HC Deb 24 February 1953 vol 511 cc2015-35

  1. (1) The Minister shall keep the Board informed of the proceedings of the Institutions of the European Coal and Steel Community, so far as such proceedings are within his knowledge and relevant to the duties of the Board under this Act.
  2. (2) The Minister shall consult the Board and consider any advice tendered to him by the Board as regards any instructions or representations sent to the delegation accredited to the High Authority by Her Majesty's Government.
  3. (3) The Board may require iron and steel producers from time to time to furnish the Board with such information as the Board may require for the purpose of tendering advice to the Minister under the last preceding subsection of this section.
  4. (4) Nothing in this section shall oblige the Minister to disclose to the Board any matter which in his opinion it is not in the national interest to disclose to them.
  5. (5) In this section—
the European Coal and Steel Community" means the European Coal and Steel Community instituted under a Treaty made at Paris on the eighteenth day of April, nineteen hundred and fifty-one, between the President of the German Federal Republic, His Royal Highness the Prince Royal of Belgium, the President of the French Republic. the President of the Italian Republic. Her Royal Highness the Grand Duchess of Luxembourg and Her Majesty the Queen of the Netherlands. the Institutions" means the Institutions referred to in Article 7 of the said Treaty. the High Authority "means the High Authority which is one of the Institutions.— [Mr. Robens.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Alfred Robens (Blyth)

I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

We are seeking to have within the Bill the necessary powers to enable the Board to have a link with the European Coal and Steel Community. We have understood that to be Government policy. It does seem strange that while on the Continent there is great integration taking place in the steel industry, we in this country should, by this Bill, be disintegrating what was promising to be a really sound organisation which could deal most effectively with this enormous cartel now being erected, and indeed working, on the Continent, and which is going to prove to be a very serious competitor to us in this country as the years go by.

What has been happening on the Continent cannot have passed unnoticed by the Minister, because he spent some time at the Council of Europe at Strasbourg pressing the need for European unity. One could quote extensively from speeches that he has made on that subject. I am sure they are well in his mind at the moment, and I do not suppose for a moment he has gone back on the things in which he then believed.

But we have a situation in which there is a common market for coal and scrap iron and iron ore, and it is in operation. On the 10th of this month the first stage of the Schuman Plan was effected to organise this common market, and in April there will be a common market for steel. What does that mean? It means that European prices are all to be brought into line; restrictive practices are to be removed. Transport restrictions are to be removed and all tariffs and duties between the six European nations who are members of the Community will also be removed. What is important is that the Community has already obtained a waiver from the G.A.T.T. Agreement to enable them so to do. Therefore, we have at the moment this great industry on the Continent gradually becoming integrated, with a steel production of something like 41 million tons a year. That is, indeed, a very formidable size of organisation.

8.45 p.m.

As I understand the Bill, the Board are restricted to powers of supervision within the United Kingdom. That will not be sufficient if we are to have this close link with the Schuman Community. It is necessary, in our view, that the powers which we are laying down in this new Clause should be given to the Board, or else there cannot be this link with the new Community which is essential to the steel industry of this country and to its general economy.

The Treaty provides for the High Authority of the Community to undertake negotiations with Governments of third countries and particularly—and this is mentioned in the Treaty—with Great Britain. The Government announced that they had as a policy close and enduring associations with the High Authority. The right hon. Gentleman must endorse the policy of his own Government because it so closely relates to what he said at Strasbourg. If I may say so, without wanting to be particularly offensive, whilst we have been in opposition the Council of Europe has been steadily carrying out the policy which we pursued while in Government, and the stock of the right hon. Gentleman is very much lower on the Continent today than it was when he was in opposition.

