HC Deb 04 March 1953 vol 512 cc445-70

(1) The Minister shall keep the Board informed—

  1. (a) of the proceedings of the Institutions of the European Coal and Steel Community so far as such proceedings are within his knowledge and appear to him to be relevant to the duties of the Board under subsection (1) of section three of this Act, and
  2. (b) of such other matters concerning the relationship between the United Kingdom and the said Community as in the opinion of the Minister are relevant to the said duties of the Board.

(2) It shall be the duty of the Board to give advice and information to the Minister on any matters relating to their said duties being matters which have been referred by the Minister to the Board concerning the relationship between the United Kingdom and the said Community or being matters which, in the opinion of the Board, ought to be taken into account in connection with the said relationship.

(3) Nothing in this section shall be taken as requiring the Minister to disclose to the Board any matter which in his opinion it is not in the national interest to disclose to them.

(4) In this section the expression "the Institutions of the European Coal and Steel Community" means the Institutions mentioned in Article seven of the Treaty constituting the said Community signed in Paris in the eighteenth day of April, nineteen hundred and fifty-one.—[Mr. Sandys.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Sandys

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

I suggest that we should at the same time consider the Amendment standing in my name to Clause 14, page 14, line 41, at end, insert: (4) The Board may by notice in writing require any iron and steel producer or any such person as is mentioned in the last preceding subsection, to furnish to the Board such information as may reasonably be required by the Board for the purpose of giving advice or information to the Minister on any matters referred by him to the Board under subsection (2) of the section of this Act (Consultation with the Board on matters concerning the European Coal and Steel Community). At the end of the Committee stage hon. Members opposite moved an Amendment to provide for consultation between the Government and the Board on our relations with the Schuman Coal and Steel Community. As I think hon. Members will remember, the outcome of a most interesting debate on that subject was an expression, which I think was universal in all parts of the House, in favour of the inclusion in the Bill of statutory reference to consultation between the Board and the Government on the formulation of policy in relation to the Schuman Community.

In reply to that debate I associated myself with these opinions, and indicated that I attached as much importance as did any hon. Member to there being effective consultation between the Board and the Government on this matter. I said that we had great sympathy with the proposal that some reference to it should be incorporated in the Iron and Steel Bill. I explained to the Committee, however, that, most reluctantly, I felt unable to accept the Amendment put forward by the Opposition in the form in which it was drafted mainly because it raised quite serious constitutional difficulties, in that it placed upon the Government, and particularly upon the Foreign Secretary, a statutory obligation to consult an outside body before issuing instructions to Her Majesty's representatives overseas.

I explained that we felt most reluctant to establish such a precedent. Certainly, it would have been a novel principle and one which would have required much thought before we decided to accept it. On the other hand, I undertook to see whether we could avoid those constitutional difficulties and present to the House an alternative Clause which would give effect to the substance of the Opposition's Amendment. The new Clause, and the Amendment to Clause 14, page 14, line 41, implement that undertaking.

For the convenience of the House I should like to compare, paragraph by paragraph, the new Clause and the Amendment to Clause 14 with the Amendment submitted by the Opposition earlier. The first paragraph of the Opposition Amendment provided that the Minister should inform the Board of the proceedings of the Institutions of the Schuman Community. The first paragraph of the new Clause also includes that same provision; that is to say it states: The Minister shall keep the Board informed— (a) of the proceedings of the Institutions of the European Coal and Steel Community… We go a little further in paragraph (b) and provide that the Minister shall keep the Board informed of such other matters concerning the relationship between the United Kingdom and the said Community… that is, the Schuman High Authority.

The second paragraph of the Opposition's earlier Amendment dealt with the consultation between the Government and the Board. It provided that the Minister should consult the Board on the instructions to be issued to Her Majesty's representatives at the Schuman High Authority. Our new Clause covers the same point in its second paragraph.

There are, however, two differences. First, there is the one to which I have already referred, in that, for the constitutional reasons which I have given, it does not place an absolute obligation upon the Government to consult the Board before issuing instructions to Her Majesty's representatives. On the other hand, as I think hon. Members will agree, it effectively provides for consultation.

The second difference is that it specifically refers to the desirability of a two-way exchange of views between the Board and the Government. I referred to this point in my reply in Committee. It does not only provide for the Government's consulting the Board, but also places on the Board a duty to make representations to the Government in the light of the information provided by the Government with regard to the proceedings of the Schuman Community.

The third paragraph of the Opposition's original Amendment gave the Board power to obtain information from iron and steel producers, in order that the Board might be advised on points on which the Government had consulted them. The addition to Clause 14—the Amendment to page 14, line 41—provides the same power in an equally satisfactory and comprehensive way. I hope that this new Clause, together with the Amendment which I shall later move to Clause 14, will be accepted by the House as fully implementing my undertaking.

