§ 11.58 a.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Anthony Nutting)
I welcome this opportunity for debate on the work of the Council of Europe. I propose to confine my opening remarks to that topic alone and to avoid any but a rather general reference to European developments as a whole, for next week we have a debate on the general situation in Europe with, of course, specific reference to Trieste. Unless any hon. Member should raise a general European question today I should prefer to await that debate in order to discuss the situation at large. I shall be at the disposal of the House, of course, to reply briefly, if the House wishes and gives me leave, to questions which may be raised during the course of this debate.
I should like to devote a few moments to taking stock of the position of the Council of Europe today and then to set out what, in the Government's view, they can further do in the future by way of useful work. There is always a tendency on the part of a section of the public in this country to belittle the work of international institutions. There is equally a tendency on the part of another section to expect too much and too spectacular results. Some people think that the 2312 Council of Europe is just one more talking shop which wastes public money and parliamentarians' time. Others expected of this organisation far more than it was capable of giving, and find now little but frustration and disappointment in what it has done. I make no apology for saying frankly that I agree with neither view. On the contrary, I think that the Council of Europe has done a very useful job and fulfils a very important role in Europe today.
It has been said that in the modern world we suffer from a surfeit of international organisations and, above all, of international initials. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Sir R. Boothby) had a word to say about that in the Council of Europe last month. Certainly, international and supranational organisations abound but the Council of Europe is the only forum in which not only the Ministers but also the parliamentarians of 15 European nations can meet and talk together. At the very least, therefore, I am sure that every Member of either House of Parliament in this country who has served with the British delegation in Strasbourg at any time since its inception four years ago has found his service an educative and fruitful experience.
But this is only a very small part of the achievements of the Council of Europe. This is only, as it were, one end, and a very modest end, of the scale. At the other end, we can truthfully claim that the Council of Europe has played a considerable part in promoting the unity of Western Europe. In saying this I do not want to give the impression that the Council of Europe is the only factor in European unity or that we have yet achieved a sufficiency of unity in Europe. The Council of Europe is only one factor, one part of the West European association, but it is, and I certainly hope that it will remain, a powerful unifying force.
I need not remind the House that one of the major aims of British foreign policy since the war has been to promote the recovery and unity of Western Europe. This is essential to our plans for the prosperity and security of the free world. But I want to emphasise that the recovery and unity of Western Europe cannot be achieved without British 2313 partnership and British leadership. Successive Governments in this country have contributed to this essential element of partnership, hence the British lead in setting up first the Brussels Treaty Organisation, then O.E.E.C. and the Council of Europe, and, finally, N.A.T.O.
As a result of these initiatives Britain is now linked to Western Europe politically, militarily and economically more closely than ever before; and the countries of Western Europe themselves are engaged upon a venture in mutual and international collaboration in a sense never known in the past. But some Continental countries were still not quite satisfied with this amount of international co-operation and at the outset of its career the Council of Europe was torn between those who wanted a federal relationship and those who favoured inter-governmental links between member States. After some months of debate these difficulties were resolved by the decision of France, Western Germany, Italy and the Benelux countries to go ahead and create, first in coal and steel, and, later, in defence, a federal community of what we now know as "the Six."
These initiatives have now been followed, as my colleagues are aware, by a proposal to set up a European Political Community. I am aware that some people regret these developments and some people say that we should have stopped them. I hope, at any rate, that the present Government will be acquitted of this charge because we were not in charge when the developments first started, for instance, when the Coal and Steel Community was launched. Those people who regret these developments say that we should have tried to unite Europe on a federal or commonwealth basis. I have never been quite able to follow that particular line of argument. I have looked at this problem very carefully ever since I have been at the Foreign Office and, frankly, I cannot see any real, practical, half-way house between the supranational type of international co-operation and the inter-governmental. The fact, of course, is that whether we may like it or not and whether we think it a good thing or not "the Six" have gone ahead and they have formed their federal community.
Now, of course, this decision of "the Six" was bound to create some danger 2314 that the Council of Europe should be divided within itself and should become, as it were, stranded between the two main streams of European unity—the Atlantic community and the federal community of Little Europe. It was at this point, just when the danger was at its height, that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary took office. He felt the need to avoid "the Six" going ahead becoming "the Six" going it alone, and it was to overcome this danger that he launched what is now called the Eden Plan. I will not weary the House with a detailed analysis of this plan but it will be recalled that its purpose was to provide a kind of framework within which the federal communities and the Council of Europe could grow together rather than grow apart.
This plan was seized upon enthusiastically, not only by the Committee of Ministers but, later, by the Consultative Assembly, and now, I am glad to say, it has progressed from being merely an idea to being a practical reality. It has been applied to the Coal and Steel Community which, as hon. Members are aware, is the only federal community so far actually in existence. The first, and a very successful, joint meeting of the Assembly of the Coal and Steel Community and the Assembly of the Council of Europe was held last summer, at which a great many ideas were exchanged and a very useful discussion took place.
When the European Defence Community comes into existence, the Assembly of the Council of Europe will no doubt wish to work out in accordance with the Eden Plan a method whereby similar co-operation can be achieved between them and the Assembly of the E.D.C. Another instance of this idea of maintaining unity within Western Europe, another instance of the Eden Plan in operation, was the participation of the members of the Council of Europe in the work of the ad hoc Assembly which drew up a draft statute for the European political federation.
I should like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the work done by Members of all parties in this House and in another place in the discussions of the ad hoc Assembly. By this work Members of both Houses of Parliament in this country were able to do a great deal to maintain the community of aims and 2315 interests between "the Six" and the rest of the Council of Europe. The participation of Members of both Houses of Parliament in this country in this way made an enormous impression in Europe and was received with great satisfaction and gratification by those engaged upon this task.
Perhaps at this point, without straying too far outside the limits that I have set for my own speech, I might add a word about British association with the Coal and Steel Community and with the European Defence Community outside the Council of Europe. We have a delegation in close relationship with the High Authority of the Coal and Steel Community, in Luxembourg. This delegation consists of advisers and representatives of industry, trade unions and Governments. At the moment this relationship to the High Authority consists largely of a Joint Committee of representatives of the Coal and Steel Community and the delegation. The work of the Joint Committee is supplemented by close day to day consultation between Sir Cecil Weir and M. Monnet and their two staffs. I have been asked from time to time at Question time from both sides of the House, whether we contemplate any closer relationship with the Coal and Steel Community; whether, for instance, we intend some kind of contractual or treaty relationship with them. The position is that we are awaiting certain proposals which M. Monnet has told us he intends to put before us. I cannot take that matter any further today save to say that we shall, of course, consider M. Monnet's proposals carefully and sympathetically when we receive them; and, of course, they will have to be very carefully considered in collaboration with the fuel and power industries and the other Departments concerned in this country.
With regard to our relations with the European Defence Community, the House is well aware of the undertakings which we have given by treaty and declaration to maintain and uphold the European Defence Community when it comes into existence. A White Paper was published on 27th May of last year, Cmd. Paper No. 8562, giving the exact text of those undertakings. We have also made, since then, certain proposals for military 2316 association which envisage closer co-operation in such matters as training, staff-work, standardisation of equipment and organisation. The House will recall that these proposals were made public last February.
In addition, we have made certain proposals for political association between this country and the European Defence Community. These are still being discussed with the six Governments, and I regret very much that I cannot yet disclose them to the House. But I would like to repeat at any rate, and at least, what I said at the Council of Europe last September, that when that European Defence Community comes into force our partnership will be even closer than the relationship that we have with the Coal and Steel Community.
I should like to turn for a moment to the more recent happenings in the Council of Europe and to say a word about the meeting of the Assembly last month.
§ Mr. A. G. Bottomley (Rochester and Chatham)
The hon. Gentleman will recall that he made the same statement in Strasbourg nearly a month ago. Surely the Government can get more information and give it to the House.
§ Mr. Nutting
I am afraid that I cannot take the matter any further, because it is still being discussed by the six Governments. I cannot determine the speed at which the six Governments will reach agreement upon these proposals, but I do give a solemn undertaking to the House that directly agreement has been reached the proposals will be announced to the House. I thought the House should certainly have that much information—that the partnership would be even closer than that with the Coal and Steel Community.
§ Mr. Alfred Robens (Blyth)
I do not want to interrupt the theme the hon. Gentleman is developing, but if he could expound a little on that it would be very helpful. I cannot understand why there should be a closer association with the European Defence Community on the military side than is possible on the economic side. It seems a strange idea to me and I would be happy if the hon. Gentleman would develop that.
§ Mr. Nutting
If I were to develop this theme I would be in serious danger of giving the whole thing away, but what I 2317 can tell the right hon. Gentleman is this, that with the Coal and Steel Community we have a partnership and a relationship in the technical and also in the Parliamentary field. Without giving anything away, there are other fields and other levels on which a relationship of this kind can take place and it is in those fields that we hope to have a closer relationship with the European Defence Community when it comes into existence.
May I now turn to the discussion in the Council of Europe last month when a general debate in the Assembly took place upon a most wise and forthright report upon the European situation presented by M. Spaak? It is no exaggeration to say that both the debate that ensued and the resolution which the Assembly subsequently passed did a great deal to raise and hearten European morale at an important time and to give renewed impetus to European defence policy. There were, of course, differences of opinion expressed in the Assembly which cut across the boundaries both of nation and of party, but I am told by those with far more experience in these matters than myself that this debate raised the standing of the Assembly, and, indeed, of the Council of Europe, more than any other discussion in the four years of its existence.
Surely it was of the first significance that the parliamentarians of 15 European nations, representing all the democratic parties in those countries, should have endorsed by an overwhelming majority the foreign policy upon which the three Western Powers—Great Britain, the United States, and France—are now embarked, namely, to strive for an early four-Power conference to discuss Germany and Austria, while, at the same time, maintaining the European effort to achieve collective security with the participation of Western Germany.
In conclusion, let me turn to the future. I have said enough to show that the Council of Europe is playing, and can further play, a leading part in preserving and strengthening the unity of Europe. I use the word "Europe" in this connection deliberately since we must all hope that one day its membership may be extended to bring in those European nations which now lie under Soviet bondage. But whatever may be its present or its ultimate position the Council of Europe is bound by its very 2318 nature, and by the nature of its constituent members, to contain both nations and men of divergent views and policies. The important thing is that there should be no divergency of aim. The Council of Europe has it within its own power to prevent this, and to develop that healthy unity in diversity which is its strength. Surely this must be its foremost rule.
Perhaps I may conclude with one sentence from a speech I made in the Assembly last month, when I said:Much better achieve our unity and progress in this way … than to seek to reduce it to the lowest factor of common method and thereby inevitably sacrifice the highest multiple of common aim.The essential thing is that the Council of Europe should be, and should remain, the focal point of European unity and should continue to encourage every real effort which helps to strengthen and to unify the European family.
§ 12.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Alfred Robens (Blyth)
We have all listened with very great attention to the very sincere contribution that the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs has made on this matter of the Council of Europe, and I hope that we shall follow in the same line of constructive criticism, if we have criticisms to make. As he says, we do not regard this as a matter of party controversy, and I am glad that, at least in the two years that I have been privileged to be associated with the Council of Europe, there has been no repetition of the carrying of our squabbles in this House to the Assembly at Strasbourg. I think that that is all to the good.
The Under-Secretary said that the Council of Europe is and will remain the most powerful unifying force in Europe. I am glad of his optimism, but I think he is wrong. I should like to develop that point a little later, because the Council of Europe is dying before his very eyes. The Council of Europe, which started with the great conception of unifying Europe has, by the work that it has not done or has not been allowed to do, caused a situation in which we have seen six nations go their own way.
I believe that as the political authority comes into force, as E.D.C. becomes established, unless we take steps—and the emphasis must be on governmental steps. 2319 because, obviously, it is from Governments that such action must come—to give a very powerful injection into the Council of Europe, we shall see the Council of Europe continue to die. It will never completely die in the sense that it will depart from the scene for all time; it will remain, but it will become only a place where parliamentarians can meet and talk. It is a good thing that parliamentarians from 15 nations can have a place where for three or four weeks they can meet and talk, but it is a much better thing if these parliamentarians from 15 nations can meet and talk and do something.
I have opened my speech by referring to those remarks of the Under-Secretary and expressing ideas which have come to my mind by reason of a very intimate association with the Council over the last two years. It is a long time since we had a debate in this House on the Council of Europe, and we are obliged to the Government for at last providing an opportunity to debate this matter.
At one time the present Government, when they were in opposition, were very vociferous on the necessity for having debates upon the Council of Europe, but when they had it in their power to give us this opportunity they made us wait two years.
The opportunity has come on a Friday, at a time when most Members have gone to their constituencies. I hope there are no observers from the Council of Europe to see what the British Parliament thinks about a debate of this character. It is not in keeping with the very high aspirations that the Under-Secretary indicated.
I was reading some material relating to this subject, and I turned up a speech of the Prime Minister on 11th August, 1950. He said at Strasbourg:For Great Britain I can, however, guarantee that all resolutions of the Assembly will be brought before the House of Commons for discussion on their merits, whether we agree with them or not. For this purpose "—hurriedly recollecting that he was not Prime Minister at that time, he said:we shall use the facilities at the disposal of the official Opposition.Since he has been Prime Minister he has not carried out these noble ideas to which he gave expression at the Council of Europe. However, that is behind us, and it is by the way. What we are 2320 anxious to do is to talk about the Council of Europe, to see what real contribution it can make, to see whether the progress it is making is in the right direction, or, indeed, whether it is making any progress at all.
There is no doubt that the conception of the Council of Europe was a magnificent one, but it works on a sort of two-way traffic. First, there are recommendations which the Council itself may make to the Committee of Ministers. In other words, it can find its own work to do. It can discuss almost anything it likes except defence, although now, I believe, it can discuss even defence, which is very reasonable. It can make recommendations to the Committee of Ministers, and the Committee of Ministers can either consider those recommendations and do nothing about them, or not even consider the recommendations. In other words, we can spend a lot of time at the Council of Europe having very interesting debates, and nothing can come of them unless the Committee of Ministers find the time and the opportunity to go seriously into those recommendations and give its views upon them.
The other traffic is from the Committee of Ministers to the Council of Europe. Here, the Committee of Ministers are supposed to ask the Council of Europe for its opinion on certain matters. In other words, the 15 foreign Ministers say to the parliamentarians of the 15 nations, "What is your opinion about such and such a thing?" and thereupon the Council of Europe discuss and produce an opinion which it would then send to the Committee of Ministers.
But, of course, the Ministers have not asked for many opinions on matters of major importance. It may well be that that is because they have been very busy with other things, but the fact is that the Committee of Ministers has the power to do all that the member Governments are prepared to do, yet the Committee has been almost totally lacking in initiative. So far, in the main, the proposals have not been made by the Committee of Ministers. They have been made by the Consultative Assembly, so that instead of the Assembly being consulted by the Ministers, as was the original intention, the Assembly has consistently had to make recommendations to the Ministers.
2321 In moderation, there is a good deal to be said for that, but it is a bad thing when the traffic is all one way, because what happens is that irresponsibility tends to creep into the Council as a result of the feeling that one can discuss anything one likes and send it along as a recommendation, that it really does not matter because the Ministers will kill it anyway. That is a bad thing, and I hope that the Under-Secretary will take what steps he can to inject a little fire into the veins of those who act sometimes on behalf of the Council of Ministers, who, in the main, are permanent delegates, and make it clear that if this Council is to work at all it really must have something to do and not merely something to talk about.
The Committee of Ministers itself must have come to that conclusion, because it was M. Van Zeeland who reported last May that after four years the Committee of Ministers recognisedthe need for a well-defined programme of work for the Council of Europe, not only in order that it may effectively further the cause of European unity but also that the people of Europe may understand more clearly the rôle which the Council should play.In the third part of the Session, last month, it was reported that the first stage of elaborating such a programme was well on the way to completion. But by the time it is completed we may well find that it is too late. The Consultative Assembly was designed as a deliberative body and a forum of European opinion. It is a useful rôle to play, but I believe that because of the lack of direction from the Council of Ministers it has gone off the rails in two directions.