Of course, he is not alone in that matter. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister for Housing and Local Government, when he was in opposition, in dealing with the Schuman Plan, in November, 1950, said: They will readily understand"— and the "they" were all the Representatives assembled at the Council of Europe— the hesitation, and indeed embarrassment, which I feel, for, to my great disappointment, the European Coal and Steel Pact, which we are told has now been agreed by expert advisers and is about to be submitted for ratification to the Governments and Parliaments of six European nations, does not include in its scope the largest producer and, I think I may add, the largest consumer of steel and coal in Europe. It is a European Pact to which Britain is not a party. It marks a stage in the development of European co-operation in reaching which Britain has played no part. The next year he came back to this matter, and said, in May, 1951: Unless, therefore, some effective method can be found of associating Great Britain with the new Authority, we may all have to pay a heavy price for this omission, for it is a great error to suppose that, even in its technical aspect, the Schuman Plan holds out advantages only in a period of slump or deflation. There is on record both in this country and abroad the clear indication that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen, when they were in opposition, were most anxious to have this close association with the Schuman Plan.

Our views about close association are well-known and, indeed, when the present Government came to power they continued the policy in this matter of Europe and the Schuman Plan which the Labour Government had initiated. Indeed, the Declaration of Washington, to which my right hon. Friend was a party, has been the basis on which this Government's policy has been built. I am not now discussing, nor would it be in order, the pros and cons of actually joining the Community, but I am concerned with the official policy of the Government and the effect of the Bill. Clearly, the Government mean that they contemplate an agreement with the Community, and surely the word "enduring" is an earnest of that. That means that some at least of the effective provisions of the Treaty would be binding upon the coal and steel industries of the United Kingdom.

Article 76 of the proposed statute—this is something with which we have been dealing in great detail in Paris and Strasbourg over the last 18 months—deals with the kind of "association" which the Continental countries understand. When we speak of "association" we must remember that it is what the people of the Continent think about "association" that really matters, for they have the Community and it is they who will admit the close association, just as it is we who have to decide how far our association can go.

It will not be sufficient for us to say that we regard "close association" in such and such a way and expect the Community to accept that. They will not do so; they will only accept "close association" on the basis which they themselves are prepared to accept it. Article 75 of the statute says: By the terms of Article 55 the Community may conclude treaties of agreements of association with European non-Member States… It goes on: …the object of such treaties or agreements being the establishment in certain fields of close collaboration, implying reciprocal rights and obligations. We must not forget the last two words, "and obligations." The Community mean that we shall accept obligations along with any rights that we may have. One of the obligations is to exchange information and hold mutual consultations, and that provision is contained in Article 76.

The Clause is designed to assist the Government in the policy which they have enunciated and bring it into conformity with what the continental countries have decided shall be their statute to govern the Schuman Assembly. The present arrangement is that we have a very high-powered delegation to the High Authority at Luxembourg. It is led by a very eminent and well-qualified man, Sir Cecil Weir. At the beginning the association was prompt; it was psychologically good that Britain should come in quickly with that kind of association. At the beginning it was acceptable, but it will not be acceptable later as the statute comes into operation.

There will be no problem about the coal industry and association, because within that industry the National Coal Board has all the necessary authority to gather the information required to keep our delegation advised and to keep any other kind of association fully advised as to the position in the British coal industry. But we cannot now say the same about steel. It will not be possible to work for the close association as the Continental countries mean it unless a Clause of this character, giving powers to the Board, is incorporated in the Bill.

Under the Schuman Plan matters affecting production, investment, prices, restrictive practices, limitations, wage reductions —that is an important consideration for the industry—and a whole host of others are their responsibility. On all those matters they will want very close association with the British steel industry, and if they do not we should. It is highly important that we should not, as a result of the setting up of this great cartel on the Continent, find it is to the great detriment of the steel industry here through reasons which we could, in fact, control.

I hope that the Minister will look at this new Clause, not from the point of view that we are being unhelpful about this part of the Bill, but from a recognition of our intense desire and earnestness to see this Clause become a reality and thus protect the steel industry, upon the success of which the lives of so many people depend. As I understand this Bill, we cannot deal with any of the matters I have mentioned, with the possible exception of maximum prices, because neither the Minister nor the Board has the powers. Without a Clause such as this, the Bill is an indirect method of informing the European Steel and Coal Community and the six Governments concerned that the United Kingdom has no intention of subscribing to the provisions of the Treaty. I am sure hon. Gentlemen opposite would admit that that would be an extremely bad thing, not only for the industry but for the joint political arrangements between us and the countries concerned.