Above all, I hope it will be interpreted both here and abroad as providing further evidence of the importance which Her Majesty's Government attach to our relations with the Schuman Coal and Steel Community, and as proof of our intention that the Board and the Government shall co-operate closely and effectively in formulating international policies affecting the steel industry.

6.30 p.m.

Mr. Mitchison

We should be most ungracious if we did not accept thankfully the practically complete compliance with our suggestions during the Committee stage which is represented by this new Clause and the other Amendment to which the Minister has referred. The differences are very small. We, too, contemplated a two-way traffic between the Minister and the Board. The matter of protocol is no doubt of considerable theoretical importance, but our intentions were quite obvious and they are met by the Clause in its present form, and if I add some small points afterwards I hope they will not be taken to detract from the thanks I have expressed to the Minister.

I should perhaps couple with him one figure which appeared in our short debates in Committee—I have no doubt that the Minister will remember the occasion—that of a lady with whom he said he was going to have a word before she left England again. Presumably, she was going to give him a little more advice on the question of how he could meet the Committee's desire on this point. To her, too, we are suitably grateful, and we leave it to the Minister to decide how far he can take the gratitude to himself and how far he can distribute his Ministerial largesse elsewhere.

I think it was in one of Offenbach's plays that the gendarmes always used to appear to the tune of toujours trop tard—always too late. I do not say that the Government have been too late in this case, and we all share their good intentions now; but my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Snow) raised this point comparatively early during the Committee stage and I wish we had not had to do the reminding and the drafting.

I am quite sure the Minister means it all now and that our friends in Europe will accept this, as they should do, as evidence of our real wish to take our proper place in the Schuman Plan. That is a most serious matter. I hope the Government will remember that on this occasion it was the Opposition who raised this point in the first place; it was the Opposition who put down an Amendment substantially on the lines of that which the Government are now putting forward themselves. I hope they will not say, as they have been a little apt to say in the past, that the Opposition were always liable to drag their feet in matters of collaboration with Europe. We are vitally concerned with the success of the Schuman Plan and with the part that we can play in it.

I remember very well the occasion when my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton) turned up at Strasbourg as the first working miner ever to be seen there and told the Assembly what the Schuman Plan really meant to this country. I felt that at that time the Minister did not appreciate that performance quite as well as he does now. In my opinion, it was a very useful act and it was done in an admirable way and with admirable spirit. Therefore, let us go hand in hand, at any rate in the matter of seeing that we do play our part in the very important developments that are going on in Europe at present.

In that connection I want to ask the Minister one question, to which he probably knows the answer already. I do not think 1 shall have the least difficulty about it. This new Clause gives the Board an additional and very important function. May I take it that when the Board make their report they will consider it their duty—and I should like to know that in the Minister's view it is part of their duty—to include a statement of what action has been taken under this new Clause or this Section of the Act, as it will then be.

I ask that question not merely because of the importance of having a report but because I assume that the report will or can be debated in Parliament some time. I think I am speaking for many hon. Members on both sides of the House—but perhaps particularly those on my side —when I say that the opportunities for discussion of the Schumann Plan, and the political and economic changes that are going on in Europe and which are so closely tied up with it, have been too few having regard to the importance of the matter and also having regard to the promises made by the Prime Minister at Strasbourg that there would be opportunities of discussion here.

I hope I shall not be out of order in saying that I hope that the Board's report, and the inclusion in it of a statement of what has been done under this new Clause, will provide a regular opportunity for discussion of this aspect of the Schuman Plan. That Plan also covers coal. I cannot talk about that, but it is obviously at least as important to us as iron and steel.

I should like again to thank the Minister and the anonymous and distinguished gentlemen who have been associated with him for the concession they have made to the Opposition and, far more important, the concession they have made to what is happening in Europe and the possibilities of international collaboration in this field, by moving a Clause that so fully meets our requirements.

Mr. Boothby

I detected a note of perhaps understandable embarrassment in the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison). It is understandable when he remembers, as I remember so vividly and as the Minister must remember, the implacable opposition of the party opposite to the Schuman Plan in every shape and form and the relentless objection to it which they raised at Strasbourg.

Mr. Mitchison

The hon. Member has attributed to me feelings which I certainly did not have. As to the implacable opposition, it never existed except in the hon. Gentleman's fertile imagination. We have said consistently, from the moment that the Schuman Plan came into existence, that we wished it well, that we were prepared to collaborate with it but that, with the party opposite, we felt we could not federate with those countries in Europe which desired to federate.

Mr. Boothby

That is all right, but I was sitting in Strasbourg at the time and, together with the hon. and learned Gentleman, was a victim of the buckets of cold water which were slung out from London during all those negotiations.

I do not want to import any heat into the debate, but as I listened to the hon. and learned Gentleman I was absolutely flabbergasted, not by his conversion—because I thought that would come—but by the extent of his conversion. He is now wholeheartedly for an international, European co-operation in the economic field. He spoke very warmly of the High Authority and the Coal and Steel Community. That is splendid, and I only hope that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite keep it up.