In the first place—and I say this in order to be genuinely constructive—I think the Consultative Assembly has tried to make up for its lack of power by diffusing its functions. I think it is merely reproducing the sort of committees to do work which is already being done most effectively by international organisations which have been doing this work for many years.
The International Labour Office, for example, is a first-class organisation which has been doing this work with great skill. The Council of Europe—because it had not been channelled into things it could do itself—began to interfere, in a helpful sort of way, in the work of the I.L.O., refugees, and the work 2322 of U.N.O. If one goes through the whole record one sees, time and again, the setting up of committees to do precisely that work which is already being done excellently by other international organisations.
We now have committees with observers from all these other international organisations, with the result that people are absolutely inundated by cascades of papers which they cannot read, and that gives an opportunity to those people with rather queer ideas and one-track minds to chase hares and put down resolutions, instead of getting down to the task for which the Council was designed. The Under-Secretary is quite right when he says that both this Government and the previous one recognised that danger, and that it was added to because the Schuman Plan was being carried out and the six nations had produced the "Little Six" Community. The Eden Plan was designed to prevent "the Six" going on their own and leaving the Council of Europe high and dry.
The only difference between us on this matter is that he believes that the Eden Plan has saved the situation and I, quite honestly, do not. The Eden Plan was received with very great appreciation by all those who listened when it was expounded, but, in practice—and one has to get the feel of this when one is there—there is a tendency on the part of the parliamentarians from the six nations to have less and less regard for the Council, as a Council. That is my personal impression. When the E.D.C. agreement is ratified and the Political Authority is set up I warn the Under-Secretary that that will be the end of the Council of Europe.
I say that for this reason: Here we shall have the six nations with various functions. They have already got steel and coal. They have real authority and they are now using it. When the Political Authority comes into being upon the ratification of the E.D.C. agreement it will have an elected Parliament. I shall not go into details of that structure because it is well known, but it will have an elected Parliament. It will then have transferred to it all the functions of E.D.C. and, instead of national Parliaments dealing with European defence, it will be very largely determined inside 2323 this new Parliament which is to be set up by universal suffrage in the six countries.
Subsequently, there may be a transport federation and an agricultural federation. One can see that if any of us were parliamentarians in any one of those six countries we should devote our energies and attention to our own elected Parliament, with the specific functions of defence, coal, steel, transport and agriculture, or anything else that came to us. We should, of course, go to the Council of Europe every September. We should have three weeks there. It is pleasant to meet parliamentarians from other nations; indeed, it is fascinating, and if one is not careful one can get so drenched with it that one thinks there is nothing more one should do than spend one's life talking with and being entertained by one's friends from other Parliaments.
What will happen then? It will issue a report, and there will be any amount of papers to discuss, but it will not amount to anything in the end.
§ Mr. Nutting
The right hon. Member is rather belittling the part which the Council of Europe will play in the event of a European Political Community coming into fruition. He says it will mean the end of the Council of Europe, but he is ignoring two factors which he should take into account. First, there will still be a need for the nine outside nations—the Scandinavians, ourselves and some others—to have some form of European Parliament and, at the same time, it is specifically written in the draft statute for the Political Community that the Council of Europe shall play a part in the discussions of the Upper House.
§ Mr. Robens
With great respect, I think the hon. Gentleman is optimistic. I always try to look at these matters in a practical sort of way, to put myself in the position of the people of the countries concerned and consider what will be their reactions. Although with the best will in the world, one can write anything one likes into a statute, dealing with con- 2324 sultation and reports being submitted, merely to get together and talk about what someone has done is one thing, but to be in an organisation which is doing something is another thing.
If I may make the analogy, it is of the difference in this country between being the chairman of one's local authority and being a Member of this House. Here, we help to formulate legislation, but the chairman of a local authority is doing a practical job on the spot. That is why so many people prefer to stay in local government than come into this House. They prefer to do the practical day-to-day work.
I say that there is this danger, unless Ministers to whom all this power belongs try to bring this matter back on to the proper track. I may be wrong, but that is how I see the position. I had always hoped that the Eden Plan would not really mean talking in terms of close association and then finding that the close association was not so very good after all. I had always hoped that it would be possible for the six nations to federate in certain matters, but that the Council of Europe itself would remain the Parliament for dealing with those matters.
But if another Parliament is set up, as is proposed by the Political Authority, it is inevitable, whatever is written into a statute, that the Council of Europe, while it will not die in the sense that it will not remain, will, for all practical purposes, cease to exist. I am pleading with the Under-Secretary to think about this matter and try to bring a little realism into the whole situation in Europe; to try to convince the six nations that it would be a good thing to have another go at trying to make the Council the Parliament.
At this moment the Under-Secretary has the greatest opportunity. The Schuman Plan is there. M. Monnet will shortly present proposals to the British Government for close association with it. I do not know what the proposals will be, any more than anyone else, but there is no difficulty about association on the technical and scientific sides, and there will be no difficulty in having parliamentarians in the Upper House of the new political authority. But there will be the greatest possible difficulty in having universal suffrage here to elect people to 2325 their Lower House. It will be an impossibility. The close association cannot be the closest association, but I am perfectly certain that if we can have the Council of Europe as the Parliament there is no reason why we should not be full members of the Schuman Community.
The greatest problem which faced us when we were discussing the question of the Schuman Plan was the original conception of a supranational authority, which had different interpretations to different people. We may take the question of investments. It was assumed—because no details had been worked out—that countries would not be free to direct the investment of their own industry. We had just nationalised the mines of this country. They needed £300 million to £400 million of capital—that is generally agreed—for development. Obviously, no Government could say that the question of investment into coal, which is the basis of British prosperity, should remain outside the absolute authority of the British Government. On that point, therefore, we could not possibly join a supranational authority.
We now find it does not mean that at all. It is only if we want to borrow money that we need the permission of the High Authority, and that is a very different thing indeed. In this country we should never want to borrow money to provide the necessary capital for British mines so that the problem of investment and High Authority control does not arise. The High Authority's control over investment now merely relates to the owner of a mine who wants to borrow money. If he can find the money from his own resources, then he gets on with the investment, but if he wants to borrow money then at that stage the High Authority can say, "We do not think that investment is a good one and we will not give a certificate." The man will not be able to get the money he wants.
A number of objections have been removed because we have learned what the supranational authority is, but I believe that an absolute stumbling block to this very close association would be the political community which is now being set up. Imagine a situation in Europe in which Britain was in the Steel and Coal Community and the Council of Europe, with the 15 nations, was the Parliament of that Community: imagine the 2326 position in which, when E.D.C. is ratified, Britain has this very close association, which I guess might even mean token forces within the European Army—I am not trying to draw the Joint Under-Secretary of State—with, again, the Council of Europe as the Parliament. Britain would regain the leadership on the Continent of Europe which she is now losing.
I therefore suggest that at this moment we have the greatest opportunity, in connection with the discussions which must now take place with M. Monnet, to make the Council of Europe the organisation which was intended at the very beginning, the most powerful unifying force in Europe. It cannot be so unless at this stage, in the negotiations with M. Monnet, we are able to persuade "the Six" not to leave the other nine Powers. They must be prepared to come back some little way along the road which they have travelled and we must be prepared as a nation to play a more practical part in European affairs, with E.D.C. and with the steel and coal community, and to pin our faith in the Council of Europe as the Parliament.
I have said a great deal which I did not originally get up to say, but I was inspired by what the Under-Secretary of State said and my speech is probably a better speech as a result.
§ Mr. Christopher Hollis (Devizes)
The right hon. Gentleman says he did not get up to say what, in fact, he has said. This is most important. Is he then speaking simply for the moment or is he speaking for his party when he throws out these most important suggestions about association with the Schuman Plan?
§ Mr. Robens
When I said I did not get up to develop this theme I meant that it was in my mind, but that I did not intend to develop it in such great detail. At this Box I am representing Her Majesty's Opposition, and if anything I say does not quite tie up with what other people think I must make my peace with them. These are the general lines upon which all those who have been associated with this problem feel and think, in just the same way as when the Under-Secretary of State castigated me at Strasbourg, he discovered a week later that the Margate conference of the Labour Party justified all I have said.
§ Mr. Nutting
On that occasion I was told by another representative of the right hon. Gentleman's party—and a Privy Councillor—that the right hon. Gentleman was speaking personally.
§ Mr. Robens
I told the Under-Secretary of State that myself. He asked me whether I was speaking for myself and I took up the point and said, "In this Assembly, the Council of Europe, we are all speaking for ourselves." I am saying, in point of fact, that that might happen even again, and, therefore, it is probably as well, because of the line which the hon. Gentleman has taken, that I was able to develop this other theme.
I must finish now because many other hon. Members wish to speak. There are one or two things I want to say very quickly. I want to urge upon the Government the consideration of trying to tie in some of these organisations with the Council of Europe. We know that N.A.T.O. and O.E.E.C. have other tasks and that those are their main tasks. We recognise that O.E.E.C. has social and cultural tasks, as has N.A.T.O. Cannot we pull these other tasks into the Council of Europe? Must we have so many bodies and organisations in Europe all tending to run into the same sort of channel? Cannot we get that work done through the machinery of the Council of Europe—that is, outside defence itself, of course.
Cannot the hon. Gentleman persuade his right hon. Friend that it would be a good thing for us to have a European Civil Service in Strasbourg? It is not a good thing, when there is a vacancy for the Secretary-General, that nominations should come from the Council of Ministers without any regard at all to any training which may have taken place within the existing staff of the Council of Europe. I understand full well that when a new organisation is started it is staffed by the various Foreign Offices of the various countries. Sometimes they send their best people and sometimes they do not. We had to put up with this situation in the first years, but if the Council of Europe is to continue we should now be training European civil servants not with loyalty to particular Governments but with loyalty to the idea of a European Civil Service. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will draw to the Secretary of State's attention the recom- 2328 mendations on this matter passed at the last meeting of the Council.
I believe that there is a tremendous amount of goodwill for the Council of Europe. I also believe that there is a lamentable ignorance about the Council of Europe by the mass of the population of this country and of Europe itself. The Government will, therefore, have to take their share in doing a good deal of educational work about this organisation. It will be less confusing if we have fewer organisations. It will be better for all concerned if we can now look at what organisations there are and try to pull in the common services and use the Council of Europe as the central forum for dealing with those common services. Let us try to give the Council of Europe something to do. Let us stop the "little Six" running away on their own and killing the Council of Europe. This is not a party matter. Let us get down to the task jointly of seeing what contributions we can offer towards making the great conception of a united Europe and the Council of Europe a reality.
§ 12.50 p.m.
§ Lord John Hope (Edinburgh, Pentlands)
I strongly suspect that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) will be sent for by his headmaster for a rather unpleasant interview. We shall think of it with a pang of regret. All our affection goes with him as it has always remained with him. Perhaps the best service I can do him is to suggest to him that he puts his sheaf of notes firmly and well into the seat of his trousers.
I think the right hon. Gentleman, whose speech was certainly one of great interest, did a good deal less than justice to the essential function of a Consultative Assembly. This Assembly at Strasbourg is, after all, the only framework, the only place in the moment in which parliamentarians from the United Kingdom and Europe can meet and discuss the joint destiny of their countries. I do not think that it is fair to say of an Assembly of that nature that it is dying before one's eyes. Certainly, if parliamentary debate is death, that is not much of a tribute to those who take part in it. I believe myself that there is great scope for the expansion of parliamentary discussion between the parliamentarians of the 2329 different countries of the world; and I do not confine that suggestion to Europe.
For the general principles on which the Council works I have come to have the highest admiration, and it was really to pay what will be a brief tribute to the Council for its work and for its possibilities that I rose to speak. As far as its record is concerned, I believe that, in spite of disappointments, it has absolutely nothing whatever to be ashamed of. One day the Convention on Human Rights, which has yet to be ratified by one or two nations, will be a document of historic importance. That document cannot be thought of without thinking at the same time of its cradle, which was the Council of Europe.
The last debate that we had there the other day on foreign affairs was a debate of great significance and of very great value. As I saw it, that debate emphasised the sense of realities in Europe and Europe's awareness of the fallacy of neutralism bred by fear. It also, I think, brought into timely focus the warning in the Prime Minister's speech of 11th May—that warning that nothing justified the postponement of the defensive arrangements of the West; that warning which certain commentators and critics have, for various reasons, always been very careful to leave out in any analysis of the Prime Minister's famous speech.
Then there was the most interesting oration of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth in that foreign affairs debate, when he made his rapid if eloquent retreat from the position taken up by his party when in office.
§ Mr. Robens
I am sure the last thing the noble Lord would do would be to attribute wrong motives to me. It is really not true. I have been subjected to a great deal of ill-informed criticism by the Under-Secretary of State, by the Secretary of State and by the Prime Minister, and now by the noble Lord. It is really not true. After all, we were discussing a four-Power conference. My contribution was: What is the basis upon which the four-Power conference might be successful? I have never said I was against E.D.C. I have been most active in doing all that I could to help E.D.C, and if my speech is read as a whole it 2330 will be seen to be an indication of the kind of things to which the Russians might agree and which would lead to the re-unification of Germany. If the noble Lord had looked at my speech in that light, he would not be making the statement he is now.
§ Lord John Hope
The right hon. Gentleman knows I would not willingly misrepresent what he said, but I—and, I think, almost everyone in the Assembly—did read that meaning into his speech, and I thought and still think that that speech as a whole was a heavy blanket upon the ratification of the European Defence Community Treaty; and I thought at the time, although not for one moment did I impugn the right hon. Gentleman's sincerity, neither do I do so now, that perhaps he was, probably unconsciously, influenced by the fact that Margate was nearer to Strasbourg in time than in space. If I am wrong, I am perfectly prepared to say so.
§ Lord John Hope
No, exactly. So much for the record, but I would add about the record that if future debates in the Council are to be of the standard of that debate, then it will become a great debating chamber.
What about the future? My hon. Friend mentioned the view some hon. Members on both side of the House take that as Europe integrates more closely so will the Council of Europe become steadily more useless. I do not believe that. On the contrary, I feel convinced that the necessity and the usefulness of the Council of Europe will increase proportionately as Europe's integration becomes closer.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth was challenged by my hon. Friend, who pointed out to him the intended plan so far as the Senate of the projected European Political Community is concerned. I thought that that was a most timely intervention of my hon. Friend. I would remind the House of the words of the Resolution of the Council of Europe and ask the right hon. Gentleman whether this sounds like death before one's eyes. This Resolution, let the House remember, was accepted by the ad hoc Assembly, that is, the 2331 Assembly of "the Six" who are to put through some sort of Political Community. It reads as follows:As from the date of the establishment of the European Political Community the Assembly of the Council of Europe shall be recognised as consisting of the members of the Senate of the European Political Community and of a corresponding number of representatives of the other member States of the Council who are not members of the Community. The Assembly thus constituted shall be consulted before the implementation of measures proposed by the Community which would affect the interests of other Member States of the Council of Europe.I really think, in view of that, that it is no good for hon. Members to forecast a declining potential value of the Council of Europe. I can see it, indeed, as being a most valuable bridge between "the Nine" and the future community that is to come into being of "the Six."
In conclusion, I would make an appeal and, if I may, issue a warning. My appeal, which will be shared by everyone in this House, is to those who advocate cutting adrift from Europe, getting out of Europe, taking our troops out of Europe, and leaving Europe alone. There are such in this country who are not without their influence upon public affairs. I appeal to those people to think again, and to stop suggesting this nonsense. It is dangerous nonsense. In certain circumstances it is nonsense that some may be very tempted to take up. Surely it is only to those who have learned nothing from history that it could be conceivable that Europe can any longer be left to itself. I believe that neither the events of 1914 nor those of 1939 would have occurred if outside Powers had been tied by treaty to Europe as they now are.
My warning is this. The integration of Europe on whatever lines will, in my humble submission to the House, be no substitute for a constantly developing Atlantic Community. If the United States of America should, over the years, disentangle themselves from those obligations towards Europe into which they have entered with such wisdom and statesmanship, the destruction of the Continent will again become more than a possibility. A United Europe will certainly enhance the prospect of world peace. The confederacy of the Atlantic Powers alone can secure it.
