no idea. It may be a tiny bit, but I must say that I would think very hard and very long indeed if I found myself putting forward the same kind of attitude to the European Community as is put forward by the Fascists and Communists.
That is the position in this country and I see no reason why I should pretend otherwise. I conclude by saying—and I am sorry if I have been outspoken but I feel very strongly on this—that it is fair to say, as I said I hoped it would not be fair to say when I spoke last December on this subject, that the Labour Government have put Party unity above our national interest and national honour, and there is now a very big question mark indeed over their good faith where direct elections are concerned.
§ Lord GORONWY-ROBERTS
My Lords, we have, as always, had an interesting debate. I thought it was brought into perspective—
§ Baroness SEEAR
My Lords, before the noble Lord replies, may I ask him whether he would clarify a remark which I thought I heard him make in his intervention in the play within a play that we have had this afternoon? I understood him to say—I hope I have it wrong—that it was entirely proper for a Cabinet Minister to campaign against the policy of the Government of which he is a member. I recognise that, so far as direct elections are concerned, it has been agreed that this should be so, whether we like it or not. But the campaign to which exception is taken is the campaign to bring the country out of the European Community, which is certainly not the policy of Her Majesty's Government. Was I right in hearing the Minister say that it was proper for a Member to campaign in this way? I think that this is what the record tomorrow will show.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Lord GORONWY-ROBERTS
My Lords, may I first of all apologise to the 817 noble Baroness. I had no previous knowledge that she wished to intervene. As always, she intervened for some purpose, although I cannot at the beginning of this reply address myself to what she said; I may do so before I sit down. As I said, we have had an interesting debate. I thought that it was brought into perspective by the last two speeches that we heard, although not everybody in the House would agree totally with either of them. Those were the speeches of my noble friend Lord Ardwick and the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, that one of the major achievements of the Community in its search for a common foreign policy—certainly of political action and co-operation—has been the firming up of a common attitude to the Middle East question. It is one of the hopeful features of the general situation in that area.
As always, we are indebted to the Members of the Select Committee on the European Communities for their hard work and for the expertise which they have brought to bear on their task of scrutinising the very large number of legislative and other proposals from Brussels over the course of the past six months. I am sure that the House would wish me to link with that a warm tribute to the former chairman of your Lordships' Select Committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie.
§ Lord GORONWY-ROBERTS
I should like to add my own appreciation for the valuable work that she performed as chairman of the Select Committee. I know that your Lordships will want to join me in wishing her a speedy and complete recovery from her present temporary illness.
§ Baroness ELLES
My Lords, will the noble Lord allow me to intervene on this point, before he starts discussing any other matters? May I say how very much we concur with everything that the noble Lord has said regarding my noble friend Lady Tweedsmuir. My noble friends certainly wish me to join with the noble Lord the Minister in his wishes for her recovery.
§ Lord GORONWY-ROBERTS
My Lords, not for the first time the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie, has been the means of achieving specific agreement between the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, and myself on some subject or other. I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir, will read tomorrow in the record the expressions of sympathy and good wishes to her which the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, and I voice on behalf of the entire House.
Both the White Paper and our debate have revealed the sheer volume and diversity of Community activity over the past six months. It is difficult in a debate of this kind to do much more than pick out the main areas of activity and to try to show how the Government—I repeat, the Government—while paying due regard to United Kingdom interests—and how could it be otherwise?—have sought to further the process of forging a real political Community which can be seen to promote the interests of the citizens of all the Member States.
Here I join with the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown, who eloquently expressed the aspirations which people of my and his generation nurtured for so long, and sometimes so hopelessly, of a new world where the age-old quarrels of German and Frenchman involving our own country would emerge from the last holocaust so that political unity would make impossible in the future the kind of catastrophe that had bedevilled Europe so many times in the recent past. In less than three-quarters of a century, such a catastrophe has occurred, and on the last occasion, almost fatally.
My noble friend put it exactly in the right spirit. It is for that purpose that we have united to support a process of political unity in Europe; and it is because that high and necessary purpose might be put at risk that we urge that Europe itself, and all who live and lead in Europe, should address themselves increasingly to the undoubted anomalies of the system as it has evolved over the economic and social fields during the past ten or 15 years. I should like to repeat that those of us who have been dedicated "Europeanists", for political reasons have been from time to time concerned that the economic infrastructure has not 819 always seemed to be sufficiently resilient or responsive to criticism, whether national or international.