I said I did not want to bring any heat into the debate, nor do I want to introduce any depression, but I think I must utter a word of warning. Some of the sponsors of the Coal and Steel Community in Europe have very far-reaching plans and ideas in their heads which I think we in this House must face. They want to create an economic unit and, ultimately, as the hon. and learned Gentleman pointed out, a political, federal unit which will replace the Council of Europe and O.E.E.C. as an effective international European organisation and which could lead to the virtual exclusion of this country and Scandinavia from the European economy.

It is idle to deny that there are those in Europe—and some of them are powerful figures—who have this plan and this design and who would like to see it realised. My apprehension is based upon the fact that such a unit, if and when it were created and if it were completely divorced from this country, would from the outset be dominated by Germany. From the very nature of affairs it must be dominated by Germany. It would contain an internal market comprising somewhere between 100 million and 150 million people and it would also contain an industrial potential far in excess of this country both in coal and in steel.

Further, and this is the point I want to emphasise to the House and to the Minister, it would be dependent for raw materials upon foreign supplies and it would be dependent for success and prosperity upon foreign markets. If we were right out of this body—and I welcome the Clause because I think it is designed to see that we are not right out of it—the situation could lead to a renewal of that intensive, uncontrolled international competition which did such infinite damage to the heavy industries, not only of this country, but of Europe in the years between the wars.

6.45 p.m.

That is what I am apprehensive about, and as I see it—and I think the Minister will not dissent from this view—the only way out is a comprehensive treaty between this country and the High Authority of the Coal and Steel Community designed to achieve an effective collaboration at every level between this country and the Coal and Steel Community of the Schuman Plan. I think this Clause will assist, first of all, in achieving that, and, secondly, in carrying it out by ensuring that that collaboration will be continuous and effective.

In short—and this is the whole point of what I have risen to say—I am convinced that there is a division in Luxembourg and Europe between those who want to make this a purely Continental, tight, exclusive unit, with Britain right outside it—which I think would be extremely dangerous and might be very inimical to the economic interests of this country—and, on the other hand, those who would genuinely like to see effective collaboration between this country and the High Authority. I do not think I need beg my right hon. Friend to do this, but he must do all that lies in his power to ensure that it is the latter view which prevails and not the former.

My impression is that the somewhat gay and uncritical approval which we appear to have given to the movement towards a closer and exclusive integration on the part of the Schuman countries may be a little short-sighted. I think there is here a possible threat to British interests which could be quite rapid and serious. Already, we see that the six Powers have been granted a waiver of the most-favoured-nation clause by G.A.T.T., which gives them the right to discriminate in favour of each other and against us. I think part of the treaty which I hope will be negotiated between the Steel Board and the High Authority should be directed towards eliminating that discrimination, which could tell very heavily against us.

As I have said, I am not surprised that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite are coming to see the dangers implicit in a tight, exclusive, six-Power unit or federation, if we like to call it that, which altogether excludes us. Of course, they must remember the days between the wars when the heavy industries of this country were reduced to a tragic plight—and not only those of this country. I think they have too often been inclined to forget that, although not very much appeared about it in the public Press and although not very much was generally known to the public, before the war the steel industry of this country was driven into a cartel—an international economic cartel which also met at Luxembourg and in which we not only played a part but frequently took the lead.

That is why I and, I think, the Minister would have liked to see us go into the Schuman Plan discussions at the very outset. I still believe, and shall never cease to believe, that, had we done so, we might have achieved a better arrangement than we have today—an arrangement completely in accord with our wishes. However, it is too late now to go back on that.

I believe hon. Members opposite will agree with me when I point out that steel works which are obsolete will, in the long run, be closed either by ruthless competition or by agreement. In my opinion, it is better, on the whole, to close them by agreement. I believe that to a great extent this much-vaunted British freedom of action in this field is illusory. As I see it, we have a chance under the Clause to pursue the better of the two alternatives which confront this country. The first alternative, as I have pointed out, is the creation of a powerful but artificial industrial unit under the domination and direction of Germany on the Continent of Europe, from which we shall be excluded and which will have the right to discriminate against us.

The second alternative is the development, in co-operation and collaboration with the Western European Continental powers, of a comprehensive trading area out of the area now covered by E.P.U., which includes the sterling area. That is what could be done under the Clause. That is the goal for which we must work, because the first alternative, the tight, exclusive, economic unit, would mean the employment of the capital resources of Western Europe, including Federal Germany, in an all-out drive for markets from which we could scarcely expect to emerge completely unscathed. I do not know whether hon. Members opposite want that. Certainly, I do not want a flat-out fight with a powerful industrial community in Europe to collar the markets of the world. I do not believe that it would do us any good in the long run.