§ 1.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Donald Wade (Huddersfield, West)
I have recently been reading a journal which I found among the papers of my late father which is entitled "The Review of Reviews Annual, 1889", and it has the rather imposing title "The United States of Europe on the eve of the Parliament of Peace." It was written by the late W. T. Stead and consists of a series of articles written by him while visiting the capitals of Europe shortly after the announcement of the Peace Re-script by the Czar of Russia. The Czar had called for a conference to bring about a reduction in armaments and to introduce a new era of peace in Europe and the world.
Mr. Stead, as a journalist, displayed an almost naive optimism as to the prospects of this conference. He hoped that the outcome would be the creation of a United States of Europe. After referring to the possibility of a new Parliament House for a United Europe he concluded one of his articles by saying:And now this far-off, unseen event, toward which the whole Continent has been moving with slow but resistless march, has come within the pale of practical politics.Almost at the time that he was writing the Fashoda incident occurred and for several weeks it looked as if the nations of Europe would be at war. Since 1889 we have had many conferences. We have also had the tragedy of two world wars and have seen the anarchy of unrestrained nationalism.
For centuries men and women have been inspired by the ideal of a United States of Europe, but their hopes have never been fulfilled, except as in so far as unity has been achieved by conquest and by the force imposed by an imperial power. In view of the failures in the past and the difficulties which undoubtedly are created today by the division of Europe into East and West and by the possible further division of Europe into a "Little Europe" and the rest, to which reference has been made, it is easy to be cynical and pessimistic about the possibility of ever achieving a united Europe and about the possibility of a successful future for the Council of Europe.
2333 I can only say that, from my own point of view, after having attended the Consultative Assembly for just under three years I do not believe that such pessimism is justified, so long as Britain is prepared to take a real and active part in the affairs of Europe. It is true that there have been many occasions when Representatives of the Council have felt frustrated and disillusioned. I cannot easily forget the meeting of the Consultative Assembly in the autumn of 1951, when many delegates arrived with very high expectations following the change of Government in Britain and left with their hopes, if not shattered, at any rate unfulfilled. On the other hand, there have been occasions when the debates have reached a very high level, and I think that all those who were present at Strasbourg in September would agree that one of those occasions was the last meeting of the Consultative Assembly. Putting it at its lowest, I think that the Council of Europe has proved to be a valuable and worthwhile experiment.
As stated by the Under-Secretary, the Consultative Assembly is the only international forum of European opinion. There are other reasons why it is a worthwhile experiment. It is more than a conference between people representing Governments; the Representatives represent varying shades of political opinion. It is true they are not yet democratically elected, but they do represent, broadly, the political opinion in the Parliaments of all the 15 countries represented at Strasbourg.
Secondly, the mere fact of meeting together creates a better understanding of the problems of these countries of Western Europe. Those who have been attending the meetings at Strasbourg for more years than I have, all say that they have noticed a difference—the extent to which Representatives have begun to appreciate the problems of each other's countries, including the peculiar problems of Britain in its relationship with Europe. Then again, we have divergencies of views which cut right across territorial boundaries. The differences no longer represent national antagonisms. I think that is all to the good. This may prove to be a most important development in European affairs.
In the main political debate in September, the two outstanding pro- 2334 tagonists—and I hope that I am not being unfair to any British representative—in the political debate were Mr. Spaak and Mr. Rolin. They are both Belgian Socialists. It is true that many of the high hopes of those who took part in the formation of the Council of Europe have not yet been fulfilled, but, on the other hand, the atmosphere in September was most encouraging.
It is true that the Council is still in its infancy and that there is great room for improvement. The Consultative Assembly has no legislative power, but I would not go so far as to say that it never will have legislative power. The fact that it has no legislative power is both its strength and its weakness. It is its weakness, because there is a tendency for the Assembly to become a mere talking shop and its strength because those present are able to get up to express freely their independent point of view without being told by Whips that they are endangering the life of the Government.
I wish the resolutions passed at the Assembly were sent to the individual Governments and were considered by these individual Governments and not considered—if considered at all—only by the Committee of Ministers. Furthermore, because the Assembly has no legislative power I think it is most important that the Committee of Ministers should meet regularly. I, personally, do not think that the functions of the Committee of Ministers can be adequately dealt with by the deputies, with all due respect to the deputies.
Again, I would welcome a closer association between N.A.T.O. and the Council of Europe. I welcome the resolution passed following the report of M. Fens that N.A.T.O. be requested to submit a report on questions of common interest at regular intervals to the Consultative Assembly of the Council of Europe. In N.A.T.O. we have not anything corresponding to the Consultative Assembly.
There is one other suggestion which I put forward entirely on my own responsibility which may be perhaps impracticable. I wish that we could have one day set apart for Questions to Ministers. The Questions would, no doubt, be sent in beforehand, but the Ministers or their deputies would have to be prepared to answer those Questions 2335 and also any supplementaires. It would add to the entertainment value of the meetings of the Consultative Assembly even if it did not achieve any other purpose. I have no doubt that there are many other proposals which could be put forward for improving the procedure at Strasbourg, but they are of minor importance compared with the three great problems which the Council is at the present time facing.
There is the attitude towards Russia, which was discussed in the political debate. Should one proceed with the various steps for the unification of Western Europe, or should one wait to see what are the prospects of a conference with Russia? I believe that the right decision was taken that while no opportunity should be missed for a conference with Russia, there should be no halting in the implementation of the various proposals for increasing the unity of Europe.
There is the problem of the relationship between Britain and "Little Europe," to which reference has been made, and I believe that that is slowly being defined. I wish we could have had a more precise statement from the Under-Secretary on the subject of the relationship with E.D.C., but I appreciate the fact that the discussions are still going on. Following upon that, there is also the great problem of unity in defence, collective security, without which I believe we cannot make a real success of the Council of Europe or the movement for European unity.
All these problems are inextricably bound up, and they involve the question of the part which should be played by post-war Germany in the affairs of Europe. This was touched upon by a number of speakers during the political debate, and I hope I am not out of order in referring to it for a few moments. It is unfortunate, in my view, that at Strasbourg so much attention is paid to political problems and comparatively little to economic problems. Perhaps I ought not to use the word "attention" but should refer to "less concern" being shown about the economic problems. One notices that so often in the attendance at debates.
I am wholeheartedly in favour of taking all possible steps to improve the 2336 economic position of Europe. Perhaps naturally, as a Liberal, I am in favour of the freer flow of trade. I have often used the hackneyed phrase that if goods are not allowed to pass frontiers, armies will. I have come to the conclusion however, after listening to the debates at Strasbourg that we shall not get the requisite attention given to the economic problems until we have solved some of the political ones, particularly those discussed at Strasbourg in September.
I thought that there were three statements of great importance during the political debate. Certainly, they were statements which influenced my own mind on the subject of unity of defence and the position of Germany. There was, first, the statement of M. Mollet, who said:… the French Socialist Party is ready to bear its responsibilities on two conditions … the first is that a political authority with limited functions … but with real powers, shall exercise effective democratic control over the two existing communities; the second is that British association shall be genuine and effective, ceasing to be confined to the role of observer … and becoming instead a real and tangible contract. This we need to ensure a balance of power in Europe and to safeguard the peaceful and democractic character of our institution; and we need it not only for the sake of Europe but for you yourselves, my English friends, and also for Europe as a whole.Secondly, there was the statement by the Under-Secretary of State.
Thirdly, there was an incident which I consider to be important. I refer to the interjection of M. Erler, the German Socialist. During the concluding speech by Mr. Spaak, M. Erler asked if he might interrupt, and, after being given permission by the President to intervene, he said:From what speech of what Member of the Social Democratic Party do you infer that we are in favour of a disarmed and neutral Germany?I believe that is true. I was not very impressed with the argument that Germany should join N.A.T.O. as an alternative to the ratification of E.D.C. I was 2337 not very impressed with the argument that the rearmament of Germany should be postponed for five years or until a conference with Russia had been concluded. The only alternative, as I saw it, was that we should proceed with the creation of E.D.C., and if Britain will take an active part and enter into a close collaboration, then I think that the danger of German domination will be greatly minimised. I do not accept the view of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) that that will involve the death of the Council of Europe or the effectiveness of that body.
- M. SPAAK: Thank you for this interruption—I am only too happy if I am mistaken.
- M. ERLER: Yes, you are.
- M. SPAAK: I am mistaken?
- M. ERLER: Yes.
- M. SPAAK: All the better; that will shorten my speech. Then the only question now is how to rearm Germany. Everything is clear. You agree, Monsieur Erler?
- M. ERLER: Yes."
I have a few more words to say on the subject of Germany, because it appears to me that one has to solve that problem before one gets very much further. No one who thinks for one moment of the horrors of the last two wars can look up the rearmament of the Germans with any enthusiasm, but the issue has to be faced. There is a risk whatever policy we adopt, but the riskiest policy of all is one of drift. For that reason, I hope it will not be long before the French make a decision one way or the other on E.D.C., and I hope that nothing will be done on the part of the British Government to prevent that decision being reached. I hope that we shall not be tempted to be over-cautious, as I fear the present Government and the last Government have been in the past.
A few years ago many Germans, perhaps most Germans, were opposed to the rearmament of their own nation, fearing a rise to power of their military caste, but times have changed and it is clear that today the majority of Germans recognise the need to take part in a policy of collective security and to join E.D.C. If this is denied to them, if the opportunity is missed, then I believe that German nationalism will have its chance. After a delay of five years, it may be too late—the Germans may no longer be willing to join E.D.C.
Much as I dislike the idea of arming Germany, I believe that the arguments in favour of E.D.C. are overwhelming. In the first place, it is not practicable to keep the Germans unarmed indefinitely. In the second place, a rebuff now, when their Government is ready and willing to enter E.D.C. might create a sense of frustration and would play into the 2338 hands of the extreme German nationalists. Thirdly, the existence of an unarmed Western Germany, making no contribution to European defence, would provide no encouragement to Russia to reach a settlement with the Western democracies.
Finally—in my view this is perhaps the most important reason—I regard all national armies as undesirable. If there has to be a German Army, it is far better that it should be part of an integrated European Defence force It is an experiment which, if it succeeds, may prove to be an important step towards the creation of an international police force, which is the only kind of force which should be entrusted with the task of ensuring peace.
I am well aware that we cannot build a united Europe merely on fear of aggression or merely on the unification of defence, but I believe that the problem of unity of defence and mutual security, has to be faced and solved. I believe that when we have if not finally solved these political and defence problems, but at any rate achieved some kind of working arrangement, we shall be able to devote greater attention to the economic problems and the general welfare of Europe; and when the benefits of this have begun to be felt by thousands of men and women in Europe who know little or nothing about the Council of Europe, Strasbourg or international affairs but are worried by ordinary day-to-day economic and social problems, then, subject to one condition, that Britain continues to play a real, active and enthusiastic part in the movement for the unification of Europe, we shall then be entitled without undue optimism to use the words of W. T. Stead:… off, unseen event, toward which the whole Continent has been moving with slow but resistless march, has come within the pale of practical politics …
§ 1.20 p.m.
§ Sir Robert Boothby (Aberdeenshire, East)
This is a very interesting debate, not as fully attended as some of us would have wished, but I think we should reassure our European friends that that is largely due to the fact that it is being held upon a Friday, which is not a popular day for attendance in this House.
It has also been significant on account of a speech of great importance by the 2339 right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens). If he is really representing the views of the Opposition, particularly on the subject of the Coal and Steel Pool, it may have brought about an altogether new situation, and from my point of view a much more encouraging one. I doubt whether he has the full support of his colleagues. But I wish him well in his adventure which will no doubt now take place.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman and with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs that the Council of Europe was a grand idea. We should not forget that it was largely due to British initiative that it came into existence. It was the product of The Hague Congress of 1948. The Protocol was signed only one year later, and the Council met for the first time in August, 1949. Basically, as I have seen it, it has been an attempt to combine effective international action at Government level with democratic consultation at Parliamentary level. It has some notable achievements to its credit.
As my noble Friend the Member for Pentlands (Lord John Hope) said, there is the Convention on Human Rights which it sponsored, and which will live in history. There is also the return of a Federal Germany to the fraternity of the West, which it brought about. There were the concepts of a Coal and Steel Pool, of the closer co-ordination of industrial investment, of the European Army and, last but not least, the Strasbourg Plan, which were all subsequently launched on the Floor of the Assembly; and, as various speakers have said, it has provided an invaluable meeting place for the statesmen and politicians of Europe, a place where we can exchange views and opinions not only in public debate but also in private discussion, which I think is of great importance.
I have hitherto looked upon the Council of Europe as the laboratory of a great experiment in confederation. My hon. Friend asked me what confederation meant. I will give him the dictionary definition: "A permanent union of sovereign states for common external action "—not a bad definition. That is always what I wanted——
§ Sir R. Boothby
Yes, N.A.T.O. is on the same lines. That is all I have ever asked for. I envisaged that the Committee of Ministers should develop gradually into an executive authority for the definition and alignment of collective policies in matters of common concern, and that the Consultative Assembly would become an effective forum of European opinion, with powers of suggestion, criticism and stimulation over the whole field. Indeed, I said as much in the first speech I ever made to the Consultative Assembly in August, 1949. I said I thought that in the Assembly and the Committee of Ministers:We have the instruments with which an organic European Union can be forged.I did not see why we should seek to replace them. I went on:Let us seek only to increase their political powers and their moral authority and to establish a good and correct relationship between them. One day, I hope, we shall find that the Committee has in fact become the Cabinet of Europe, and that this Assembly has in fact become the Parliament of Europe. Then European Union will have been achieved.This speech occasioned no surprise at the time, although it might arouse considerable surprise were it made today, which is an indication of the extent of the deterioration which has since taken place.
In my opinion, the experiment has so far failed. Why? There are many reasons, some of which have already been given in this debate. I should say, first of all, the proliferation of international organisations and the consequent rise of competing international authorities. I have never believed, and I do not believe today, that the future of human political communities, national or international, lies in this nightmare world of initials to which the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs referred. It is practically impossible for anyone who is not an expert, and often for them, to know how to keep pace with all the initials of the international bodies which exist in the modern world. It is inconceivable that a great deal of overlapping and disorganisation and waste does not as a consequence take place. To some extent they "do each other in."
The second reason I think the experiment has failed is because of the interminable arguments between the "functionalists" and the "federalists" which took place, which bored everyone 2341 except themselves, and finally drove the Press away from Strasbourg in a sheer frenzy of boredom for which I cannot blame them.
There is a third reason and that is the indifference, amounting to scarcely veiled hostility, on the part of the Foreign Offices of Europe during the formative stage when they did regard the Council of Europe as a possible—not a very serious—but a possible menace to their own authority in some distant future. I do not exclude either the Quai d'Orsay or our own Foreign Office from this charge. I am not talking about Foreign Secretaries but Foreign Offices. There is quite a difference between the two. Foreign Offices as such are quite powerful, and often act on their own. If they do not choose to encourage you it is wonderful what they can do in the way of putting you off and cramping your style, and generally throwing blankets and buckets of cold water all over the place—as they did to us for a long time.
Lastly, there is, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth and the hon. Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Wade) pointed out, the lamentable failure of the Committee of Ministers to discharge their function over the last five years. After all, they were the executive instrument, and we were only consultative. We did at least try. They never tried. Mr. Van Zeeland came along a year ago and said what a tremendous amount they were going to do, but it has not made the slightest difference. They have not done anything. If they would not consult us, what could we do? They were the people who were supposed to consult us. We were the Consultative Assembly.
One cannot have a Consultative Assembly without it being consulted. If it is not consulted there is no alternative to consulting each other, and that is what we came to do. The Assembly was driven to the really desperate expedient of passing scores of hastily drafted and superficial resolutions, based on inadequate statistical information, to which little or no attention has been paid. No one who has not been a Representative at the Council of Europe can realise the number of resolutions that reach us, most of which have to be bundled through in about an hour and a half at the end of a long and exhausting 2342 session, or the amount of paper we are obliged to read—and not very authoritative paper at that.