But I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the Government's policy about this Clause and the indirect association mean any more than the Prime Minister's support for a European Army before he took office, or whether it means just that? When hon. Gentlemen opposite were at Strasbourg and not in office they took one point of view, but on obtaining office they made a complete change of front. This has been a source of great resentment to the Continental countries, and as the stock of the party opposite has gone down the stock of the party on this side of the House has gone up enormously. [Interruption.] Hon. Gentlemen opposite were not there, but I can tell them that the stock of this party in the Council of Europe has risen immeasurably as the stock of the Conservative Party has gone down.

Mr. P. Roberts

I was at Strasbourg when the Socialist Government turned down the invitation to enter the iron and steel scheme.

Mr. Robens

Precisely, and for very good reasons which were advanced at the time when hon. Gentlemen opposite were urging us to go into it.

The Temporary Chairman (Colonel Sir Leonard Ropner)

I think the discussion is going a little wide of the new Clause.

Mr. Robens

I appreciate that, but we have the picture here of the Conservatives voting for, and approving of, integration of transport and other things in Europe, whilst in this House they are disintegrating both transport and steel. That seems a queer sort of policy in these days.

If the policy which the Government have announced with regard to close association means anything at all, the right hon. Gentleman will accept the proposed new Clause. If he does not accept it, he will cause bitter disappointment not only in the United Kingdom but on the Continent. This is a constructive Clause designed to enable the Government to carry out their own policy, which we have advocated through the years in the interests of European unity.

9.0 p.m.

Mr. Robson Brown

I rise to give the proposed new Clause my general support, and I hope that the Minister will accept in some form the intentions outlined in it. I have followed the development of the Schuman Plan from its inception to the present time. No man can measure now its impact upon the economy of Europe and its effect upon the steel manufacturing of Great Britain and the world. The European Coal and Steel Community is now a living reality. I hope it has come to stay, because it can effect dynamic changes in the political and industrial life of Europe. I can only describe it as the most radical change in thinking that has taken place in Europe, a change for the better.

The British Board cannot function either with efficiency or realism unless they are most closely informed about all developments in this Coal and Steel Community, and about our Government's intentions either explicit or tentative with regard to contacts at Government level with the Schuman Plan and the Com. munity. It most certainly requires that it should accept as a clear and important part of its duties this contract with the European Coal and Steel Community. One of the fundamental functions of the Board is to keep abreast not only with European steel developments, important as they may be, but with all international developments in steel in any way or in any form.

The Board should be expected to keep the Government advised, and to be the Government's expert on all matters in the whole field of international steel negotiations. I believe that the surest way in which steel producers of the world can ensure stability and avoid the internecine price warfare we knew before the war is for them to set up world machinery which can make international cooperation of steelmakers throughout the world possible, desirable and effective.

Mr. William Blyton (Houghton-le Spring)

This is the first time I have spoken in an iron and steel debate, and I do it on the proposed new Clause only because I was at Strasbourg and put the Labour Party's point of view on the Schuman Plan. The Minister of Supply and I crossed swords on this question while in Strasbourg.

I am pleased to say that, although hon. Gentlemen opposite were opposed to the point of view that I was putting when we were in power, they are now advocating the policy we then enunciated. If the Minister does not accept the proposed Clause that will be taken on the Continent as a reason for questioning even the acceptance of world liaison, because we shall not have a board to give them information about our steel developments.

There is no doubt that we have to arrive at Government agreements on certain things. We offered these on prices, on marketing, on wages, on the question of discriminatory practices connected with steel and coal. We have a trade union delegation there now on an international scale working with our delegation and maintaining liaison with the High Authority.