The second alternative would mean the employment of those capital resources in the expansion of production and the development of reciprocal trade throughout the area covered by E.P.U.—in other words, throughout Western Europe and the sterling area. Surely that is the alternative for which we must strive. That is the right and the better alternative. Because I believe this Clause to be a first step—and, I must say, only a tentative step—in that direction, I warmly welcome the Minister's action in moving it.

Mr. George Darling (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

I should like first of all to congratulate the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire (Mr. Boothby) on being able to keep within the bounds of order far more successfully than I when I tried to broach the same points in Committee.

Mr. Boothby

This is the Report stage.

Mr. Darling

Yes, but I certainly had great difficulty. I would say to the hon. Gentleman that if a little consistency had been shown by himself and some of his friends at Strasbourg we might have had a more coherent line taken by our unfortunately not united delegations on occasion, and that might have brought us more closely into that association that we want.

Mr. Boothby

I never deviated one inch on this issue—never—in my speeches at Strasbourg or in this House or anywhere else. I always thought we ought to have gone into the Schuman Plan at the start. I still think so. There has been no deviation so far as I am concerned.

Mr. Darling

I quite agree with the hon. Gentleman and I am sorry I did not make my point clear. I was not referring only to the Schuman Community but to the whole of what was going on at Strasbourg. However, I should be out of order if I were to pursue that point.

I do not intend to inflict a speech on the House, but only to ask the Minister one or two questions on how this Clause, when the Bill is passed, will work so far as we in this House are concerned. The right hon. Gentleman says—and I agree with him—that he hopes that the passing of this Clause will be taken as an earnest of our intention to gain that closer association that we all want with the Coal and Steel Community. Something more is required, however, than the suggestion of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) that the work of the Schuman Plan and the part that our delegation plays in that Community should be described in the annual report of the Iron and Steel Board.

In any case, as the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire said, the Iron and Steel Community will probably become wider and wider still. I wonder whether the Minister has in mind presenting to the House, in association with his colleague, the Minister of Fuel and Power, a White Paper to tell us what the present situation is with regard to the Iron and Steel Community, and particularly of the work that our delegation is doing there in the joint committee of the delegation and the High Authority, and whether we shall get not only reports of actions that are taken but some idea of the views of our own delegation.

I know that that is rather difficult, because the members of the delegation are public servants who, I suppose, must speak through the mouths of Ministers. I notice, however, that in a Press report after one of the first meetings of the joint committee the leader of our delegation said that working groups of the joint committee had been set up to discuss and study all kinds of pertinent questions that were raised by our association with the Community. Unfortunately, the Press report stopped there.

Hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House will agree that the existence of these working parties and working groups opens quite an avenue of conjecture as to what they are doing, what they hope to achieve and so on, and I think it is right and proper that, rather than wait for the annual report of the Board, we should from time to time have from the Government—not just from the Minister of Supply, who is concerned with only one part of the work—fairly frequent reports of what is going on. If the Minister can give us some idea of what he has in mind on the question of providing the House with information of that sort, I am sure we shall all be grateful.

Mr. P. Roberts

I wish very briefly to say that I am glad to see this step forward towards closer co-operation with the Continental industries. I am equally glad to say that I was most interested in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeenshire (Mr. Boothby), because I believe that the note of warning which he struck was very necessary in our deliberations. I am not going over again the two points which he made, first, that there is a very great danger from the formation of a Continental cartel in coal and steel; and second, that there is a great danger of German predominance in such a cartel.

He did not deal with that matter to any great extent. I would remind the House of this fact, that under the present arrangements orders for engineering work from the area of the Schuman Plan Community are being allocated in proportion to the income and production of the countries concerned; and that automatically means that a great many orders will go to Germany, where the main income and production is. I am quite clear in my own mind that the danger of the predominance of German industry in that Community as now constituted is a potential threat to the trade and industry of this country.

The point is—and again my hon. Friend did not take this very much farther—that the control which we have at the moment is a very illusory control. The Eden Plan has been suggested. It is not giving us any voting rights as such in the Community, and I am not sure whether such a form of association will be good enough for the protection of our industry in this country. I have always felt that either we have to go into this Community, and, possibly, lead it and control it, and put some weight against the predominance of German production on the other side; or else that we had better not join the Community at all. Those are the points I should like to put to the House.

I find it a little easier to keep in order on this new Clause than the hon. Member did previously, because this is a very much wider proposal. It refers to the relationship between the United Kingdom and the Community. Unfortunately, the previous Amendment did not deal with the relationship of the United Kingdom and the Community. This proposal does open the whole question of the relationships between this country and the Community. We may talk in wide words, as the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) did, about co-operation with the Community, but what does he mean by "co-operation"? Is he satisfied that the Community itself will accept co-operation from us when we put nothing into it from our side at all? There must be some sort of bargain in this.

I go back to the beginning of what my hon. Friend said, that it was a sad thing that this whole arrangement got off on the wrong foot. Hon. Members opposite, even the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton), are not guiltless in this matter. In the early days the hon. Gentleman put the whole weight of his arguments against any association with the Schuman Plan.