It is perhaps an exaggeration to say that the Council of Europe is dead, but I think it is in something like a death agony of frustration from which it will have to be rescued pretty soon if it is to have any hope of survival. For this we have an accountable responsibility. We supported in the Assembly the proposal for the establishment of a Coal and Steel Pool. We launched in the Assembly the proposal for a European Army. And we refused to join in either of the discussions designed to bring them into existence. On the European Army the Prime Minister was unequivocal. He said:Those who serve supreme causes must not consider what they can get but what they can give … We should make a gesture of practical and constructive guidance by declaring ourselves in favour of the immediate creation of a European Army under a unified command, in which we should all bear a worthy and honourable part.The right hon. Gentleman was present when that statement was made. He must also have heard the Minister of Supply say:We have a positive duty to bring through to success the historic project which we ourselves initiated here.The Minister of State for Colonial Affairs said:Let us cast aside all doubts and selfish aims and prepare to make any sacrifice necessary to safeguard our future as Europeans, as democrats and as free men.Finally, the Minister of Housing and Local Government said:I believe that if our German comrades Join with us in a European Army, they must be granted, from the beginning, equally honourable military status.Is it altogether surprising, in the circumstances, that the other nations of Europe had a vague idea that we might perhaps join the European Army? That was certainly the impression formed in my mind at the time. They are now perhaps a little distressed and even disillusioned that we show so few signs of joining in the full sense of the term.
Admittedly, the French made a great mistake in insisting from the outset, both with regard to the Coal and Steel Pool and the European Army, upon the creation of a rigid "supranational" Political Authority. That was where they made 2343 their tremendous blunder. It is a blunder from which they are now desperately trying to extricate themselves. They must have known we should not do that. Nevertheless, I thought then, and I said then, and I think now, and I say now, that we should have taken part in the discussions which led to the formation both of the Coal and Steel Pool and of the European Army.
Of course, that view is completely reinforced by the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth today. If we had gone to those discussions we could have made them take just the form which he says the Iron and Steel Community is now taking, and which he says we could now join.
§ Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas (Lincoln)
I do not think my right hon. Friend said anything like that. He said they had reached a stage at which there could be certain adjustments which would allow us to join.
§ Sir R. Boothby
No. He suggested that we could now join the Coal and Steel Community as a full member.
§ Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)
I listened very carefully to what my right hon. Friend said on this point and, frankly, I was a little doubtful as between the two views which have been put forward, one by the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Sir R. Boothby) and the other by my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas). I asked the right hon. Gentleman what he had said or intended to say. What he intended to say was quite definitely that the Schuman Plan could be made such that we could become members of it.
§ Sir R. Boothby
He did not say that at the time. He said what I have always said. I was right then, and I am right now. Of course the Schuman Plan could have been made something which we could join, if we had taken part, and taken the lead in the discussions, as we should have done.
2344 I do not want to misquote the right hon. Gentleman, but he certainly gave me the impression that he thought that it would be quite easy to make arrangements now, in the light of recent developments, and in the light of the powers given to the Common Assembly, under which we could join the Coal and Steel Pool. That is certainly the impression I got, and I do not think that I have misinterpreted him. He said, and I entirely agree, that the Common Assembly should be part of the Council of Europe, but that of course does not raise any serious issue of principle. He gave me to understand also that it was the view of the Opposition that we could join now. We shall have to find out at some time or other whether or not that is the case. If it is, it will make a big difference.
I want to make one comment to the Joint Under-Secretary about what is known as the Eden Plan and to get him to say something when he replies to the debate. I firmly believe that the coup de grâce will be given to the Council of Europe if we join the Coal and Steel Community, or the E.D.C. Community, as a kind of second-class member, with the right to make speeches and not to vote. That will definitely mean, first, that our position will be somewhat degrading and secondly that the community will be the directing authority and not the Council of Europe.
If the Eden Plan is to be carried out, if it really means anything at all, it means that any political assembly must be found from within and not without the Council of Europe. I agree absolutely with what was said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth when he remarked that if we form these political communities outside the Council of Europe, outside the Consultative Assembly, then they will have the power and we shall have none. That means, sooner or later, the death of the Council of Europe as such, except as a purely academic debating society. I believe that to be absolutely true.
So much for the past. Things have not gone the way I wished them to, as hon. Members are by now painfully aware. But that often happens in public life. It is no good crying over spilt milk. Still less is it any use going on beating your head against a stone wall. 2345 After a time it hurts a lot, and the stone wall does not suffer to any marked extent. I am not going to beat my head against this stone wall any longer. I content myself with the sour observation that between 1945 and 1950 we could have had the leadership of Europe on any terms we liked. We deliberately threw it away, with the approval of an overwhelming majority of both parties in this House. But that does not prevent me from thinking that the historian of the future may take a rather dim view of our performance in this matter. Nevertheless, it is what happened. We could not really make any headway. Both parties had their enthusiasts, but it was too hard a struggle, against too heavy odds.
Meanwhile, the main thing that matters as far as the Council of Europe is concerned is our relationship with the Coal and Steel Community, which now exists, and which is getting on with the job. I was delighted to hear from the Joint Under-Secretary of the negotiations taking place. I am not the least afraid—I agree again with the right hon. Member for Blyth—of the difficulties in "the way of the closest association at Government level. What worries me is the association at parliamentary level, which I want to see inside the Consultative Assembly of the Council of Europe and not with us joining a separate Political Assembly as a kind of second-class member. That really does frighten me. I hope that the Under-Secretary will at least say that the Government will seriously consider this point.
Before I conclude, I should like to say a few words about the future. I beg the House to look more than a fortnight ahead. I agree with the hon. Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Wade) that Germany is the crux of the problem which now confronts us. It is the focal point of the struggle for power between the forces of oriental totalitarian Communism and the forces of Western liberal democracy. I have always thought that our original approach to the Germans after the war was wrong, that we should have made peace with them and at least stopped blowing up their factories before we started asking them to re-arm. That was premature. They did not want to re-arm at that time. I therefore think that the whole approach was mistaken.
2346 However, we now have a completely new situation. Dr. Adenauer is unquestionably the most powerful statesman on the Continent of Europe today. Have we also got a new Germany? I wonder. The Prime Minister spoke with great confidence at Margate about this new Germany, but I do not know that nations or great communities of people necessarily change their characteristics overnight with changing events. I do not think that the German character has greatly changed, with all its merits and all its defects.
I have known Germany pretty well all my life. I knew the Germany of Rathenau. I knew the Germany of Stresemann. They bore little superficial resemblance to the Germany of the Kaiser. The Germany of today still contains the same curious tensions that it has always had. There is immense economic activity and material progress accompanied by a strange political incapacity; social stuffiness and rigidity accompanied by wild romantic idealism. There is the same sense of the ephemeral character of Bonn, as there was of Weimar; the feeling that perhaps nothing firm, nothing lasting, is being built—almost that nothing was worth while. And over all there is the ever-present danger of the black neurosis which in the event gave rise first to Hitler, and then to the Götterdammerung of 1945. All this is in the German make-up; and I think we have to take the Germans as they are, with all their immense qualities and all their potentially dangerous defects, make the best of them, try to do a better job with them than we have been able to do in the past, and not delude ourselves into thinking that they have suddenly become a completely different people, because if we do we shall only get ourselves into a mess.
There is a choice which confronts us today—a choice between a durable peace, negotiated in the near future, and the continuation of the existing truce, because that is all it is. I think that the reunification of Germany is an absolutely essential condition of a durable peace. This would certainly alter the present balance of power in Europe, and that is my main objection to the projected European Political Community, because as soon as we get a change in the German situation, the whole structure will begin 2347 to move, and the balance of power, on which it is based, will be immediately upset. I quite agree that the neutralisation or de-militarisation of Germany is now quite impossible, because we cannot have a power vacuum between the Communist and Western worlds. It is quite out of the question. Even if the Germans had willed it, it would have been undesirable; and now that they do not will it, it is quite impracticable.
I therefore welcomed the initiative of the Prime Minister on 11th May to make another attempt at a solution on the basis of German re-unification. I think we should try; no more and no less; and I think that we are trying. But we may well find—and we must face this—that nobody is yet prepared to run the risk of a re-united, re-armed, unoccupied and sovereign Germany—neither Paris, nor London, nor Moscow. If that is the case, there will be no agreement. I do not know, but it is possible; and then there will be no alternative to a continuation of the existing truce based on the partition of Germany and Europe. Reunification can only be achieved by agreement or by force; and if we can-not get agreement, nobody will advocate the use of force. There will then be no solution to the problem of Germany within a purely European context.
I now want to say a word or two on E.D.C. and the proposed "Little Federation" called E.P.C. We can probably force a reluctant France to ratify the E.D.C. Treaty by the application of relentless pressure by this country and the United States, but would it do very much good? This E.D.C. business has already resulted in a fearful deterioration of Franco-German relations, which were incomparably better two years ago than they are today, due very largely to French fears and exasperation with their own performance, which has been stupid over this "supra-national" stuff, and also the pressure put upon them. My fear is that it would be based upon an awareness not so much of common interests as of mutual suspicions. If the French do not want to co-operate with the Germans, there does not seem to be much point in forcing them, because then it would cease to be co-operation; and, anyhow, E.D.C. would not be capable of defending Western Europe.
2348 As for the plan for a European Political Community, I feel that it has no roots in history or in geography, and that it has been drafted by a set of men with the fever of union in their blood who are exasperated with the failure of the Council of Europe. My fear about this "Little Federation" is that it would further divide an already truncated Continent, and would lead to an intensive struggle for markets between the Continental community and Great Britain, and thus constitute a potential economic threat to this country. It would be dominated from the outset by the Germans, who will remain the most powerful nation, economically, militarily and politically in population and in every other way.
I do not believe that that is what the Germans themselves need or really want, because this "Little Federation" provides them with neither the political scope, the raw materials, the markets nor the outlets for capital investment which they now increasingly require and demand. Last but not least, of course, if the E.P.C. comes into operation as a properly constituted federal political authority running both the E.C.S.C. and the E.D.C. it would certainly be the end of the Council of Europe as such. There is no doubt about that. It would divide Europe into a rigid federation, from which we, the Scandinavians, Greece and Turkey would be excluded, and a Council of Europe which would have no power.
These, then, are my conclusions. If a conference with the Russians cannot be held, or for any reason breaks down, I prefer the N.A.T.O. solution, such as the Prime Minister hinted at in his speech at Margate, because it is no threat to the Council of Europe, and leaves everything open for a further advance on the political and economic fronts at a later stage, when we move into what we hope will be a somewhat easier world. It means, of course, that British and American troops must remain for an indefinite period on the Continent of Europe. Why not? To suppose that either Britain or the United States can stand aside from the defence of Western Europe is the most fantastic of all the prevalent illusions. There is no inherent conflict of interests in Western Europe, the British Commonwealth and the Atlantic Comumnity. On the contrary, we are all in the same boat, and we will 2349 make harbour together in that boat, or not at all.
There is no purely European solution to the problems of defence or of economics in the modern world, and I repeat what I have said before in this House and to the Consultative Assembly and still say and think today, that N.A.T.O. is where the real strength of the free world resides, and the only place where it resides. In defence, it must govern all; and we must develop it on this assumption.
There are some who say, like the hon. Member for Leeds, South-East (Mr. D. Healey), that N.A.T.O. is also the only organisation which could control and contain a revived German army, and there is a great deal to be said for that point of view. In other fields we should seek to expand rather than contract the unities of the free world by forging new political links between Western Europe and the Commonwealth, and closer economic links between the E.P.U. and the Sterling Area. This is what the Strasbourg Plan sought to do, and I would beg the Under-Secretary to give us some assurance that that plan has not been finally and forever put into a pigeon-hole. I think it is a very good plan, because it seeks to achieve a greater measure of economic co-operation between the countries comprising the European Payments Union and the Sterling Area, and, if we are ever to achieve a balanced economy in the free world, that is essential.
When we got to Strasbourg the other day, we were provided with a Foreign Office brief, which was supposed to be confidential: but I shall not be betraying any momentous secrets if I say that, of the 14 projects under consideration, we were advised to vote against 10 and to abstain on another two. On the Strasbourg Plan, there was a negative approach and a rather jejune comment. This is a plan to which a great many intelligent people, including myself, have given a great deal of time and thought, and one about which I do think it was worth the while of the Foreign Office to take a little more trouble. Incidentally, one of the things on which we were advised to abstain from voting concerned visas on passports. The Foreign Office said that other countries might abolish them, but that we could not do it on 2350 security grounds at the present moment. That was the week when Mrs. Maclean walked out, which gave one the impression that our security was perhaps not so hot as all that.
My final words are these. Do not let the Strasbourg Plan fall down, because it contains the germ of a very good idea. I make no more claim for it than that. Do not let the Council of Europe collapse; keep it alive, if only as a debating society. We shall need it one day. It has a bigger potential value, and a much better name than all the initials put together. Meanwhile, let us concentrate on N.A.T.O. It alone is strong enough to maintain the balance of world power; and if it pursues a coherent and collective policy, it may carry us through the present storms into calmer seas.
§ 1.50 p.m.
§ Mr. George Chetwynd (Stockton-on-Tees)
At the last session in Strasbourg the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Sir R. Boothby) said, in an effective speech, that he was making what he called his swan song. I sincerely hope that is not the case, because, if it is, then our debates in Strasbourg will be so much the poorer and the general atmosphere there so much less colourful. After hearing his speech today and his utterances in Strasbourg, I can quite well understand the embarrassment he has caused to his own party and Government over there.
I think that the hon. Gentleman's speech today shows a remarkable measure of agreement on most points with my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens), and I will try to touch on some of those points. This is not the occasion to criticise the content of individual speeches made in Strasbourg, as the noble Lord the Member for Pentlands (Lord John Hope) seemed to do, but I must say that the speech of the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East deserves a prize for doing just that because he gave a pretty good indictment of the speeches made by his colleagues at Strasbourg.
I think that our task today must be to try to assess the value to this country of the Council of Europe, and also what this country can add to the work of the Council. Within the limits of this debate, we must try to see how far the Council 2351 of Europe has achieved its aim as set out in Article I of the Statute:To achieve a greater unity between its members for the purpose of safeguarding and realising the ideals and principles which are their common heritage, and facilitating their economic and social progress.I believe it is right to say that, so far, we have neglected measures to ensure that economic and social progress. I also believe that through economic and social progress we can get greater progress, cohesion and integration in the political sphere. It seems that some of our Continental colleagues work out a wonderful blue-print for co-operation, and then find that it is completely unacceptable to the people concerned.
This organisation at Strasbourg is essentially a compromise organisation between the federalists and those who support inter-governmental action, and all our weaknesses and difficulties, I think, spring more or less from that mutually incompatible approach. Nevertheless, in spite of that—I only came into this at a late stage when all the early arguments and fighting were over—I think it is true to say that the atmosphere at Strasbourg has radically changed within the last few months. There is less pessimism and synicism than there was two or three years ago, and there is much less frustration felt among the representatives than there was at an earlier stage.
It may be that we have surmounted the early difficulties of this Assembly. There seems to be more order and more purpose about its deliberations and less stagnation and stale discussions about constitutions, and so on. There appears to be a great desire to get down to the real problems which face the people of Europe today.
The question we must try to answer is whether the Council of Europe can ever become a real European Parliament. I think that the honest answer to that is, "No." The Council of Europe does not deal, and regrettably so, with the whole of Europe, nor even with a cohesive Europe. The countries represented in the Council of Europe stretch right from Iceland to Turkey, and have no common roots either in history or tradition.
To think of a European Parliament in terms of a Government and Opposition such as we know is clearly impracticable, for, I believe, as far ahead as I can see. 2352 In all these things, if we are to achieve anything worth while, we can go ahead only as fast as public opinion will allow us. There is no climate of opinion for a European Parliament at this stage, and indeed it is difficult to see what could be done to create it.
The other question we must ask ourselves is whether the Council of Europe can ever be more than a "talking shop," and, if it cannot, whether it is worth while continuing it as a "talking shop." I think that during the last session it was clearly proved that it is so worth while. The last session was of a very high quality. It was devoted to some purpose, and, for the first time, its deliberations were of great concern and interest to public opinion as a whole. Whether one agrees with its findings or not, it was something which was alive and vital.