If the Minister does not give powers to the Board, how will the delegation get to know what our capital expenditure on development is to be and how shall we get to know the future trends of the market? We may, for instance, face a slump, and if the Board are not able to supply information we may find that the High Authority, because of the absence of information, will apply discriminatory sanctions against us on the Continent. Therefore, it is imperative that in this Bill we should give powers to the Minister and the Board to see that the High Authority is kept fully informed of the industry.

We have to face a new phase. There is to be a single integrated market in Europe, and the National Coal Board have direct contact with the delegation that is over there. There is nothing in this Bill, however, to define what will be the relationship of the new set-up of the steel industry with the coal and steel plan. Then, again, we have to protect our traditional markets. I believe that the next two years will be very important in the economic life of this country. We must see that our delegation, working in close liaison, trying to make those international agreements that we have always said should be made, is given so much information that it will he in a position to impart that information which is so necessary to our traditional markets. Unless the Board have this power, I cannot see my ideas coming to fruition.

One thing disturbs me. It is that we shall only be able to discuss what the Coal and Steel Community will do through the Council of Europe. They cannot make decisions. Only the High Authority, with the delegation. can make agreements for us. I want the Board, under this Bill, to act as a voice in the Coal and Steel Assembly, where decisions are made, in order to protect us against any decisions being made which are derogatory to our economy.

I am not asking for us to be full members. I am not asking for a vote. I am asking for a voice when decisions are made, because all that can be done in the Council of Europe is to talk about any decision that may be derogatory to us, and that will be at the end of the day because the decisions will be made in the Assembly of the Coal and Steel Community.

Therefore, because this is such an important matter for the economic life both of Europe and of ourselves, and because I have no desire, either in my own industry or in steel, to see a return to the shambles of the inter-war years, with so much cut-throat competition in relation to both these basic industries, resulting in such miserable wages for the men, that I implore the Minister to take these powers that we are suggesting so that we can get the close relationship that all of us desire.

Mr. Spencer Summers (Aylesbury)

I add my voice to those who have expressed the desire that in some way my right hon. Friend will ensure that, after the passage of the Bill, all the appropriate facilities for working in close association with the European Coal and Steel Community are available.

I was sorry that in commending the Clause the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) advanced the two arguments he did. The first was that if the Clause could not be accepted it would be interpreted on the Continent as if the Government were setting their face against association. I hope the right hon Gentleman will agree that it was not necessary to commend the Clause in such exaggerated terms. Subject to what the Minister may have to say, there is no reason whatever why the mere action of declining to accept the proposal in this form should be interpreted in that way

Mr. P. Roberts

Will my hon. Friend—

Mr. Summers

I am sorry, but I do not want to take too long.

The right hon. Gentleman also went on to say that it would not be practicable, without an amendment of this kind to the Bill, for the necessary association to take place between the Minister, the Board and the Continent. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that there was a very effective association with Continental producers before the war, of which I have personal experience.

Mr. Blyton

We knew that to our sorrow.

Mr. Summers

This is not the time to argue the merits of that, but opinion has changed drastically and I am very glad to find so many Members on the opposite side of the Committee who realise that co-operation between nations in the steel industry has so much to commend it.

Mr. Robens

Would the hon. Member not agree that before the war the arrangements between the industries were secret? On this occasion they will be open to the world, because there will be a public assembly at which these matters will be discussed by Parliamentarians.

Mr. Summers

I do not want to be diverted, but it is quite untrue to say that those arrangements were secret. Full knowledge of the facts was available to the Government of the day, and to that extent they were not secret.

I hope the Minister may find it possible to assure the Committee that when the Bill is passed there will be adequate facilities for the Board, the Minister, and the industry to play their full parts in such development between nations in this field as may seem appropriate.

Mr. G. Darling

I will not follow the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Summers) in a discussion about what occurred before the war. We could have quite a long talk about the extent to which the arrangements in those days were secret or public; I do not know whether we should come to any agreement at the end, but it would be quite interesting.

The hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Robson Brown) expressed our general aims I hope they are general throughout the Committee—and views in a manner which, I am sure, we all support. I think he will agree, however, that one of the jobs that we must do in this Committee is to find out how we can fulfil in some kind of practical way the aims upon which we all agree.

At first sight the Clause, which we have put down to achieve to some extent that purpose, appears to be somewhat narrow. It asks, first, that the Minister should inform the Board about what is going on at the High Authority at Luxembourg; and, second, that the Minister should consult the Board—the emphasis, it will be noticed, is on the Minister's powers, which I think is perfectly right—before giving advice or instructions to our permanent delegation at Luxembourg. The Clause asks, third, that in order to enable this to be done, the Board should have authority to ask the steel companies for information that will make all this work possible, satisfactory and successful.

The most important point in all this is subsection(2),regarding the instructions to be given to our permanent delegation to the High Authority. We have to look at this matter against the background of the aims and claims of the Community. In order that this Clause can be properly understood, we have to make some assumptions about our own reactions to those claims. It seems perfectly clear that the Community are bound to have considerable inflence upon the development plans of the British steel industry; that is inevitable. For that reason it is quite right that we should put the often expressed desire for close collaboration with the Community into something like formal terms.

It is a great pity that the first discussion in this Parliament of the Coal and Steel Community and our interests associated with it should be on the Committee stage of this Bill. In my view the Government have made a very serious political blunder not only in hamstringing our discussions here, but also in the effect their failure to hold discussions will have on the Continent and in Western Europe. In preventing any effective Parliamentary discussion, not only of our association with the Coal and Steel Community. which is very important to us, but any real discussion of the work of the Council of Europe at Strasbourg, any real discussion of the European Defence Community. and any discussion at all—

9.15 p.m.

The Temporary Chairman (Colonel Sir Leonard Ropner)

The hon. Member is getting a little wide of the new Clause.

Mr. Darling

I was going to say that all this is implicit in our proposed new Clause. It is a political tragedy that we have not even discussed the new political authority which is to be set up, because it is proposed that that political authority should take over the Coal and Steel Community. Seeing that that is proposed I should have thought that what I was saying was in order.

It is a tragedy that of all the free Parliaments of Western Europe ours is the only one which has not had any formal discussion of the Coal and Steel Community. We have not even had a discussion of the so-called Eden Plan, which is associated with all this. I noticed in the first report of the Coal and Steel Community that the High Authority places tribute for our collaboration where it should lie; that is, with the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison), in Washington, in September, 1951, when he was Foreign Secretary. It is from that that our association with the Coal and Steel Community has flowed.

The important thing to notice in this discussion is the functions which are now flowing from that association. As hon. Members probably know, a joint committee has been set up between the High Authority and the British permanent delegation to the High Authority at Luxembourg. I do not know whether the Committee are aware of the duties and functions that have been placed on that joint committee without any Parliamentary discussion here.

The Temporary Chairman

The hon. Member is going too far beyond the terms of the new Clause, which relates to the relations of the Board with the European Coal and Steel Community. Will he please confine his remarks to that?

Mr. Darling

With all respect, Sir Leonard, the duties which are put upon the joint committee are closely associated with this Clause. In fact, we are asking the Minister to inform the Board and to inform Parliament of what this joint committee is doing. I think it important that we should all know what the joint committee at Luxembourg is to do so that the duties of the Minister can be thoroughly understood. The joint committee is to organise the mutual exchange of information on the forecasts and objectives of the United Kingdom and the Community in respect of investments, production, supplies and markets. It will establish permanent facilities for consultation on questions which either associated party wishes to raise and create an institutional framework permanently assuring concerted action between Great Britain and the European Coal and Steel Community which the High Authority wishes to make as comprehensive as possible. This is what is now being done and there has been no Parliamentary discussion here about it. I am not complaining about what has been done, because this is the kind of close association we all want, and wish to make possible by the terms of our new Clause.