Mr. Boothby

He was awful.

Mr. Mitchison

This is the second time this has been said. It is really quite untrue. What happened was—and it will be within the recollection of the House—that a condition was imposed on this country of accepting a supra-national authority before we could enter into any discussions on the Schuman Plan at all, and that is the reason we did not attend the discussions.

Mr. Roberts

I have no doubt that if matters had been handled properly that difficulty could have been got over, and that we should have come to some better arrangement than was made. However, let us not quarrel on this issue now. It does seem that we are moving along the path to closer co-operation. The question I would put to all Members in this House is, what do we mean by "closer co-operation"? Can we get the Community now to accept our co-operation when we merely veto all their arrangements without any participation by us? I would say to all those who look at this thing logically that if we have a Schuman Community, then we should be in it. If we are not in it, better to have no Schuman Community at all.

7.0 p.m.

Mr. William Blyton (Houghton-le-Spring)

I want to refute some of the arguments of the hon. Members for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Boothby) and Heeley (Mr. P. Roberts). During all the time I have put the case on behalf of my party we have never adopted an isolationist attitude, and my speeches are on record. What we did say—and we still stand by it—was that we were not prepared to hand over control of our internal economy in coal and steel to a supra-national authority on the Continent, but that we were prepared to work in close liaison with the authority when it was set up.

The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East will remember that I said at the time the Schuman Plan was being discussed that we would be prepared to make agreements on marketing, discriminatory practices, wages, prices and capital resources. We were prepared to make those international agreements because we knew the economic implications of integrating the markets of Europe.

I suffered as much as anyone in the mining industry from the inter-war period, and when I spoke at Strasbourg about this Plan I did not speak from an academic point of view. What was the spectacle I then saw? The Tories were playing with the people on the Continent over this question, and were arguing that we ought to go into it. Now that they form the Government and have got the power, why do they not become full members of the Schuman Plan? There is nothing to stop them now going to the High Authority, accepting the federalist position, and saying that we are prepared to hand over our coal and steel industries and become full members. Why do they not do that? The simple reason is that they have one voice in opposition and another in Government. They are now adopting the attitude the Labour Party pursued when they opposed us on the Continent for two years.

From the first the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East has stood for participating fully in the Schuman Plan. He has made no conditions about it. He believes that to prevent the shambles of the inter-war years in the coal and steel industries we ought to be full members, and he has always said so. I admire him for it. But the rest of the Tory delegation did not say that. They had the Macmillan-Eccles Plan, which the hon. Gentleman will remember. When that went to a committee for discussion there was not a Tory there to fight for the plan they had presented. There was a row on this issue between one of their delegation and M. Paul Reynaud. I suggest that they forget the past history on this and face up to the present position as it will affect this country, and what our relationship must be with this organisation.

I am not prepared, as a representative of a mining community and interested in the miners' union, to hand over control of our coal industry to the nine people in Saarbrucken. They may make decisions which may be detrimental to us, but if we get the five agreements I proposed in 1951 there is no need for Britain either to become a full member or to fear a return of the shambles we faced in the inter-war years. According to the part of the High Authority Report dealing with price fixing, they are going to set up some machinery which will abolish the distortions between Britain's cheaper production and the dearer production of the participating countries in the Schuman Plan. Whether this is the first move to try to push us out of our traditional markets we cannot tell at present, but I impress upon the Minister that this part of the High Authority Report ought to be watched.

I want to see agreement on the five issues I have mentioned, and I do not want our position to be defended in the Council of Europe. They have no power to deal with this. All we can get is a report from the High Authority. We can talk in the Council of Europe till the cows come home, but we cannot alter one word or comma in the High Authority Report. If a decision affecting our economy is made by the High Authority, the Council of Europe is the last place in which we can get redress. We are not prepared to sacrifice the fundamental principle of controlling our own coal and steel industries, and I suggest that we immediately get on with negotiating treaties on the five economic propositions I have mentioned.

Once we reach that stage we ought to tell M. Monnet, and tell him pretty plainly, that having negotiated a treaty on these five propositions we are entitled to a voice without a vote in the Coal and Steel Community Assembly, so that if any matter affecting us arises we shall have a voice in the Assembly, who have power by two-thirds majority to alter anything in the reports.

I am not trying to deride the Council of Europe, but knowing the terrific competition the British coal industry will face in the next two years from South Africa, Poland, and maybe from Germany, I believe it is essential to have agreement if we are to maintain our traditional markets. If we do not get agreement we shall be back to the interwar years, with Britain competing with the Continent, and it will be just as bad for the Schuman Plan countries as for ourselves if we reach that stage. While mine may be a lone voice crying in the wilderness, seeking representation in the Coal and Steel Community Assembly, I do ask the Minister to see whether that line cannot be pursued so that we can work in the closest co-operation with the Schuman Plan High Authority.