What in all this is Britain's approach today, or what should be her approach? In spite of all the party political fights that go on, I think that the approach of the Labour Party on this matter has always be consistent. We have no desire that the Council of Europe should die of inanition or to see its life blood drained away into the smaller and more purposeful functional bodies. Indeed, the whole of our endeavour has been to build up the Council of Europe to some reality.
We agree that the Council is an essential framework for the general political, social and economic framework of Europe. That is the line which my right hon. Friend took, and the line which the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East has always taken. Our task is to see that. as far as possible, there is no opposition or contradiction between the activities of the six members of the restricted communities and those of the 15 members of the Council of Europe.
It was regrettable to see, owing to the failure of the Council in its early stages, a tendency for certain countries to try to set up an organisation of their own—"Little Europe." Then, I think, people got the idea that they had gone too far, and that unless something was done the other body, the Council of Europe, would die. Because of that reaction there has been a swing back to the building up of the Council of Europe as the essential framework. I hope that swing back will continue and that we shall assist in that development.
2353 It seems clear that the future development and progress of the two organisations depends upon the mutual support which they are able to give to one another. I take as a particular example of this the relationship between the Council of Europe and the European Coal and Steel Community which, after all, is the only one functioning at the present time, and may be for some time to come.
The 10th August marked the first anniversary of the European Coal and Steel Community. The Joint Session of the Consultative Assembly of the Council of Europe and the Common Assembly of the European Coal and Steel Community in June of this year were historic occasions. It marked a real step in the progress of both bodies. For the first time in history members and non-members of the restricted comunities discussed common problems, and indeed domestic economic problems of the six countries, and reached satisfactory agreements.
Nevertheless, we have not yet established what the closer relationship of Britain should be, or will be, to this Community. The Joint Under-Secretary was not quite as forthcoming as he could have been with safety in giving us an idea of this relationship, and I hope that before the afternoon is over he will be able to take that matter a little further.
M. Monnet has made quite clear on what terms he would be prepared to discuss these matters. I will quote from the "Statistical Bulletin," which is a publication of the British Iron and Steel Federation. He says that the basis of discussion that he put forward was:The organisation of a mutual exchange of information on the forecasts and objectives of each in regard to investments, production, supplies and markets.Surely if he can go as far as that it is essential that we should do so. He goes on:The establishment of permanent facilities for consultation on questions which either associated party wishes to raise with the other.That has already taken place, and can be firmly established. He further says:The application in specific fields of rules to be defined by common agreement and by which both parties shall abide; the creation of an international framework permanently assuring concerted action between Great 2354 Britain and the European Coal and Steel Community which the High Authority wishes to make as comprehensive as possible.That is the fundamental part of the matter, and it would solve this question of association. We have no fear of the Community in our home markets, and they need have no fear of our action in their home markets. Nevertheless, there is a wide field where we could possibly clash in third party markets, and the standards and conditions of life and employment of our steel workers and miners could be affected by what is going on within this closed association.
It is important, and of vital interest to us, that we should know what is going on in these matters and that the Europeans should know what we can contribute. It is important to know what investment plans and what plans for production and marketing are being worked out so that we can avoid the fierce kind of cut-throat competition and the dividing up of the world into closed markets for each section. We should also avoid the creation of cartels which so jeopardised our livelihood in the inter-war years. Our basic industries, the men engaged in them, and the country as a whole, have a vital interest in the plans of the Coal and Steel Community of Europe. Another vital interest is the developing of production and prices. There is no inevitable clash, but we must have in mind that there may be a clash unless we take steps to associate ourselves as closely as possible with this organisation.
§ Mr. Nutting
I should like to answer one of the hon. Gentleman's questions. I am sorry he thinks that I was unforthcoming on the question of our relations with the Coal and Steel Community. I wanted to convey to the House that M. Monnet was making further and more far-reaching proposals than those which the hon. Gentleman announced, and it is for that reason that I cannot take the matter any further today, and until we have had those proposals.
§ Mr. Chetwynd
I am grateful to the Joint Under-Secretary for that statement, because it clears up the point. The Minister said that he was prepared to enter into closer association on defence than he was on coal and steel, but it seems to me that M. Monnet is asking for something further. If so, we must 2355 be reaching very much the same kind of organisation and association as we shall reach in the sphere of defence. Frankly, if we get as close an association as we can in coal and steel, the result in the end is bound to be the same as in the case of the Defence Community. In actual fact we shall be working partners without the formal title as such.
As things are, if this organisation is shorn of its federal attributes and of its supra-national character there is no reason why, when we know the kind of line the plan is taking, we should not be in it both in fact and in name. This closer association in Strasbourg with the Coal and Steel Community has borne useful results and I thought that the Joint Session we had was very satisfactory. I hope the time will come soon when the Minister will be able to announce to us what that closer association will be.
We are all a little scared, I think, who have been in the Council of Europe, that the initiative has passed so completely to the German delegation. Whether they are present or absent and they still seem to have all the strings of the place in their hands. The Assembly danced to their pulling of the strings at the last Session, but it is not a very happy situation for us to be in. We have a positive rôle to play so as to prevent that complete domination by German interests.
I should like us to go into the Assembly with that point in our minds and to try to act so as to assure Germany of her future unity. We can assure Russia at the same time that there is no threat against her and we can assure France that she will not be subordinated in any way to German interests. We can do that without splitting Germany irrecoverably into two.
The real distinction between us was shown in the debate in the Council. It is between those who wanted to integrate Western Germany into the West first and then negotiate with Russia, and those who said that Russia would never agree to negotiate if an integrated Germany were already within the West. I agree with those who said that we must make one more effort at negotiation before we finally agreed to integration. I think that is a fair summary of our differences.
We can look with some degree of satisfaction at the progress of the Council of 2356 Europe within the last 12 months, and I think all of us would agree that, as a result of this debate, we shall go on trying to make it work. One of my hon. Friends has said that if the E.D.C. becomes a reality the Council of Europe will be dead. That has been disputed, but that is not quite the question. The question, as I see it, is: If the E.D.C. and the other things become realities, is it worth while going on with the Council of Europe? Would the Scandinavians be interested in the Council when the main body of Europe had been taken from it? Would the Greeks and the Turks have an interest in a body of that kind? Would there be any purpose in carrying on with the Council of Europe in those circumstances? Should we not concentrate more on the Atlantic Community and build up N.A.T.O.?
I am very doubtful whether the E.P.C. in its present shape will take effect. It has to be agreed by the individual Parliaments and then by the people. I think we can leave this question to the future. We ought to make up our minds now that it is not in our interest that the Council should die and that we should use all our efforts to keep it going and keep it strong.
§ 2.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Paul Williams (Sunderland, South)
It is with a certain amount of trepidation that I enter this debate on the Council of Europe as I have never had the privilege of being either an official observer or a Representative. However, I had the privilege of being at the Council of Europe in a very outside capacity and I should like to make some comments. I would follow the hon Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd) only a very short way, and refer to his remarks and his interpretation of the word "Parliament."
If Parliament is to mean a body made up of a Government side and an Opposition then that is not what I, personally, hold should be read into the Council of Europe; but if it is to be a Parliament in the French sense of the word that is perhaps what we are striving to achieve in Europe. I think we can all agree that the Council of Europe is, in fact, an effective sounding board, an effective platform and an effective method of forming European opinion and, as such, should be maintained and supported.
2357 Perhaps from there I may be allowed to make some remarks in a critical vein of what has been achieved in the last two or three years. The one thing, perhaps, that is still looked for in Europe from the United Kingdom is a dynamic, factual and working lead but as I see it that lead, as yet, has not been forthcoming. We have talked about liaison with the European Defence Community, liaison which shall be detailed at some future date. If this liaison is to be a real one which can make the European Defence Community work then perhaps E.D.C. will be part of the solution to the problems of Europe, but it can never be the whole solution.
I believe that there is ready to hand an instrument which has already been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeenshire (Sir R. Boothby)—the Strasbourg Plan. I believe that through a development such as the Strasbourg Plan we can achieve what is needed in Europe, especially in relation to Germany. I would hesitate to use the phrase, "third forces," which is explosive in terms of internal politics here, but perhaps the Strasbourg Plan, leading to a third force in international affairs, might help to ease tensions in the sense of the Prime Minister's speech on 11th May this year.
I believe that in that speech the Prime Minister interpreted more nearly the desires of the Western Nations and of free people in this country and in Europe than have many speeches made in the United States or in Russia. It is not that this point of view is anti-anybody, it is a pro-British and pro-European one and it is a point of view which I believe can win the peace for which we are ail looking.
I should like to refer particularly to the position of Germany in the European community today. It may be that the European Defence Community will be ratified, and should it be ratified it might well be a concession made too late. Those who talk only in the factual language of trades unions will understand me when I say that a concession made too late is no real advance at all. However unfortunate it would be it would now be better to envisage the possibility of the failure of the ratification of the European Defence Community and that we should think in terms of future develop- 2358 ment in relation to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.
Germany has three alternatives before her. First, she might turn eastwards. Presently, she has refused to take that step but German unity is the primary desire of Germans. At the moment she has acknowledged that there is a price too high to pay for that unity and it is the earnest hope of those in the Western nations that she will continue along that line. But should more extreme policies gain favour in Germany that course might well be reviewed.
The second alternative is that Germany should take part in some European community in which, inevitably, she would first become the master and afterwards the leader with all the difficulties and hazards which that would involve. Again, assuming the failure of E.D.C., the third alternative is that she should become a full and active member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. Obviously, there are dangers, difficulties, and immense problems, but should the European Defence Community fail then the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation is the only chance in the military and defensive sense of keeping Germany among the Western nations.
Those who were more active in Strasbourg than I had the fortune to be would probably agree that Germany is in process of becoming, in British absence, the leader of Europe, and automatically, in time, she will acquire the status of being a member of N.A.T.O., even if she is not given full rights. I believe, therefore, that should the European Defence Community fail Germany should be enabled to become a member of N.A.T.O. But that is only in the defensive sense.
Let us look for a few moments at the economic sense. At present Germany is investing capital and capital goods in the countries of the British Commonwealth and Empire. She has surplus energy which, if it is not to run riot in Europe, or in Eastern Europe, must be diverted elsewhere, and the only way is to give her greater incentive elsewhere. However reluctant hon. Members may be to see increasing German capital investment inside the Commonwealth it is taking place now and, in view of the alternative dangers, might well be encouraged so as to help a European solution and to provide the goods, services 2359 and capital which are needed in the Commonwealth and Empire countries as well.
By a siphoning-off of German surplus energy in this way we can encourage Germany to adopt what M. Spaak has called a European solution and in this way can avoid the dangers which we all know to exist as a result of a resurgent Germany. It is, perhaps, only by encouraging Germany into friendship and participation in the development of Western Europe and the overseas territories that we can avoid those dangers which I know are in the minds of hon. Members today.
§ 2.19 p.m.
§ Mr. George Darling (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
The hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. P. Williams) has intrigued me with his suggestion that out of the Council of Europe there might emerge a third force of some kind, with a great influence for peace. It is a very attractive idea, but we must be realistic and must bear in mind that even if such a third force were desirable—and I am not questioning that—it could not be confined to the countries of Western Europe and ourselves. Western Europe has not a viable economy.
That is a problem with which we must concern ourselves and we, and perhaps to some extent France, must continue to look to our Empire and Commonwealth for aid in the planning of our economic development. The idea, however, is attractive and ought to be discussed, because we do not want to see the world continuing to be dominated by a Soviet bloc and the United States. The part which Britain ought to play for peace is not being played because we ourselves have not the power or the authority and not a sufficient number of friends with us at present to give us the leadership which we ought to have.
Whatever mistakes we may have made in the past—and I am not suggesting that we have made a great many mistakes in our attitude to the Council of Europe—what we have to consider now is how, in the circumstances that have arisen since the setting up of the Schuman Coal and Steel Community, the changed atmosphere at Strasbourg, with the development of Germany, we can make the Council of Europe work and become a 2360 far more effective force than it has been. It is quite clear to me, at any rate, from the speeches that have been made here and at Strasbourg, that we are still in a state of confusion about the status and powers and the function of the Council of Europe—as to what they are and what they ought to be.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd) said at one time it was thought that the confusion arose over the conflict between so-called federalists and so-called functionalists. On the one hand, there were those who wanted the Council of Europe to become a sort of European Parliament with some very ill-defined executive functions; on the other hand, there were the so-called functionalists who wanted to give the Council some specific and rather limited tasks to perform in the field of economic and social affairs which, in their performance, did not cut across national sovereignties.
As everyone knows, the Council of Europe spent a lot of time, over a period of two or three years, discussing this conflict of ideas without resolving anything, and now the conflict itself has become confused because the federalists have become functionalists in their support of the Coal and Steel Community and the functionalists do not really know what they want.
It seems to me that the confusion of thoughts and ideas goes very much deeper than the discussions that have taken place on this issue of federalism versus functionalism and always did. I think that confusion arose from two weaknesses in the Council of Europe, the one a weakness in its structure and in its constitution and the other a weakness in its methods of working. The first weakness is the result of the Assembly being far too remote from the Executive which has been provided for it—the Committee of Ministers.
It is true that the Ministers attend the Assembly, and speak there on occasions, but the Committee of Ministers itself, the Ministers, the Governments and the Civil Services that stand behind them, are not in contact with the Council of Europe, and although the Ministers do have to consider the resolutions and decisions of the Assembly they do so, again, rather remotely. They make their Executive decisions far removed from the 2361 atmosphere of the discussions and debates that have taken place at Strasbourg.
There is something quite unreal about this remoteness; it is as though they were two bodies not working together at all, that the Council of Europe is divided in its structure and its constitution, and that makes the Council itself—not only its Assembly but the work of the Executive as well—quite useless and ineffective. The result is that the Assembly itself often becomes dangerously irresponsible, although that does not matter a great deal because nobody is going to take a great deal of notice of the resolutions and decisions that are passed there.
We had got into a situation, when I finished serving as a Representative, when it was quite clear that the Representatives were far more concerned about making gestures than coming to practical responsible decisions on the matters they had to discuss. I think this constitutional weakness is the result, from the beginning, of putting the cart before the horse. We have the Assembly at Strasbourg, but it is, I think, largely ineffective because it has no real contact with the bodies that have been set up in Europe whose task it is to create and foster and administer that international unity of action that is, fortunately, taking place in Europe.
In my view, what should have been done from the beginning was to have set up a permanent body at Government level, representative of all the Governments coming into the Council of Europe and charged with the task of either merging parts of their own Ministries, or of setting up special agencies, that could have carried through the work of co-ordination and of getting united action in all spheres of economic and social activity. I will leave out the political side because that is where, obviously, the Assembly comes in, but economically and socially, co-ordination at Government level is clearly desirable.
The Committee of Ministers is only a small beginning of that unification at Government level which is so very much needed. We need something very much bigger than periodic meetings of the Foreign Ministers of the countries represented there and a body which is much wider in its scope. We have to remember that the work of unifying and co-ordinating economic and social 2362 activity in Europe is being done by bodies outside the Council of Europe which would and should have been set up whether the Council of Europe had existed or not—the Organisation for Economic European Co-ordination, the European Payments Union, the European section of the International Labour Office, and so on—all bodies with useful jobs to do in Europe, but without contact with the Council of Europe, or very indistinct contact and, in some cases, hardly any contact at all at present.
There are many new agencies, too, that have to be created to carry through the practical work of creating unity in Europe in the spheres I have mentioned. There is the problem of transport. Anyone who knows anything at all about transport knows very well there must be co-ordination of Europe's transport services, for the railway lines and roads go beyond frontiers, as also do the rivers and canals. If this European transport system is to work efficiently and well there must be standardisation of rolling stock, pooling of wagons, pooling of locomotives on the railways, coordination of road, rail, canal and river services. Everyone agrees with that.
The Council of Europe spent a long time discussing what sort of body should be set up to achieve this co-ordination and after years of discussion they approved a proposed constitution and an organisation to achieve this transport co-ordination.