I am not sure that we all realise the size and scope of the iron and steel industry now being created on the Continent. In the words of the Community itself, it will extend from Hamburg to Naples and from Brest to Venice, the entire European territory of these six countries. But all this territory is only for two industries, coal and steel, that the establishment of the Community and the action of the High Authority is going to abolish frontiers, eliminate customs duties, quotas, discriminations, and restrictive practices, and open a common market for 155 million consumers, a market as vast as that of the United States or the Soviet Union. Apart altogether from the desire to foster European unity, we want a close association with this vast organisation for our own sake. In developing our association we must be prepared to adjust our own plans, so far as is practicable, to fit in with what the Community wishes to do; and at the same time our own plans ought to influence the Community. Let me give an example.

Some of the Community developments would be better planned on the basis that they will get imported coke for their blast furnaces and steel developments. That is brought out fairly clearly in the first report of the Community. Could we not make firm arrangements to supply the Community with coke and build new coke ovens on our eastern coast—perhaps in Fife and Durham, and on the Humber, to tap the neighbouring coalfields—and develop that sort of trade on a permanent footing with the Community? Both Britain and the Community will be making increasingly heavy demands—

Mr. P. Roberts

On a point of order. Although this is extremely interesting, the point we are discussing is the instructions and representations to be sent to our delegation accredited to the High Authority. I cannot see how the remarks of the hon. Member are related to that.

The Temporary Chairman

The Committee has made good progress and I have no desire to curtail the discussion unduly. But I have already told the hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. G. Darling) that he is going beyond the scope of the new Clause. I hope that he will confine himself to the substance of the new Clause.

Mr. Darling

If you are saying that I am out of order, Sir Leonard. I will respect your decision. But these are the kind of points which I think ought to be discussed by the Minister with our delegation, and the kind of suggestions which the delegation should put forward. To that extent I suggest that I am in order.

The hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Robson Brown) raised the point which I am going to raise, but which I want to put in a more practical form, regarding the question of imports of iron ore. The hon. Gentleman mentioned it in a general way. We do not want fierce and unnecessary competition in any of the fields of action, and I take as an example the importation of iron ore. Both the United Kingdom and the Community will be making increasingly heavy demands on what iron ore supplies are available in the world.

We want joint, co-operative or at least complementary development by the Community overseas and by the United Kingdom overseas for the tapping of new sources of iron ore in Africa and elsewhere so that we can avoid competitive scrambles. We want to go ahead together, and these are matters which ought to he discussed by our delegation with the High Authority.

British exports of steel to Europe and British imports of steel from Europe are more or less equal. Of course, they are not the same kind of steel. We want to see that kind of European trading developed and not curtailed. We do not want to see either the Community or ourselves setting up uneconomic plants for the sole purpose of making either the Community or ourselves independent of exports or imports. We want to work together in all these fields, and we can only do that if our permanent delegation at Luxembourg has the full authority of the Minister to discuss projects like these, and if the delegation is fully supplied with all the information it ought to have.

Finally, there is the problem of the common market to be faced. This is a matter which will be the most difficult of all for our delegation at Luxembourg and for our steel industry here to contemplate. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) has said, a common market will mean that any dual prices will have to go. A system of dual prices has been practised in relation to Belgian steel, and Belgian steel prices have been lower at home than the prices charged to other members of the Community. Now, those and other dual prices will have to go.

In our close association with the Community we may be called upon to have no dual prices ourselves. This is not very important in regard to steel, but it is most important in regard to coal. But if we get rising prices in our own steel products as a result of the rising cost of coal, it may be that in order to keep down home prices some of our steel exporters will raise their export prices. We must contemplate making arrangements with the Iron and Steel Community at Luxembourg which will make it impossible for any of our steel exporters to follow that line.

There are many other problems which the Minister, the Steel Board and our delegation at Luxembourg will have to consider, but if these problems are to be tackled satisfactorily we must have some kind of clear policy of association with the Community. It is no use leaving the matter in the air. We must reduce it to some formal understanding of the limits of our association with the Community. We suggest that the machinery for creating that policy and for carrying it out is provided in the Clause we are now recommending to the Committee, and which I hope the Minister will accept.