Mr. Robson Brown

I am very glad to have the opportunity of following the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton), and to have heard him speak in the way he did, because, frankly, that was not my impression of the attitude of his party two years ago; certainly not of their Front Bench.

I feel that in the development of the Schuman Plan there has been a certain element of "wait and see" in this country in the hope that perhaps the Schuman Plan would never be put into effect. I would point out, with respect, that in my very first speech in this House I emphasised with all the force I could that the Schuman Plan should go through and would go through, and that we should be parties to it and generally cooperate in it from the very beginning. My hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeenshire (Mr. Boothby) has said many things which have been in my mind from the beginning of the Schuman Plan. If we had gone in during those early days we would have been able to supply that leadership and balance between the various steel-making countries of Europe which we supplied before the war, to great effect and benefit to us all.

I do not want to misunderstand the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring. I should like to know whether he suggests that we should go in lock, stock, and barrel.

Mr. Blyton

What I am suggesting is that we ought to make the five international agreements without sinking our principles, which I suggested in 1951, on prices, discriminatory practices, wages. capital resources and markets. If we make these agreements, I think that we are entitled to a voice, not a vote, in the Assembly of the Coal and Steel Community.

Mr. Robson Brown

I thank the hon. Member for that exposition of his ideas. We have to be practical in these matters. I am not so sure that the European members of the Schuman Plan would accept the provisos set out in the way in which they have been by the hon. Member. They seek to have the best of two worlds, and I do not think that we can ever get that.

I feel that the Minister and the Government, in collaboration with the best advice available in the steel and coal industry, should themselves, as soon as possible, work out how far they should go, how far they are prepared to negotiate, and what are the needs and the protective requirements of the British iron and steel industry. That is what we have to do at some stage, if we expect to negotiate an international arrangement.

I want to refer to the speech made by the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens), during the Committee stage of the Bill. I rather sensed then from his words, and as I read them later in HANSARD, the feeling that the Schuman Plan Authority would state that we had to come in 100 per cent. on their terms or not at all. We cannot accept this either for the steel industry or for the coal industry. There is ample room for negotiation because our position is in no way parallel to that of the other signatories.

I sympathise with the doubts and fears of Members of the Opposition, when their party formed the Government, about entering into any commitment which would give a voice to other countries in regard to the level of iron and steel production in our own country. It was a terrifying thought, and I think that it was the one that influenced them more than any other. Before the war, we learned to work in co-operation and collaboration with our colleagues in the steel industries of most of the progressive countries of the world to the mutual benefit of them all, and I believe that we shall have to do that again. It will be in our own interests, it will be in their interests, and I think it will be in the interests generally of peace in Europe.

Mr. Mitchison

Would the hon. Member agree that what he is saying relates to the federation? No one would object to the federation doing what it chooses, consistent with the national interest, but this particular new Clause relates to the part which the Board are to play, and that may be a different matter.

Mr. Robson Brown

I think that the hon. and learned Gentleman was present when I spoke of this during the Committee stage. I spoke very forcibly, and I and other hon. Members on this side supported the suggestion that a Clause of this character, with these particular provisions, should be in the Bill.

I believe that, even if we get an understanding of a satisfactory and acceptable kind between ourselves in the steel industry of this country on the Schuman Plan, if it is to be effective it must be carried one stage further. I do not think that we shall achieve the aims which we all desire unless we bring in the U.S.A. I cannot see any international arrangement covering the world, such as that which is projected now, being effective or of real and lasting value without the effective co-operation of the U.S.A.

Mr. Snow

I think that the hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Robson Brown) was a little unfair when he said that the signatories to the Paris Treaty wanted the best of two worlds. That is an accusation which I should have thought could be more justifiably levied against ourselves.

Mr. Robson Brown

I said that we wanted the best of two worlds.

Mr. Snow

I am sorry if I misunderstood the hon. Gentleman. I think that he is perfectly right. This particular form of delegation to Luxembourg is an attempt to secure maximum benefits with the least responsibility.

7.15 p.m.

I was very pleased to see the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire (Mr. Boothby) come into the Chamber. He has a habit, if I may say so, of being consistent in this matter of European economics. The political fan dance which is the policy of the Conservative Party over European federation and participation in the Schuman Plan has always been characterised by the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire being the one stable factor. Whether he is for the Plan or something less I do not know, but I pay this tribute to him, that he has been consistent. I was interested to hear him voice this fear, which I have heard from other sources on the benches opposite, about the competition which will be felt in this country very soon. I should have thought that that was the one justification for our original position of not rushing in to participate in the supra-national authority.