At the same time, other people were at work. The transport Ministers of the countries concerned have been meeting and have set up an organisation to achieve this development of European transport in a unified fashion, and whether the Council of Europe had been there or not this job would have been done by the Governments concerned just as it has been done. A new body, to be called the Conference of Transport Ministers, was set up last week and the Council of Europe had nothing to do with it.
That is a situation of which we have to take note. We can get unity of action in Europe only by setting up the bodies that are to do the practical working job. The Council of Europe cannot set them up. It has neither the authority nor the funds to do so. Governments alone can set up these bodies, and Governments 2363 are doing the job. If the Council of Europe is to become effective, the necessary discussions, at Parliamentary level, of what the Governments are doing must take place, and they should take place within the Council of Europe. That is one of the main jobs of the Council of Europe.
I agree with other speakers that it would be a great mistake to set up another European Political Community with rather wide interests but limited in size to do a specific job. What we want to see is the assembly of the Council of Europe become the body that discusses all this unification and work with all the necessary special agencies, and the necessary special agencies should be set up. Many of them are already at work. That is how we should proceed; that is the job we have to do.
If we had that proper machinery for united action in Europe at Government level, in which these agencies of which I have been talking, and other agencies which would have to be set up, would have their place, then the European Assembly that meets to discuss the work of these bodies would become a real and effective force, for it would be the place where European Members of Parliament would meet to discuss with each other in a very practical fashion, just as we discuss the work of Government Departments here, the actual work of European co-operation.
It is true that the Assembly at the present time goes through the motions of discussing the reports of O.E.E.C, but those who have been to Strasbourg know very well that very few members seem to be interested. In my view, their lack of interest arises from the fact that they have come to believe that the Assembly has far more important matters to discuss, in the wide range of high politics that is always being discussed there. In my view, the Assembly is taking upon itself far more than it can deal with. When it gets away from this realm of practical work of developing unified transport, unified social services, unified airline travel, and so on, and into the realm of high politics, its influence upon Governments seems to be quite unreal, and nobody is going to give to the Council of Europe at this stage, at any rate, the task of preparing high policy for the nations that are represented there.
2364 I would urge our Government, and all the Governments in Europe, if they can be persuaded by this very short and inadequate debate, to do much more at Government level to create these working agencies, these practical agencies, for all the economic and social unity that we all want. In doing this, the Government should see that the Council of Europe becomes the body to hold the necessary discussions, debates and examinations of the work that is done. Leaving aside all the other important matters like E.D.C., N.A.T.O. and the European Political Community that have been discussed here, I think these, I hope, practical suggestions ought to be borne in mind.
If I am not out of order, I should like to finish on a personal note with which I think all the Representatives to the Council of Europe will agree. I am no longer a Representative there. I am not quarrelling with that. I think that so long as there is some continuity, it is a good thing to have the memberships of the delegations changing year by year, so that as many Members of this House as possible can join in the work and know what is going on. I want to raise the question of expenses that are paid to the Representatives there. Our Representatives are in the unfortunate position of having the lowest personal out-of-pocket expenses of all the 16 nations that are represented there.
Unless a British Representative is prepared to be considerably out of pocket at the end of his period of duty, he has to live in such a way that he cannot join in the necessary activities, the meetings with other Representatives and the giving and the repaying of hospitality. I think that the British delegation is in a very degrading and humiliating position as a result of this Treasury meanness that is forced upon them.
As I say, I am no longer involved, and, therefore, I can speak freely. It is a matter that ought to be considered, because it is shameful to see the members of the British delegation avoiding hospitality and searching out the poorest and the meanest eating places in which they can go by themselves without taking with them any of their associates in the Assembly. They are afraid to take hospitality because they know they cannot pay it back. I speak freely and strongly about this because, like every other 2365 Representative I have been out of pocket as a result of my service there, and I want this to stop. I hope that the Treasury will take note of what I have said, and I hope other hon. Members will at least support me.
As to the other suggestions which have been made in this debate, I feel that there is some substance in them and I hope that the Government will take note of them.
§ 2.36 p.m.
§ Mr. R. Brooman-White (Rutherglen)
I was interested not only in the latter part of the speech of the hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. G. Darling), but also in the suggestions he made about the general reform and development of the machinery of the Council of Europe to make it more effective. That theme has been taken up, and a number of important suggestions have been made during this debate, by Members with more experience of the affairs of the Council than I have.
I want to limit myself on this occasion to a single and narrow aspect of the question, and that concerns the timing and the emphasis of our own approach, rather than the machinery of the Council in general. There is, however, one point I would make following the hon. Member for Hillsborough, who spoke of the earlier anxiety of Representatives to the Council to make gestures rather than to take responsible decisions, as this has a bearing on the particular issue I want to discuss.
I was myself extremely impressed during the last session, in particular on a couple of occasions when I had an opportunity to attend the Committee on General Affairs when it was drafting the resolution which was finally adopted by the whole Assembly. The members of the Committee were talking "off the record," and without the Press being present. As hon. Members know, a considerable number of the members of that Committee are important politicians in their own countries. They represented not only different nations but different parties. They all wanted to have as substantial and solid a resolution as they could get, and they wanted to be able to vote in support of it and not to abstain.
2366 One found, therefore, a situation where the members of the Committee were exchanging ideas, proposing amendments and suggesting alterations of phraseology to meet one another's difficulties and objections. We had Italian Socialists, French Gauleists, German Right and Left wing representatives, Scandinavians, and so on, working on that practical basis, hearing one another's intimate difficulties and making practical suggestions to try to help one another to achieve an agreed formula. Though it is difficult to measure such things in concrete terms, that seems to me to be very much the substance of diplomacy, and the real material from which not only the climate of European opinion develops, but on which practical action in the diplomatic sphere can be built.
I want to follow some remarks which were made by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Sir R. Boothby), about the attitude to these affairs of the Foreign Office and the successive representatives of British Governments at Strasbourg. I am concerned not so much with the action which we have taken but—accepting it at its lowest—whether in this important field of diplomatic opportunity we have been making the best of our opportunities there. It seems to me that there are many cases where an initiative at Strasbourg may be as valuable as many months' work by many Chanceries in Europe. I do not want to argue about the way in which we might have done different things. I am accepting the fact that the position we have finally reached may have been the best, and that we could not have done otherwise, but I think that the operative word is "finally." My view is that on a very large number of occasions an earlier approach or move might have brought great advantages to us and the nations associated with us in this work.
We have often, perhaps through the necessity for countering extreme federalist demands, given the impression that we were unnecessarily tardy in our approach. That may be a false impression, but all hon. Members would probably agree that that impression was given, and it has had unfortunate effects on our position in Europe. Surely all of us who have spoken at international meetings of any kind and have had to 2367 meet the criticisms from federalists and others have found that we had to explain not only the British position but also to enumerate the very substantial measure of action which Britain has taken in support of international institutions. Such explanation and enumeration carries considerable weight with any continental audience. But the fact that it has almost invariably to be made is surely in itself evidence that what we have done has not been fully appreciated. And the fact that it has not been fully appreciated implies a certain failure in our diplomatic approach. The impression is given—although it may be a false one—that, rather than leading, we are tagging along in the wake of events.
Those are generalisations. May I give one or two specific instances? The Under-Secretary of State mentioned the question of further proposals about a new basis of understanding and partnership with E.D.C. when it is established. It might have been most beneficial to have put those suggestions forward earlier.
The Joint Under-Secretary's announcement on this subject at the Council of Europe was received with great enthusiasm. Going there as a new member of the delegation, one is impressed by the extraordinary enthusiasm with which even quite limited statements of British intentions are accepted by the other delegates, but one also gets the impression that this enthusiastic acceptance really amounts more to congratulating us on concessions we may make to meet other people's ideas and objections than applauding us for initiative. But if the self-same moves had been made earlier, they would have been regarded as British initiative rather than a British concession.
To give another example, I appreciate the Under-Secretary's difficulties in saying more about the Coal and Steel Pool at the present moment, I also share the regrets of many of my hon. Friends that earlier action was not taken to join in the discussions when the pool was being set up during the term of office of the last Government. If that had been done, many difficulties might have been overcome. But I do not want to make party points. The real question is this. We 2368 have now reached the stage where we are waiting for proposals from M. Monnet, but could not we have made proposals to M. Monnet? I hope that his proposals will be acceptable to us, but if they are not, we shall be put into the invidious position of having to object, and giving the appearance of dragging back or being dragged reluctantly forward.
If we had made our proposals instead of waiting for his, it may be that they would not have been found sufficient by the other nations concerned, but we should at least have shown an initiative which would have been appreciated on the diplomatic side, and, on the practical side, we should have been working on our own draft. If one works on one's own draft, it is normally the case that one will get more of one's points of view finally accepted than otherwise. So there might be practical as well as diplomatic advantages in such a cause. I do not, however, underestimate the difficulties of such an approach. These are highly complicated circumstances in which many factors are unknown. It is not easy for permanent officials and Ministers to take the initiative.
Precedents are powerful, and the precedents which were built up during the earlier days of the Council's activities, under the last Government, are, putting them at their mildest, not altogether helpful. Tradition also is extremely powerful in diplomatic matters, and the tradition of British diplomacy has been one of extreme caution, rightly so on many occasions. We know how extremely easy it is, at any official or departmental discussion, to achieve a great effect and great weight by hesitating a bit and joining in later, on the lines of saying: "This matter is rather complicated. It does not seem necessary to take a fixed view now. If we wait a little before committing ourselves things may clarify. Let us bide our time." That is usually the best formula for building up a reputation for having a balanced view and being a levelheaded chap. But is that always right? It may have been right to ride a waiting race, as we usually did in the past when we were sure of having the reserve of power and speed to take the lead when we wanted it. But I am not sure that that applies so readily now. I am not so 2369 confident that if we do not keep in the lead, we can necessarily take it when we wish to.
I can of course see that in matters like putting forward positive proposals for closer association with the Schuman Plan, it is necessary to make extremely difficult calculations in extremely complex circumstances. But surely it is precisely in the ability and courage to make such calculations that the quality of leadership lies. If we are right in priding ourselves on having diplomatic experience, coupled with wisdom and tradition, which may entitle us to leadership in Europe we must prove it by making just such calculations and decisions.
People are naturally reluctant to expose themselves to censure for sins of commission, Ministers and officials may hesitate to "stick out their necks" if they can avoid it. Sins of omission are easier to overlook in the short run, the responsibility for error may be harder to pin down on anybody. But in the long run the effects may possibly be more injurious to the nation.
If we do not give the lead others will. Other people may lead in such a direction that we find ourselves later faced with the choice between dissociating ourselves altogether and remaining on our own, or following a path which is most unpleasant to us. Either of those choices may be considerably more damaging, both to ourselves and to others, than anything that might happen through taking the risk of moving ahead now into territories which are admittedly uncharted, difficult and dangerous, but in which our leadership would be appreciated and welcomed by the nations of Europe.
The Council of Europe is a forum in which Britain is not overshadowed by the great Powers of the East and West. Our voice there is not muffled by overtones from nations with more material weight than ourselves. From what little I have seen I believe that we could have had the leadership of Europe, and I believe that we still can have it now. There is every evidence that British initiative, wherever possible, will be welcomed by the other nations in the Council, and I have the confidence to hope that Her Majesty's Government will give such leadership to the best of their ability.
§ 2.47 p.m.
§ Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)
It is some time since I attended the Council of Europe. When I went to Strasbourg I found it, in some ways, rather a city of dreams, and one of the troubles about dreams is that they are very easily forgotten.
Before I come to other matters I want to say a personal word with which I believe that all who have been to Strasbourg will agree. I read with the deepest regret of the accident which brought about the death of M. Paris, who was a good Frenchman, a good European, and a man whose distinguished and zealous efforts as Secretary-General were certainly of the greatest value to the Council of Europe in its early and particularly difficult stages.
I feel that much has happened to affect the idea and the functions of the Council of Europe since it was originally formed. It was formed not as a result of The Hague Congress, as someone suggested, but by Mr. Ernest Bevin, when he was Foreign Secretary, as part of a concerted campaign to promote unity in Europe not merely between Governments but also, and particularly for this purpose, between the peoples of Europe. In my view, it has certainly made a very valuable contribution in that sense, but it was formed with a limited purpose and the limited purpose was, as far as the Consultative Assembly was concerned, to advise and to be consulted.
It was never intended to have any executive functions at all. It has no financial responsibility and still has no financial responsibility. It is composed of Members of Parliament who go to the seat of the Council of Europe for a necessarily limited period every year and who maintain, all the time, their own full-time responsibilities and functions as members of their national Parliaments. In those circumstances, we cannot do very much with an instrument of that sort. Not only cannot we do very much with it but we have to remember, I suggest, that it is no use the Council itself trying to undertake too much, either. That was the position when it was first formed.
Since then, matters have been complicated by a movement not at all unconnected with it but not, I think, originating in the Council of Europe— 2371 something which I regard as rather parallel to it. That is, a quite definite attempt to federalise—if I may use a rather loose word—certain vital activities among the Western countries, to federalise them within the geographical limits of the six countries who may or may not now succeed in producing the European Political Community, and to federalise them through a number of organisations of which, of course, the Schuman Plan is the only one in active operation.
§ Mr. Mitchison
Yes; so far.
The existence of that movement, the success which it has already achieved in the Schuman Plan and the distinct possibility of further developments on those lines seem to me to put the Council of Europe in a difficulty. It must be connected in some form or another with the Schuman organisation; and what is being connected with the Schuman organisation is the very limited type of body which I described, without, I repeat, full-time members, without any financial responsibilities whatever, originally an advisory and consultative body. This is to be linked with what looks like being a very much more vigorous and certainly more responsible body than the Consultative Assembly of the Council of Europe could ever be.
I do not agree with the views of the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire (Sir R. Boothby), who regarded the ship as sinking. He is always particularly eloquent in a kind of 18th century mourning strain, and I felt that he attained his full heights, or depths, of eloquence on those lines today, but I should be sorry if the ship were to be regarded as sinking. After all, for many years it has not had a flag. It used to borrow a pair of trousers for the purpose from the European Movement, and they were hung all over Strasbourg.
The one definite thing which emerges from the record of its resolutions this year is that at long last it has a flag. I hope that is not for the purpose merely of nailing it to the mast before the ship sinks. It is a blue flag with 15 golden stars on it. That is probably because it cannot deal with money. I should not like to see such a nice emblem as that 2372 used merely for the purpose of making the sinking a somewhat more magnificent process than otherwise it would have been.
Nevertheless, it is no use allowing the Council of Europe to continue on its present lines without some further consideration of what it can do. That consideration must come from the Ministers of the countries concerned. I think an hon. Member also suggested that it must come from the Foreign Offices, but I would not separate them. It is the responsibility of "the Ministers—I will not go into the question of how far they discharge it—to give to the Consultative Assembly what I will rather crudely call "something to chew."
They have not given it very much and they have now attempted, it seems to me, to get out of this responsibility by providing the Consultative Assembly with something quite different—rather longer reports from a number of inter-governmental agencies which, as far as I can judge, do not seem to get the very detailed consideration for which we might hope. It is exceedingly interesting to see that the Council of Europe itself has been considering, among other things, its relations with those inter-governmental organisations.
I shall not go into the question now and I merely say this: it is exceedingly difficult for a body of this kind to put forward more than the most general criticism of reports of this kind unless it has a considerably larger technical staff than the Council of Europe has ever had. Whether it is worth while giving it one is perhaps another question, but I should have thought it was worth while considering rather more technical staffing of the Consultative Assembly as a body than it has ever had. I know it has some. I know that there has been a little increase lately and I also know that it is a difficult matter to discuss at any length in the course of a single afternoon, but I should have thought that was one live approach, if we are to submit this kind of thing to that sort of body.
We then come against another difficulty—and during my own experience, such as it was, of the Consultative Assembly I was continually struck by it—that if the Assembly is to consider, for instance, as it did, in fact, during the past year, questions of the unification of 2373 the social services, and so on, within Western Europe, it has no financial powers at all; it has, as a body, not very much financial experience. That is not a strong point of most members of any Parliament. It also has no technical financial advice. When we have to consider financial matters in this House, or in one of its Committees, we get, and are grateful for, a good deal of financial information and assistance, in the House of course from the Treasury Ministers, and, in the case of Committees, from distinguished officials and others.