This debate has brought out suggestions that we, in our six months' Presidency, rather more than anybody else before us in the same position, have ruthlessly and selfishly pursued British national interests to the exclusion of the Community interests. I think that a moment's thought will convince us all that that is not so. I said that the noble Lord and others had brought this debate into perspective; and well he did. He instanced a point where political cooperation in Europe has markedly benefited from British leadership in the chair and in other ways. For example, as regards the crucial area of the Middle East, I need not say, in an assembly which contains a distinguished former Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, how important the Middle East is to the future peace of the world.
Here, I would join with my noble friend Lord Bruce, when he says that he, as a former critic and, indeed, an opponent of our country's joining the Market, nevertheless entered the European Assembly with a desire to make a constructive reality of our membership. I know that he did so sincerely. He consulted me at the time and, as an old friend as well as one who knew that he meant what he said, I felt it possible to urge him to do so at, if I may say so without presumption, some cost to himself. He has, as your Lordships' will know, played a truly distinguished part in the deliberations and, indeed, in the leadership of the European Parliament as a Rapporteur of probably the most important Committee in that body. Therefore, he speaks with authority.
It is not for me to become a referee in the very interesting debate within the debate which was conducted between the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, except to say that here we have necessarily two variations of view on the continuing nature of the Market. I do not share this sensitivity to criticism of the Market. It is no more sacrosanct than, say, the Government of this country—and I have not observed that it seems to be a case of laying impious hands on the Holy Grail when the Government of this 820 country are criticised. Why not, therefore, constant criticism of the Market? It can only benefit from such criticism.
The noble Baroness raised the question of whether a member of the Government should express, as a member of the Labour Party, at a conference of the National Council, his views about the future. Certainly he should. What concerns us, today and always, is how, as a Minister, lie discharges his duties not only to this country but to the Community as chairman of the Council of Energy Ministers; and the testimony, if he needs it, is unanimous that he was an outstandingly successful and sincere chairman. Therefore, if, through an article or by a speech, he expresses his views of the future, good luck to him ! If, however—and here the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown, makes a sound point—the chairmanship were to be used to advance national interests unduly, then it would be right to criticise and to advance views on that. What I do not accept, having followed very closely the Presidencies of the last two or three years in particular, is that any special allegation of national partisanship lies at the door of this country.
I do not want to be tempted into an excursion of the precedents and practices of others, but it must be perfectly clear to all of us that all countries, including those in the Community, have a lively sense of national interest. This is not the only country which, through its Ministers and through its Presidency, seeks to assert legitimate national interests. Indeed, I would not give very much chance of the survival of the Community if there were not this inner force of assertion of normal interests, any more than there would be hope for a democracy if suddenly all the individuals within it were withdrawn in favour of some specious common accord.
Perhaps at this juncture I might take up one or two specific points that have emerged. The noble Baroness said that a great deal of community spirit will be needed if the Community is to succeed. How true that is! One must only hope, on the occasion of a debate such as this, that not only this country and its leaders, but the leaders of all other members of the Community also, will respond to that quite proper hope expressed by the noble 821 Baroness. In making a valiant essay in condemnation of this Government, she had to recite a long catalogue of successes; and I put it seriously that, when we look with objectivity at the record of the first six months of this year, there have been a great many very important successes achieved by British Ministers in Brussels. There have been a great many failures. There have been points on which there has been dispute and disagreement; but that does not derogate from the facts.
I will not repeat what both she and land I—commend her fairness in this—have said to the House today on this point: she said it was surprising that there was no European attitude towards the United States' foreign policy. I believe there is. It is evolving very rapidly. Certainly, that of the United Kingdom has been most affirmative, as I think the noble Baroness, and everybody in this House, would agree. It may be that others have been less affirmative, but that is no reason for decrying their attachment to the European ideal. Even on political as well as economic matters, there is an uneven readiness to come to a general European consensus. We have worked very hard indeed to help a European consensus in relation to the United States, and we shall continue to do so. The fact that we are somewhat in advance of one or two other members of the Community does not mean that we despair of achieving a consensus in this important field.
On direct elections—and I expected that most speakers would mention this subject—I wish to say this. I am a believer in direct elections, and always have been. The views which the noble Baroness ascribed to my right honourable friend the Prime Minister are not new. In the negotiations leading up to the signature of the agreement of September last year, the United Kingdom sought a special arrangement so that if the United Kingdom was not ready, because of our own peculiar and somewhat prolonged processes in constitutional change, including electoral adjustments, we would not hold up the elections elsewhere in the Community. This was a sincere offer that if the Eight wished to go ahead, if they were ready—and not everybody was ready at that time, last September I could name two Members who were not ready then—we would not object if they went ahead on a due date, and we would catch up as soon as our 822 processes in this country, which are difficult and prolonged as everybody agrees—
§ Lord GORONWY-ROBERTS
I had hardly finished answering this point, which has been repeated throughout the debate, and is, I think, entitled to a reply. I will give way in a moment. This was well known, for instance, from the Green Paper which was published earlier in 1976. However, our partners preferred an arrangement for the first elections to take place on the same date throughout the Community. We totally respected and accepted this, and we see no reason, if Parliament wills it, why we shall not be ready to hold direct elections by mid-1978.