I should like to put two points to the Minister on this new Clause, and I will deal with the least one first. I should have thought that to do the thing well, reference should have been made to Article 14 of the Paris Treaty, where this country is singled out for a special approach by the Authority to discuss overall economic and commercial relations. It is a small point but one which the right hon. Gentleman might like to think over. I will read the first sentence: Upon the establishment of the High Authority, the member states shall undertake negotiations with the Governments of third countries, and particularly with the British Government, on overall economic and commercial relations concerning coal and steel between the Community and such countries. I think that this Clause might have been prefaced by reference to that particular Article.

The second point concerns subsection (2) of the new Clause, which refers in the latter part to the responsibility of the Board to consult with the Minister in such matters in connection with the Community as the Minister may have brought to the attention of the Board. I wonder if that is going quite far enough. If one reads into that proposal, I should have thought that what it says inhibited the Board from initiating consultation with the Minister when the Board have received commercial information which it is desirable to take action about—commercial information on the European scene.

I should have thought that the ordinary firm would have been somewhat more sensitive to immediate repercussions of commercial problems than either the delegation at Luxembourg or the Minister or the Board themselves. I am wondering whether that subsection does preclude the Board from receiving commercial information and initiating discussions with the Minister, or whether the Board cannot operate until the Minister has consulted the Board.

Mr. Summers

It was because I largely shared, and still share, the view of my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeenshire (Mr. Boothby) that in matters of this kind collaboration is more desirable than ruthless competition, that I supported the general idea of bringing forward such a Clause as this.

I want to voice two opinions in this context which may be at variance with some of the things which have been said. I do not share the fear that some have expressed as to the consequences of the formation of the Steel Community on the Continent as it may affect the industry in this country. There are two reasons which, I think, are overlooked by those which have voiced that fear.

Before the war it was in part, at least, the effect of intense competition between Continental countries which affected the export price of steel products and so depressed the price that we in this country were able to get. If now that intense competition between the Continental countries is greatly to be modified, at any rate as far as that is concerned there will be less likelihood of a drastic cutting down of export prices.

The second change that is overlooked is the very great change in the relative wages payable in the steel industry on the Continent and the steel industry here before the war as compared with now. It was very largely the disparity in wage rates which enabled Continental producers to offer steel in this market at prices which were intolerable. Comparisons now are very different. That handicap, therefore, no longer exists.

One of my hon. Friends has asked what is meant by co-operation. What are we going to offer? If an agreement, which, I well believe, may come in time, is to be satisfactory to both parties, there must be a bargain. What are we to offer? Last time, we offered some imports into the market here at a time when we were raising the tariff and were threatening completely to exclude Continental steel. It was the ability of this country to admit some steel in exchange for an arrangement on export prices which was the key that unlocked the door to a satisfactory settlement, and without which it would never have been done. That opportunity to offer something like that in negotiations does not exist now to anything like the same extent as it did before, particularly as the increasing capacity in this country renders imports less necessary.

I do not think we ought to approach this important question from the point of view of what we have to offer. If there is one way that we should prepare ourselves for the time when it will be in the interests both of the Continental and of the British producers to make an arrangement, it is to get our costs down. That is the surest defence for our economy in steel which we can devise.

However desirable arrangements with the Continent might be—I should be the last to disparage them, having had some part in them in the past, when, I am sure, they were of great value to this country—do not let us rely solely for our prosperity on international agreements. Let us be quite certain that the firmer foundation of a competitive cost of production is available to us, and then, and only then, are we likely to get an arrangement which will be satisfactory to both sides.

Mr. Blyton

If the Schuman Plan Authority imposes a discriminatory tax against steel going to the Continent, would not the hon. Member's costs of production argument fall to the ground?

Mr. Summers

I do not consider that the export of British steel to the Continent is ever a prospect that is likely to be very important for this country. What is important is that markets that are open both to the Continental producers and to us in the rest of the world, should not go to the Continent because of cheap prices, as happened before the war, but should be available for us also on competitive terms. I should not expect that a very large proportion of British steel would ever find a market on the Continent.

Mr. E. L. Mallalieu (Brigg)

As one who wishes to see the maximum possible co-operation between this country and the Schuman Authority on coal and steel, I am very glad to speak for a few minutes at the end of this debate. The hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire (Mr. Boothby) is entitled to our respect for the consistency with which he has all along advocated co-operation between us and the European countries in this matter. But of course, he has to a large extent been a lone wolf in his own party——

Mr. Boothby


Mr. Mallalieu

—and it seems to me that in the remarks which he made earlier he was, perhaps, trying to work his way back into esteem in his own party.

Mr. Boothby

Oh, no.

Mr. Mallalieu

Perhaps I was mistaken, and perhaps, like us, the hon. Member looks upon the party opposite as something which the cat brought home. In any case, the hon. Member has been put right by the very authoritative manner of my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton), who pointed out the extent to which we on this side would like to go in the direction of co-operation with the Schuman Authority.