There is some unreality in a body of this kind considering the unification, say, of social service benefits without having either financial responsibility or, so far as I can see, financial expertese at its disposal. It is a colossal difficulty because of the sweeping differences between the financial systems and financial administrations of the member countries concerned, and possibly it is the sort of case where, for that reason, one should not expect too much and should be reluctant to ask too much.
It is significant, I think, that in the one field where there is some expert knowledge in the Consultative Assembly there have been some quite definite, if not very large, advances. I would not rate the convention that was reached about the rights of man too highly, but it was a very definite step forward. It had certain effective sanctions attached to it. The only reason the Consultative Assembly was able to discuss and make what, I believe, was a good job of it was that among its members it does contain, as one would expect, a considerable number of lawyers with practical experience. So it has that particular kind of expert in its own Assembly. I notice that it is going on in the same field.
Again, when we come to what has happened over that, one finds, among those resolutions, requests or demands, as hon. Members like, on the Governments concerned to ratify the Convention in question—I think this Government were one of the first, certainly one of the very earliest, to ratify that Convention—and then to extend it in various ways; and one feels that so many of these things, even when they amount to practical propositions to be put through, do not get from all the member countries—perhaps we are better than the average over this 2374 —the practical attention and the support that can put them into practice afterwards.
Then, again, there are demands for funds of various kinds. I find them here in the report in connection with various international organisations, some of which, I should have thought, ought to have made the demands themselves, and may have. It would be interesting to know—I do not know whether the Under-Secretary of State will have time to tell us; probably not, but he could be asked in some other way, no doubt—what has been done by way of giving effect to the requests for further money contributions to various international organisations which were made by the Consultative Assembly in the period of this report. I do not press the hon. Gentleman to do it today, because there are too many of them.
To sum up, here is a body which, so far as I can see, can have only limited functions. It undoubtedly has some quite definite value if only because it is an opportunity for people to understand one another. As a sounding board it may be a great success, but one difficulty has been that people have been more and more reluctant to listen to its soundings. They get little notice in the Press, and though those who are concerned find them fascinating, others do not always hear them.
No doubt it would be better if it were given something a bit more definite to do, and I come back to the conclusion that I believe that the Foreign Ministers of the countries concerned, who are, after all, concerned with the broad advisability of the unity of Europe—though we are all concerned with that—and who must regard this as having some utility, or some potential utility at any rate, for that purpose, ought to consider what could be put before this Consultative Assembly. They ought to confer with those who are engaged in directing its activities, and try to avoid, to put it quite bluntly, some of the excessively vague and rather foolish resolutions that are occasionally put forward without proper consideration, without consideration of what is being done in other spheres, without consideration of the money aspect of the matter at all; and to avoid, on the other hand, the rather silly, trifling things we find side by side with them in 2375 the proceedings of the Consultative Assembly.
I am not for a moment saying that the Consultative Assembly has not produced some most valuable debates and some useful resolutions. But it has not served the real purpose, and I believe that that purpose could be much better served if the Foreign Ministers would pay a little more attention to what was the original idea in the Constitution of this Assembly—that they themselves should give it direction and guidance by putting subjects before it and by trying to indicate matters upon which its opinion would really be valuable to them and to the unity of Europe, which was its original object.
§ 3.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell (Bucks, South)
We have heard an extremely interesting debate on this subject from which, I think it is true to say, considerations of party have been almost entirely absent, and I was therefore sorry that the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison), in his opening remarks, made a statement so inaccurate that I must correct it.
He described the Council of Europe as having been formed by the late Mr. Ernest Bevin. That is rather an extraordinary statement, especially when, as hon. Members know, my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Sir Winston Churchill) had to go against a great deal of opposition in order to get This idea of the Council of Europe accepted. I remember when it was put forward in 1948, and I have here a book, published on behalf of the European Movement, in which it says that in a correspondence with Mr. Churchill in August, 1948, which was a few months before the Council was set up, the then British Prime Minister wrote:I think that this is not the right time for governments to take this major initiative, when their hands are so full already with urgent and difficult problems.In September, 1948, in this House, only a few months before the Council was set up, the then British Foreign Secretary said, according to this book:Only when governments have settled the issues of defence, economic co-operation and the political developments which must follow, might it be possible to establish some kind of European Assembly.They were not very hopeful words.
§ Mr. Mitchison
Of course, as the hon. Gentleman knows, the Council of Europe was set up as a result of a treaty, negotiated and, I think, signed by the then Foreign Minister, and really it is paying almost too high a compliment to the then Foreign Minister to try to filch that from him for the benefit of a right hon. Gentleman who was at the time the Leader of the Opposition.
§ Mr. Bell
Of course, it is undoubtedly true that the treaty was signed by the Foreign Secretary of the time, and I do not want to deny that or to go into this matter any further than to say that it is misleading simply to describe in a sentence the Council of Europe as a body set up by the late Mr. Ernest Bevin and others, when I remember how hard my right hon. Friend had to fight to get general approval for that body. It is said in the same book that, of the five Governments, the only one whose reaction to the proposal for a European Assembly was definitely unfavourable was the Government of Great Britain.
I should like to follow the hon. Members for Hillsborough (Mr. G. Darling) and Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd) in much that they said upon this subject. I believe there are two dominant considerations which we ought to have in our minds today. The first, mentioned by both hon. Members, is the very low state of public interest in this country in the Council of Europe, and, corresponding with it, the deplorable lack of knowledge as to what the Council of Europe is.
It is all very well to say that Britain should take a leading part in the Council of Europe and enter into very wide commitments on the Continent, but I certainly believe that we have to prepare public opinion before we do things like that. In this country, at the moment certainly, public opinion is, first, not well informed about the activities of the Council of Europe, and secondly, because it is not well informed, somewhat mistrustful about what goes on there.
I do not suppose that the attendance in this Chamber this afternoon is accurately symptomatic of the degree of interest in this House in the Council of Europe, or even of the degree of information about it, but, speaking for myself, when I went to Strasbourg as a substitute Representative I learnt an immense amount about the Council of Europe. I frankly admit 2377 now that I did not know much about it before, and I imagine that I was not alone in that state.
It is undoubtedly true, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Sir R. Boothby) said, that the Press have gone away from Strasbourg. I do not know whether they were frightened away, as he said, by the debate between the functionalists and the federalists, but certainly the amount of space devoted in British newspapers to what goes on at Strasbourg is extremely small and, perhaps, the least in all Europe. There is an immense contrast between the amount of space given and the degree of importance attached to the proceedings of the Council of Europe in, say, the German Press and the British Press. I am told by representatives of the British Press that the reason is that there is not sufficient reader interest in the United Kingdom. If that is so, it falls partly upon us as politicians to correct it and partly also upon the Press to educate the public and bring into existence such a reader interest.
A great many people are not quite sure whether the Council of Europe is a kind of super-Parliament or just a kind of European inter-parliamentary union, a debating society which holds an annual conference. It is, of course, nothing of the kind. Here again, I want to follow the hon. Member for Hillsborough. It is not a super-Parliament, and, like him. I do not think it can ever become one, because of the sheer physical and geographical factors which condition it. Equally, it is certainly not a mere debating society. It is sometimes unfairly criticised as a mere "talking shop" which does not do anything.
First of all, it was never conceived of as a place where only, or mainly, the very widest considerations should be canvassed. By the Statute of the Council of Europe, defence is, in fact, a topic excepted from its competence. I must say that that fact would not exactly impinge upon any observer or listener to its proceedings, but nevertheless under the Statute defence is not one of its subjects. Therefore, questions relating to N.A.T.O. and such considerations as that are, strictly speaking, not within its competence.
It is not even fair to look, as some people have done, only at the debates of the Consultative Assembly in its plenary 2378 sessions to see what the Council of Europe is doing. If someone looked at the HANSARD reports of the Sittings of this House they could get a fair idea of what this House was doing. But this House meets for a very large part of the year. The Assembly at Strasbourg, being composed of members of national Parliaments, can meet only for a very short time, at the most two or three times a year. If it is to do a good deal of work it can only do so by a much wider and different use of the committee system from that which prevails in this House. I think it fair to say that one of the most striking things about the Council of Europe is, not what it has not done, but what it has done.
It is an international organisation which has been in existence for about four years. Such organisations are inclined to do nothing—many of them at any rate. This one has done an astonishing amount in four years. I can speak with knowledge only of the part with which I am concerned. I am a member of the Committee on Legal Questions. To mention just a few things which that Committee has done, there is the Convention on Human Rights, which has been referred to. That is not a mere journal declaration of human rights set out in rather high-fangled language, but a Convention of Human Rights, more like a Habeas Corpus Act; not a declaratory preamble, but something which is treated as part of the law of the contracting parties and which contains some quite useful practical provisions.
In the last few weeks the British Government have extended the application of those provisions without reserve to 42 dependent territories for which we are responsible. In the last session the Committee considered an agreement for the peaceful settlement of disputes by arbitration.
A good deal of work goes into a matter like that. The Committee of Ministers has to consider it first. A draft goes to the appropriate committee, and I know that a sub-committee of the Committee on Legal Questions devoted two whole days to the consideration of the draft agreement, clause by clause; and finally, in a revised form it has gone back to the Committee of Ministers, who are considering it this month. I have no doubt that it will be ratified and come into 2379 force in all the 15 countries of the Council of Europe and regulate the arbitration procedure between those countries. That, again, I consider quite a useful contribution.
And, after all, it is a novelty: until now treaties of this kind, or conventions, have always been negotiated between Foreign Offices, Foreign Secretaries, and Ministers. There could be no Parliamentary participation at all, except when they came back for ratification by national Parliaments, and we all know how busy are M.P.s in all countries. They have no time to read through all the draft treaties, and so on, which are laid before them. But at Strasbourg we have actual parliamentary detailed participation in the formulation of these conventions.
The same Committee has considered the assimilation of the private law of each of the member countries, an extremely useful study. It has dealt with the development of international law and the simplification of frontier formalities—a most appropriate matter for parliamentary consideration on the European scale. We all have the feeling, which I think is sometimes only too well justified, that national Governments are rather fond of frontier formalities and need a good deal of parliamentary prodding to get rid of them. At Strasbourg the parliamentary prodding is informed and co-ordinated, and good results can eventually come from it. Some have already come. For example, the West German Federal Government have abolished visas. The British Government have not actually abolished visas for Western Germany, but have at any rate made them free. These are results which have come specifically from Strasbourg.
I know that other hon. Members wish to address the House and I will therefore cut short the list of examples I intended to give from that single committee. Of course, there are many others. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) mentioned refugees as an example of overlapping. With respect to him, I differ. I learned a lot at Strasbourg about the magnitude of the European refugee problem. It is very much bigger than the ordinary person in this country thinks. I know that the United Nations have their Specialised Agency for dealing with refugees, but surely it is 2380 right that these parliamentarians at Strasbourg, to whose constituencies many of these refugees have come, who are living beside them and coming into direct contact with the problem, should have some kind of European parliamentary scope for action on refugees. With respect to the right hon. Gentleman, I do not think that was a good example. That is not overlapping. It is one of the fruitful possibilities of the organisation at Strasbourg.
Strasbourg, with all its defects, fulfils a most valuable function and will continue to fulfil it even if the E.P.C. is ratified. Why should not we have regional organisations in Europe? Must the Council of Europe necessarily be exclusive? Does it mean that there must be no regional groupings, no Specialised Agencies? Why should not the umbrella of the Council of Europe cover and—hateful word, but it does mean something—co-ordinate all those other groupings? I am sure that it can. Strasbourg can give something that none of the other agencies can give—a sense of corporate European loyalty. It can give it because the loyalties are already focused upon it
I was immensely impressed at the last session to hear Dr. Kiesinger, one of the leaders of the Christian Democrat Party in Germany, recall that in 1919 he stood with a group of young Germans on a ridge in the Black Forest and, as they looked across the Rhine at the spire of Strasbourg Cathedral rising in the evening twilight, they vowed that they would regain their lost province. Today, however, he said, a similar group of young Germans would see in the light that bathed Strasbourg Cathedral the symbol of the West standing together strong in unity, and he was sure that a group of French youths standing on the hills of the Vosges would feel the same emotion.
I know that it is easy to use glittering phrases. Another distinguished German from the German Socialist Party said to me, "The British are the only people who come to Strasbourg to push a policy; the others come to talk poetry." It may be true that there is a deep vein of romantic idealism in the Germans, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Sir R. Boothby) said, but we have to give a virtuous and constructive focus to these veins of romantic idealism. We have to harness the feeling that wants to express itself by talking poetry of this 2381 kind. We have to give it a European setting and a purpose if we are to get rid of the causes of war in Europe. That is what Strasbourg does.
Therefore, we should not belittle any of its activities, even the mundane ones. We should not try to focus all the spotlights on the great foreign policy debates and defence discussions. There is a good deal more going on and it is our job to build it up and make sure that in the end success is achieved.
§ 3.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas (Lincoln)
The hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. R. Bell) referred to the romantic idealism of the German delegate Dr. Kiesinger, and previously spoke of the work of the Legal Committee on Legal Questions. Dr. Kiesinger is one of the outstanding constitutional lawyers in Germany, as the hon. Gentleman knows, and I shall have something to say later about the work of the Sub-Committee over which he presides—the Committee on the Extradition Convention. As a member of that Committee, I am naturally interested in its work, and I believe that this subject, like others which concern the Committee on Legal Questions, is one on which some constructive though small progress can be achieved towards the better working together of the European nations.
Throughout this debate as a whole, I think we can say that we have all wanted to save the Council of Europe, and especially the Consultative Assembly Some have believed that it is in great danger, especially the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire (Sir R. Boothby), who said that it was in its death agony. Others have not believed that it is in any great danger. But the reasons for wanting to save the Council have differed. Some have referred to the Assembly as a forum of debate, and have pointed out that nowhere else in the world is there a forum which can discuss the O.E.E.C. reports. as we do every session at Strasbourg.
This debate, incidentally, is nearly monopolised by the Scandinavians and the British, because they appear to be the people most interested in economic matters. Other hon. Members have wanted to save the Council because they regard it as a bridge between "the Six" and "the Nine." Whatever the reasons, we all want to save the Council of 2382 Europe, and, to save it, we want to improve it, and, to that end, have made some criticisms of it.
Most of these criticisms, when analysed, are found to be criticisms, not of the Consultative Assembly, but of the Committee of Ministers. For instance, the criticism that the Consultative Assembly passes recommendations without adequate debate. It is pointed out that the reason why this is done is because the members of the Consultative Assembly feel that it does not really matter what they do, because it will be killed by the Committee of Ministers. The negative attitude of the Committee of Ministers has brought about such irresponsibility as exists in the Assembly at Strasbourg.
I want Her Majesty's Government to set an example to other Governments, and to pay more attention to the constructive work of the Consultative Assembly, which the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South mentioned. I would ask them to give more encouragement to the small but constructive steps which are being taken. For instance, surely the Government can do something to meet the Assembly's recommendation for simplying frontier formalities. I know well from my own experience at the Home Office how difficult our system of aliens control is, because we have a port control, and not control at the place of work. That is a legacy which has been handed down because we live on an island, but surely there is something we can do to meet the recommendations.
Again, on the matter of the Extradition Convention, I feel that the Government should set an example to other Governments and to the Committee of Ministers by implementing such recommendations as may come to them from the Assembly. It is very frustrating to a Representative of the Assembly to find that, after hours of work compromising the differences between national legal systems and traditions, the recommendations are rejected out of hand by a Government merely because they do not fit in with the existing law and procedure of that country. From the very nature of things, a recommendation will often run counter to the laws and procedure of a particular nation.
I was pleased to learn yesterday from an answer to a Written Question that this Government had followed in the tradition of the last Government in doing 2383 all they could to make the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms an effective instrument. This Convention is an outstanding example of the work of the Consultative Assembly. It has been referred to by the hon. Member for Pentlands (Lord John Hope), by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison), and other hon. Members.