§ Lord GLADWYN
My Lords, am I right in thinking that the Government's position is that if we are not ready by next spring to hold these elections, for various reasons which may seem good to them, we quite agree that they should go ahead with the elections; that the Eight would therefore directly elect the Parliament? What would then be our position? Should we nominate our 81 people, or should we not take part in it?
§ Lord GORONWY-ROBERTS
My Lords, we said last year to our partners that if they wished to go ahead on this basis, then we would catch up, as it were, as soon as we could. What alternative proposals we made as to how we would join them in the Parliament in the interim. I could not say. What I am saying to the noble Lord is that we see no reason if Parliament wills it, why this should not happen and this means agreeing to electoral systems. Perhaps Members on the other side of the House will bear in mind that the proposals include an electoral method which, besides being fair and equitable, will also dispense with the often lengthy Boundary Commission procedures. It is we who have brought this into the Bill, with, of course, the support and help of the Liberal Party, and I should like to commend the Liberal Party for the very constructive ideas which they put forward at the time, which enabled us to truncate the processes of preparation for direct elections in this way.
§ Baroness ELLES
My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord will give way. I understand from him that it is still possible, according to the timetable of the Government, that we could be ready for direct elections by May or June next year. Can he confirm whether, in that case, another place would still have a free choice of which electoral system to have, and would either system still enable us to have elections by June 1978?
§ Lord GORONWY-ROBERTS
My Lords, I doubt whether the first-past-the-post system—which is the traditional system, and the one that will continue in regard to our own internal elections—would enable us to do that. I may be wrong. However, the point I want to make absolutely clear is that, if Parliament wills it, there is still time to make the necessary arrangements to hold direct elections by mid-1978. That is our intention as a Government. We think that adopting the Liberal proposals, if I may so call them, has assisted in this and we have been glad to accept them for that reason, as well as for reasons of equity. I hope that in this House, and indeed in Parliament as a whole, we shall now do our part to expedite the passage of this measure which will enable us to hold direct elections in mid-1978.
§ Baroness ELLES
My Lords, I wonder whether the hoble Lord will be good enough to allow me to intervene again, I hope for the last time. May I put one question to the noble Lord? If there had been a vote in another place on the electoral system before the end of this Session, would it then have been possible to have a first-past-the-post system ready by June 1978?
§ Lord GORONWY-ROBERTS
My Lords, with all respect, that is not the kind of hypothesis within a hypothesis that should be answered. Indeed, I should not attempt to answer such a question. That is for discussion between the noble Baroness and myself. It is not for me to give a hypothetical answer to a purely hypothetical question.
May I turn once more to the question of particularist British action during the past six months. We have had a good discussion on the CAP. I am tempted to ask whether our European respectability 824 would have been enhanced, and whether there would have been an increase in prices of more than 3½ per cent. Is that the test of European respectability? We fought not only for the interests of British consumers, but, as my noble friend said, for the interests of European consumers as a whole. This was not a purely nationalistic effort. It will come up for discussion again next year and there will be circumstances, economic and otherwise, which will operate to decide the percentage increase or decrease—who knows?
On the question of the siting of institutions, I think we need to look at a subject like the siting of the JET at least with objectivity, if not in a pro-British sense. We have made it clear on a number of occasions to our Community partners that we regard Culham as the site which is most appropriate, because it has a proper background in fusion research and engineering. This is the basis on which we have argued over Culham. If others are arguing similarly, as our German friends are arguing for Garching, and as other members of the Community are arguing for sites within their countries, that is fine. Let the argument proceed. We believe that we have the best of the argument, but it does not mean that, because others are arguing similarly, we alone should drop out in the interests of Europeanism. This is not the way the Community will work. The Community will work on the basis of self-respecting, ancient States and nationalities, with great histories and records of great achievement and great mistakes, particularly the political mistakes which from time to time brought them very close to catastrophe. The Community will not become a new reality on the basis of the abolition of history, but only on the basis of respecting it and carrying it forward into a future which aims at closer unity all the time, on the basis of mutual respect among nations.
On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ 7.10 p.m.