I agree wholeheartedly with the hon. Member for Heeley (Mr. P. Roberts), for once, in what he said about the necessity for us all to work together here, since we appear almost unanimously, to wish to go forward towards a very great degree of co-operation between our country and the Schuman countries. It is far better to concentrate upon the future and not so much upon the past, and it is upon the future that I wish to concentrate my remaining half-minute. It is because I believe that the Clause will give the House an opportunity to press whatever Government may be in power, if they need pressing, to further co-operation, that I believe it is very much to be supported.

Some months ago it was my great privilege to visit the Schuman country, which, incidentally, is also the Mallalieu country, for it is from that country, from the village of Malleloy, in Lorraine, that my family came. I visited a great many steel works and spoke to managements and to trade union officials. I spoke, in fact, to a very great variety of people. They had a great variety of views as to whether the Schuman Plan would work and whether, in any case, it was desirable. There was, however, one thing which they all seemed to have in common—and this supports very much what has been said by the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire and by my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton-le-Spring.

They all said this: "If you will not come into this Plan, we shall have to be against you." They did not want to be against us. They would still welcome a great degree of co-operation——

Mr. Boothby

Hear, hear.

Mr. Mallalieu

—between us and them. It is because I believe that the new Clause may lead slightly in that direction and may help us, in the House, to urge Governments to that further co-operation—which we all now, apparently, desire—that I support it.

Mr. Sandys

By leave of the House, I hope that I may be allowed to say a few words in reply to the debate. I will not attempt to roam over the whole field, but will concentrate on two points which were raised and which relate specifically to the new Clause.

The hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) said he hoped that the Board's annual report would include some reference to their duties in relation to the Schuman Community. He will see that the new Amendment which I have tabled, arising from the previous debate on the question of the Board's reports and accounts, provides that the Minister may request the Board to include in their report statements about specific aspects of their duties. I imagine that the Board would wish to do that on a matter of such great public interest, but if they did not wish to do so there would be no difficulty in the Minister asking the Board to make quite sure that their report included a reference to this important subject.

Mr. Mitchison

That means, does it not, that if in the opinion of the Minister the Board do not cover this function sufficiently, he will undertake to ask them to make good the deficiency?

Mr. Sandys

We are dealing with the relations between the Government and the Board in general. In one year the matter may be of importance, and in another year it may be of less importance. I am simply explaining what the position will be under the Bill. Certainly, it will be my intention, if I am still in this position at the time, to ask the Board to make some reference to it in their report.

The hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Snow) asked whether the Board would be entitled to take the initiative in giving advice to the Government in regard to our relations with the Schuman Community. He will see, in subsection (2) of the new Clause, that: It shall be the duty of the Board to give advice and information to the Minister on any matters …which have been referred by the Minister to the Board.… I said there was a two-way traffic. That is one half of it, and it goes on: … or being matters which, in the opinion of the Board, ought to be taken into account in connection with the said relationship. That is to say, the Board will be provided with the information by the Government about the proceedings of the Schuman Plan and other matters relating to this problem. The Government can then ask the Board for their advice on specific matters, but it is also open to the Board, on their own initiative, having received this information about the proceedings of the Schuman Plan and having read the document concerning proceedings at Luxembourg, to express an opinion to the Government in regard to some particular issue in which the Board are interested.

7.30 p.m.

Mr. Snow

I wonder whether the Minister has quite got my point. He is describing the action which the Board may want to take when they have received a report of the activities at Luxembourg. My point is, supposing the Board from the firms themselves receive commercial information, would they then have the power to take up any matter in that continental information with the Minister?

Mr. Sandys

As I read it, certainly that is how it is intended. Clearly, that is the position. It says: It shall be the duty of the Board to give advice and information to the Minister on any matters … we can then leave out the next two lines— …being matters which, in the opinion of the Board, ought to be taken into account in connection with the said relationship. It is wide open to the Board to make any representations they like whether they are based on information given to them by the Government or obtained from other sources.

So far as I could detect, those were the only two points in this long debate that related to the new Clause. I have no doubt that hon. Members were entirely in order, since this is a Second Reading debate on a new Clause dealing with very wide and very interesting issues, many of which were raised in this debate. No doubt I should be entirely in order in replying to them, but I should be entirely out of order in my relations with the Foreign Secretary if I were to attempt to express the views of Her Majesty's Government on these very broad issues.

It was remarkable to me to hear hon. Members on both sides of the House vying with one another in their enthusiasm for co-operation with the Schuman Plan and for closer European co-operation. As I have already said, we as a Government attach the highest importance to establishing close, effective and working relations between this country and the Schuman community on these vital issues. It is my hope and belief that this Clause will assist towards that end.

I have already explained that what this Clause does could be done already under the Bill. Nevertheless, we have, by general unanimous feelings on all sides of the House, decided to include this new Clause as a statutory provision, and it may well help us, not only by the machinery it sets up, but also by the atmosphere it creates here and on the Continent, to promote more successfully and to advance the establishment of that close working relationship which we all have at heart.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.