9.30 p.m.

Mr. Sandys

Looking round the Committee and seeing a number of hon. Members on both sides who have sat with me at Strasbourg takes me back to old times, and so does the discussion which we have just had, although it is very remote from the Iron and Steel Bill. I am the first to recognise the immense importance of establishing satisfactory relations not only between the Government of this country and the Schuman Community. but also between the responsible Iron and Steel Board and the Government in the policy to be pursued in this important field.

I find myself in complete sympathy, not in detail but in general terms, with what has been said by speakers in this short but interesting debate which was initiated by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens). This is not the occasion to discuss relations between the United Kingdom and the Schuman Authority, although I was much interested by what the hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. G. Darling) said. I understand that the reason he was allowed to deploy his arguments at such length was that we had all done such good work in the earlier part of the afternoon.

I very much welcome the attitude of the speakers this evening towards European unity. In reply to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth, I should like to make it perfectly clear that I have certainly not changed my opinions about that. My hon. and right hon. Friends and myself have always been in favour of close collaboration with whatever organisation is set up on the Continent for the control of steel and coal. Incidentally, I am glad to see that another Strasbourger has come into the Chamber in the person of the right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton). Let me make it equally clear that we on this side of the Committee neither now nor previously when we were on the other side of the House ever suggested that the United Kingdom should join a supra-national authority.[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] No, that is perfectly clear. We regretted—and we expressed that regret—the decision of the late Government not to take part in the original conference to which they were invited and at which the plan for the Schuman Authority was conceived and discussed.

Mr. Mitchison

Does the right hon. Gentleman recollect that one of the preconditions of attending that conference at all was that the concept of a supranational authority should be accepted in advance?

Mr. Sandys

I do not accept that, for the simple reason that, as the hon. and learned Member will remember, the Dutch Government came into that conference with reservations of just the kind that we considered reasonable: that is to say, that they would enter the conference and that they reserved their position according to what might emerge at the end. It seemed to me and to my hon. and right hon. Friends, and we said so at the time, that that was the right view to take—that we should go into the conference and then do our best to secure an arrangement under which we could play our part.

All that I can say on this point, which it is completely out of order to pursue now, is that I felt then, and still feel, that if we had taken part in those discussions at the original conference we might, by our influence, have secured the setting up of an authority or an arrangement on the Continent in which we would have been able to participate more closely than we are able to do in the supra-national authority in the extreme form in which it has now been set up.

Mr. A. G. Bottomley (Rochester and Chatham)

I am a later Strasbourgian; but I recall that there was sent to a committee of the Council of Europe a resolution known as the Macmillan-Eccles plan, and that no member of the Conservative Party attended the committee to talk about it and to give advice. In those circumstances, how can the Minister say that we were in a position to support it one way or the other?

Mr. Sandys

I do not think that we should enter into a discussion on what happened there.

Mr. Hugh Dalton (Bishop Auckland)

Dangerous detail.

Mr. Sandys

I have probably wandered less far from the subjects under discussion than most of the hon. Members who preceded me.

As for the proposed new Clause, I think that the right hon. Gentleman, on reflection, will agree that it has certain shortcomings and drafting objections. The first and most obvious is that, under subsection (2), the Minister of Supply would be obliged to consult the Board in regard to instructions to the delegation at Luxembourg. That would cover consultations in regard to coal, which is obviously quite outside the sphere of the Board.

The most serious problem raised by the new Clause is a constitutional one. It is a well-established fact that relations with foreign countries are the responsibility of the Foreign Secretary, and not the Minister of Supply. On the other hand, the relations between the Board and the Government are relations between the Board and the Minister of Supply. That is a constitutional difficulty which will have to be overcome.