I can say what a fine achievement that was because it was done long before I was a member of the Committee on Legal Questions. It owes a great deal to the first chairman, the present Home Secretary. We have been fortunate in the chairmen of that Committee. After the present Home Secretary, came Signor Azara, now Minister of Justice in Italy, and now we have Senator Rolin of Belgium, a great jurist judged by any standard.
There is one small question which, obviously, the Under-Secretary may not be able to answer today, but to which, I hope, he will let me know the answer. One of those quiet, unspectacular works of co-operation which have been going on is the work of the European Patents Office. I read the other day that the Committee of Ministers' experts have invited observers from Spain to come to their deliberations.
I have no ideological objection to discussing patents with representatives of the Spanish Government, but that is the sort of announcement which creates unnecessary suspicion, unless, at the same time, we can read in the hand-out from the Council of Europe that observers from Yugoslavia were also invited. I am not making a big point of that, but I am making a point. I should like to know what happened.
Each of us knows of other unspectacular matters connected with the committees on which we serve. For instance, I was just learning from my hon. Friend, our Deputy Chief Whip, about the work of a committee which was concerned with bringing relief to the victims of last winter's floods in the Netherlands, Belgium and this country. I appeal to the Under-Secretary to make it the policy of Her Majesty's Government to turn, wherever possible, a friendly eye on those 2384 small practical projects which come up to the Committee of Ministers.
I wish to join with other hon. Members in making some suggestions for improving the functioning of the Council of Europe. My right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) referred to the importance of building up a true international Secretariat by giving the outstanding members a chance of rising to the top. What is the position at the moment? All of us know that one of the most outstanding members of the Secretariat at Strasbourg is Dr. Struycken, a Dutchman.
It looks as if Dr. Struycken will never get one of the top jobs at Strasbourg because the great Powers insist that those jobs must be reserved for their own Foreign Office officials. We insist upon it, and the French insist upon it in connection with the post of Secretary-General. They regard that post as the prerogative of the French Foreign Service.
That is no criticism of the ability of the two distinguished gentlemen who have held these posts, Mr. Lincoln and M. Machal. I deplore this practice because it weakens the Secretariat by not attracting into it able men. Able men will not go into an organisation when they know that they have no chance of rising to the top, simply because they are not officials of the Foreign Service of one of the great Powers.
Secondly, we should improve the procedure by which recommendations are sent to the Committee of Ministers. Hon. Members have referred to the large number of these. It is true that there is a considerable number of them. What happens at the end of each session? Ministers' deputies have placed on their table a score or so of recommendations. They are busy men, who are already overworked. Their task would be simplified if the Secretary-General or the Clerk of the Assembly could hand over these recommendations in person and explain, shortly, the background and the discussion which led up to them. This is a simple change in procedure which could be made tomorrow. The hon. Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Wade) referred to our resolution about relations with N.A.T.O. I understand that when it came to transmitting this resolution to N.A.T.O. a senior member of the Secretariat took it in person to Lord 2385 Is may and was able then and there to discuss the background and to clear up a number of points. I want to see that procedure established as a matter of day-to-day procedure at the Council of Europe.
Thirdly, there is the selection of representatives. This is not a difference of machinery. To improve the Consultative Assembly as a sounding board of parliamentary opinion delegations should be truly representative of the parties from which they come. It is most misleading to have Representatives going there merely because they are internationally minded and are interested in foreign affairs. I think that my own party, and probably the British delegation as a whole, is a fair cross-section of opinion in the parties in this House.
Our party Representatives have included a miner, a parson, a trade union official, a doctor and a lawyer, some of whom were interested in foreign affairs and some were not. We sent a true cross-section of our party in this House. Of course, it is not so easy for some other countries which have a language difficulty and can only send people who speak either French or English. That, naturally, tends to narrow down their field of selection to those who have some interest in other countries. I recognise this difficulty.
Fourthly—this point has been touched on by many other hon. Members, but I do not know what the answer is—we have to get into our minds, as Members of this House, the importance of the delegations that go to Strasbourg. It is not as though they were going to an I.P.A. conference or a C.P.A. conference, important as those conferences are. We have to begin by convincing our fellow Members in this House that important work can be done at the Council of Europe. We come to the point that little is known about what we do. How can it be known when we never discuss the work of the Council?
Her Majesty's Government should consider publishing each year a White Paper on the work of the Council of Europe, and it should be followed by a full day's debate, not just four hours on a Friday afternoon every two years. European institutions, international or supranational, have now reached the stage when it is the duty of Her Majesty's Gov- 2386 ernment to provide information and time for debate so as to inform the House and the country as a whole about what has happened.
The hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. R. Bell) referred to the fact that now, when the very important rôle of the Council of Europe is beginning, the Press has left us. I believe I am right in saying that its last session was the first to which neither "The Times" nor the "Manchester Guardian" sent a representative. It is urgent that this House and the general public should think more about our relations with Europe.
We can all remember how, before the war, when there was a thick fog in the Channel a newspaper solemnly announced in its headlines, "Continent Isolated." We all laughed at it at the time. The self-centred conceit of that headline is as out-of-date today as the old conception of Victorian imperialism. The problem of our relationship with Europe is something about which we are the first generation to have to worry.
Our fathers did not worry about it. To them we might be Europeans culturally, but neither politically nor geographically. The Channel was ten times as wide as the Pacific and twice as deep. This is the problem of our generation. It is interesting to note that only two or three hon. Members who have spoken in this debate are over 45 years of age. This is essentially the problem of those of us in the 'thirties and 'forties.
We are the first generation who are not only European culturally but European geographically. All my life the Channel has been no more than a place to swim in in peacetime and a useful tank trap in war. My earliest memories were of an air raid and a bomb landing in London. Politically, we are not yet European. I have always looked across the oceans to the Commonwealth and regarded that as our political destiny. I am sure that that is true of other members of this generation. I confess that with the rise of the new Dominions and the development of the old the idea of the Commonwealth held me increasingly and that it is only in the last year or so that I have begun to question my rejection of European ties.
While we in this House have been discussing Malaya, Korea. Suez and Kenya 2387 and have spent days on end preoccupied, as we were yesterday, with colonial problems, the Germans, the most powerful people in Europe, concentrating on things European, have calmly assumed the leadership of Europe. We cannot ignore these facts. We have not had enough discussion in this House or in the country to be within sight of a solution of how we are to recognise politically that we are now geographically part of Europe.
Where does the answer to our problem lie? I suggest that we start by eliminating the two extremes. The hon. Member for Pentlands referred to the first, the extreme of people who want to sit tight on this little island, basking in the sunshine of satisfaction at our great political genius in creating a new Commonwealth. No one is prouder than I of being a citizen of a great Commonwealth of people of all races scattered throughout the world. I was deeply moved, as were all hon. Members, to sit down at lunch in Westminster Hall where the Queen was the guest of 58 or 60 Legislatures of the British Commonwealth spread all over the world. But we live in Europe and we cannot deny that fact of geography. The hon. Member for Pentlands used the word "nonsense" in describing the views of those who thought we could withdraw entirely from Europe.
§ Mr. de Freitas
That is an extreme which we must reject. On the other extreme, we must reject the idea of a federation of European countries on the lines of a united states of Europe, something like the United States of America.
§ Mr. de Freitas
Because I believe that the glory and genius of Europe lies in its diversity of customs and institutions, of its music and literature, of its painting and even its plumbing. I do not see how all that variety could exist if we abolished our national States. If we did, it might be an interesting continent, but it just would not be Europe. The hon. Member for Huddersfield, West implied that such a European federation would in itself eliminate or lessen the chances of 2388 war. That, I am afraid, is not so. The history of the United States of America does not show that to be the case.
It seems clear to me that our true course lies somewhere between these two extremes. Perhaps—and I see the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire looking at me—"confederation" in some interpretation of the word is the answer. But how many of our hon. Friends in this House have discussed it? How many debates have we had on this? We have not had any. We are still feeling our way towards a solution. It will not be easy, because it will be a revolution in the very basis of our thinking. It has been said often, but I will repeat it, that at the time of the Reformation we broke off completely from the main stream of European thought. For hundreds of years we have turned our back on Europe.
I am not asking now that we should turn our back on North America and the Commonwealth, but I am asking that we should just glance over our shoulder and see what is happening in Europe. We cannot afford to be lost in a trans-oceanic trance. If we do not look now, then when we do look we may find a new model German Europe. By skilful diplomacy and intense hard work, the Germans have gained a political dominance in Europe far more complete and secure than anything the armies of the Kaiser or the armies of Hitler could possibly have achieved.
My last plea to the Government is this. We must look over our shoulder and must do it far more often than one Friday every two years.
§ 3.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Nutting
With the leave of the House, I might briefly reply to some of the most important points made in this debate, and say what a very useful debate Her Majesty's Government consider this to have been. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas) complained that this is the first debate we have had on the Council of Europe. I think he will agree with me that neither Government has entirely clean hands in this matter but, at any rate, we will have the credit of having staged the first debate on the Council of Europe, although I admit—and I give him the point—it has taken us two years to do it.
§ Mr. Nutting
We promised it and we have had it.
A great number of very thoughtful and helpful suggestions have been made in the course of this discussion to which I shall endeavour to reply in this debate, and those I do not reply to I shall consider very carefully. All those who have spoken have clearly been searching their hearts for the answer to the question what the Council of Europe is and what it should be.
Before I turn to that main theme may I answer one or two questions asked of me by the hon. Member for Lincoln. He asked about the invitation to Spain to attend the discussions of the committee of experts on patents. Spain was invited, but not upon a British initiative. Yugoslavia was not invited but, on the other hand, did not evince any interest in coming; had it evinced an interest in coming we should not have opposed it.
The hon. Member also dealt—and this will also interest the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens)—with the question of the Secretary-General and the method of appointment. It may be of some interest and relief to his right hon. Friend to know that we have instructed our permanent representative, one of the Deputies, at the next meeting of the Deputies to accept Resolution 49 passed on this question by the Assembly. For the benefit of those who do not recall it, that Resolution recommended that before a new Secretary-General is appointed the Joint Committee of the Assembly and the Committee of Ministers should be consulted and that no appointment to the Secretariat should be considered the prerogative of any particular Member State.
The hon. Gentleman also mentioned the question of visa formalities, and this was dealt with by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Sir R. Boothby). We are, of course, sympathetic to the general wish that restrictions on the movement of people travelling about the world should be reduced as much as possible. Since 1947 we have made bilateral agreements for the abolition of visas with most Member States of the Council of Europe. The detailed proposals in the Recommendation passed by the Assembly are being studied by 2390 Her Majesty's Government, but for the reasons given by the hon. Member for Lincoln himself, namely, those of security, I cannot hold out any hope that we shall be able to go further.
The hon. Gentleman also mentioned the Convention on Human Rights, which was also mentioned in other speeches. I was very happy to be able to announce to the House, in a Written Answer to an hon. Friend of mine that Her Majesty's Government intend to apply the Convention on Human Rights to 42 territories for whose international relations Her Majesty's Government are responsible. We are informing the Council of Europe to that effect.
If I may turn to the main theme of the debate, I should first like to say a word about the bipartisanship which I think has exuded itself into this debate, just as we have found during my stewardship, at any rate, in the Council of Europe in the last two years. Therefore, I should like to go on record as paying a generous tribute to the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) who has been consistently helpful to me and to the whole British delegation with his support and co-operation. I should like to take this opportunity of saying that.
The right hon. Gentleman was rather gloomy about the future of the Council of Europe. He said it was dying before our eyes. I really do not share that view. I prefer the view expressed by my noble Friend the Member for Pentlands (Lord John Hope) and by the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd). In this connection, it is as well, surely, to remember that the Council of Europe is not an executive body. It is not a Parliament in the sense that this House of Commons is a Parliament. It is a consultative body, and as such its functions are considerably limited. Considering what its functions and powers are, we should take heart in what the Council of Europe has done.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East, who also made a rather gloomy speech on this point, started in fact by listing the achievements of the Council of Europe. The Coal and Steel Community was set up originally on the conception of the Council of Europe; likewise the European Army. West Germany was brought back into the family of the European nations through 2391 the Council of Europe. The Council of Europe launched the idea of a European Political Community. It broached the idea of an Agricultural Community and a Transport Community, and finally the Convention on Human Rights was passed by an overwhelming majority of the Assembly; indeed, I think it was a unanimous vote.
Those are considerable achievements, and I would ask those Members who have been so gloomy about the future of the Council of Europe to take a little heart from its achievements in the past. I fail to see why, simply because there are supra-national bodies coming into existence, it should cease now to have an important rôle to play and be able to play that rôle.
The Committee of Ministers has come in for a special degree of condemnation during the course of this debate, but I thought the right hon. Member for Blyth answered the case. He said that there is this great danger and inevitable difficulty of the Committee of Ministers, duplicating the functions of N.A.T.O. and even the Brussels Treaty organisation which deals now with social and cultural co-operation between the five countries. That is the difficulty. The right hon. Gentleman answered the case himself when he said that the Committee of Ministers has been hampered and frustrated by this very problem of duplication.
Secondly, the Committee of Ministers sometimes consult the Assembly. It is not always the other way round. There was one important initiative, with which I dealt in my opening speech, upon which the Committee of Ministers consulted the Assembly, and that was in connection with the Eden plan. The right hon. Member for Blyth, supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East, said that the European Political Community, when it comes into existence, will spell the doom of the Council of Europe. I do not agree with that, for the reason which I gave when I interrupted the right hon. Gentleman, and my views were subsequently supported by the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees. A European Parliament, in my view, will still be necessary, even when a federal and supra-national community is in existence.
2392 Where does the argument of the right hon. Gentleman lead? If the Federal Community as an entity and an institution spells the doom of the European Consultative Parliament, it leads him inevitably to the argument that we should not have a Federal Community. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East, takes that line, but the right hon. Gentleman cannot, because he was a Member of the Government which supported and underwrote the Washington Declaration, which specifically looked towards and encouraged the European Community, and said to Europe, "Please set up a European Community."
§ Mr. Robens
Surely the whole exercise of the Eden Plan was to bring this within the framework of the Council of Europe?
§ Mr. Nutting
That is precisely the point to which I am coming. To keep himself out of this difficulty the right hon. Gentleman said that if the Council of Europe should become the Parliament of the Coal and Steel Community we could be all members of that Community. That is a very important point. If the right hon. Gentleman is expressing the view of his own party, it is a very significant conversion, and we welcome it, though I, personally, cannot go so far as that.
I suggest that the Council of Europe could not become the Parliament of the Coal and Steel Community because the Council includes the members of the nine countries, and the function of the Parliament of the Coal and Steel Community is to discuss and, if necessary, to pass a vote of censure on or approval of the functions of the High Authority, or to dismiss the High Authority. With nine Member States who are not members of the Coal and Steel Community, the Council of Europe could not take upon themselves that function.
The right hon. Gentleman said that the only difficulty lying in the way of Great Britain joining the Coal and Steel Community was the question of the High Authority's control of investment, and he dismissed that as being not a real problem. But the powers over investment are only part of the High Authority's total powers. In addition, they can control production and distribution in times of shortage, and full membership would be entirely inconsistent with the present structure of our own coal 2393 and steel industry. They can also fix maximum and minimum prices, and they have considerable power over the policies of the Member States.
§ Mr. Robens
In the negotiations steps could be taken to bring together the differing views of the Community and ourselves, in order to make it possible for us to join as full members and exercise leadership.
§ Mr. Nutting
It is a little late for the right hon. Gentleman to say that, and for the Opposition to talk about our joining the Coal and Steel Community. They turned down the French Government's invitation before the form of the Coal and Steel Community had ever been worked out. If they did not like the principle, why did they not take part at least in the drafting discussions, in order to find out what sort of form this would ultimately take, as we, when in opposition, suggested? The right hon. Gentleman's Government were not very far-sighted.
I want to refer very briefly to the question of the Strasbourg Plan, raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East. I can assure him that it is not permanently pigeon-holed, but is being studied by O.E.E.C. One of the difficulties about the Committee of Ministers is that there is no body of experts which it can consult to consider such a thing as the Strasbourg Plan, without reference to such bodies as O.E.E.C. When their study is sent forward we shall give it our full and expert study.
§ It being Four o'Clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed. "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. T. G. D. Galbraith.]