A more serious constitutional problem is that of establishing the principle that the Foreign Secretary should be statutorily required to consult a body in this country before issuing instructions to the representatives of Her Majesty's Government abroad. That is a novel proposal and one which would, if accepted, undoubtedly have repercussions over quite a wide field and could not lightly be incorporated into an Act of Parliament.

As I have made clear in an earlier debate on this Bill, our intention is that there shall be close, full and continuous consultation with the Board in regard to the policy to be pursued by the Government in their relations with the Schuman Community on iron and steel problems. That is our declared intention and I ask hon. Members opposite to accept the fact that we are completely and entirely sincere in expressing that intention.

Within that sphere there are many subjects about which it would be desirable for the Government to consult the Board. Some have been mentioned this evening and I can think of others. But what is being asked, as I understand, is that certain powers and duties should be entrusted to the Board and the Minister for the making of policy towards the Schuman Authority. If the Committee will allow me I will go through the new Clause and see what are the main points which emerge.

Subsection (1) states that the Government should keep the Board informed of the proceedings of the institutions of the Schuman Community. That seems to me an entirely reasonable request subject, of course, to the proviso in subsection (4) about matters which it would not be in the national interest to disclose. I am not quite sure whether the words "national interest" are a little too narrow, and I should like to consider them.

Subsection (2) says that The Minister shall consult the Board and consider any advice tendered to him about instructions to be sent to the delegation to the High Authority. That is completely in line with what I have said both today and previously that it is our intention that such consultation shall take place. Indeed, I will go further and say I hope there will be two-way consultation and advice. It should not simply be a question of the Government asking the Board for their views on a particular issue. The Board should have a standard instruction to make known to the Government their views on important issues which arise at the seat of the High Authority. The fact that they were kept informed of the proceedings at Luxembourg would place the Board in a position to make those comments as and when they thought fit.

Subsection (3) relates to information. I am not sure that the Board will not already be able to obtain all the information they require for this purpose, but if, when I have looked more closely into what has been said during the debate, we reach the conclusion that a further provision is required, I will consider whether it should be inserted into the Bill. If so, I think it will probably be in Clause 13, which assembles all the points on which information is required.

Those are the three points on which powers are requested under this proposed Clause. I am in full sympathy with the wish to express in the Bill, in some form or another, our desire to make our collaboration with the Schuman Community a reality. Very reluctantly, for the constitutional reasons which I have explained, we do not feel able to accept the proposed Clause in this form. I am not convinced that we cannot overcome these constitutional difficulties, but I will undertake between now and the Report stage to consider whether we can include in the Bill, in a more suitable form, an expression of our intention.

Meanwhile, I want once again to give the Committee our assurance that it is the Government's intention that the Board shall play a full part in the shaping of British policy on steel towards the Schuman Community. We shall ensure that the Board have all the necessary facilities to make their contribution real and effective.

Mr. G. Darling

Before the right hon. Gentleman sits down, I wonder if he would answer a question. Could he tell us whether our delegation at Luxembourg—the very excellent permanent delegation we have there—has made any representations about its own position that he might take into consideration in drafting whatever Amendment he brings forward on Report stage; whether it has said it wants some closer association with the iron and steel industry in a formal kind of way?

9.45 p.m.

Mr. Sandys

It happens that I had a talk with the Ministry of Supply delegate at Luxembourg this morning. I am going to have a further word with her—the delegate happens to be a lady—before she leaves again. I had the benefit of some advice in considering exactly how we could meet the Committee's desire on this point.

Mr. Robens

The right hon. Gentleman has gone a long way to meet our desires in this matter, and I am sure he will agree that in putting down this new Clause we have done something useful for the general benefit of the country. I do not suppose there is any point in arguing the constitutional matters here. The right hon. Gentleman will be well advised on those by people much more competent than I am to deal with them. I understand that broadly he accepts the principles contained in the new Clause. and that he will give further consideration to them, and bring in a re-draft on Report stage. We can thank him for that very much indeed, and we shall look at the matter again on the Report stage when he produces his new Clause. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.