HC Deb 21 December 1954 vol 535 cc2606-8
The Minister of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Anthony Nutting)

Mr. Speaker, with your permission and that of the House, I would like to make a statement.

My right hon. Friend is laying before the House today as a White Paper the text of an Agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Coal and Steel Community, which was signed this morning 'between Her Majesty's Government on the one hand and the Governments of the States members of the Community and the High Authority of the Community on the other.

This Agreement establishes a Standing Council of Association composed of four representatives of the United Kingdom Government of whom at least one will, whenever possible, be a member of the Government, and four representatives of the High Authority of whom at least three will, whenever possible, be members of the High Authority. In view of the powers and responsibilities which have been conferred by law upon the National Coal Board and the Iron and Steel Board, the representatives of the United Kingdom Government on the Council of Association will include one member of each of these Boards.

The function of the Council of Association will be to provide means for continuous consultation in regard to matters of mutual interest relating to coal and steel. It will also provide for appropriate consultation, in regard to the coordination of action, to deal with these matters consistent with the international obligations of the parties concerned.

The Council of Association will also examine restrictions and other factors affecting normal trade in coal and steel between the two areas, with a view to making such proposals for their reduction or elimination as may be agreed for the mutual benefit of the United Kingdom and the Community.

The Agreement also provides for special meetings in which the United Kingdom Government will meet with the Council of Ministers of the Community. The High Authority will participate in these meetings.

Due regard will be paid to the interests of consumers as well as of producers of coal and steel, to the interest of third countries and to the special relationship between the United Kingdom and other members of the Commonwealth. The Agreement will remain in force for the duration of the Treaty setting up the Community.

I trust that this new arrangement will help to promote a growing association between the United Kingdom and the European Coal and Steel Community which will contribute to our common prosperity as well as to the unity of Europe.

Mr. Robens

I should like to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on being on less explosive ground with this statement than with the one on Formosa in another country. As he knows, we on this side of the House are not in favour of a supranational authority, but are very much in favour of close discussions with the High Authority of the Coal and Steel Community. I should like to ask the hon. Gentleman whether, in the inclusion of a member of the Coal Board and of the Iron and Steel Board, trade union interests in both these industries will be taken closely into consultation?

As we have not yet had a copy of the White Paper and not had the time to study the question, will the right hon. Gentleman ask the Leader of the House whether we might have a short debate, when we come back after the Recess, not only on this matter, but perhaps, also, on the whole question of the Council of Europe?

Mr. Nutting

On the last question, I will consult my right hon. Friend as the right hon. Member suggests. The Agreement will be subject to ratification in the course of normal constitutional procedure. As to the trade unions, the answer is "Yes." They will be consulted throughout in the future, as they have been in the past, in the drawing up of this Treaty.

Mr. Smithers

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us are delighted with this Agreement in view of the fact that it should help not merely to promote stable conditions in the industries but also to assist in the maintenance of employment should those industries run into difficulties? Is he aware that some of us also hope that the Community will get on with the job of integrating the industries on the Continent for which, primarily, it was set up?

Mr. J. Hynd

Does the right hon. Gentleman really think he is making the maximum contribution to encouraging the unity of Europe by requiring the setting up of additional machinery and additional meetings to suit the specially privileged position of this country? Would it not be better, and a greater encouragement to Europe, if we were to accept full membership along with the other countries?

Mr. Nutting

I think the hon. Member holds a minority view on that question. I consider that this will be a signal contribution to the unity of Europe.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

May we take it that as a result of this Agreement the coal and steel industries of this country are not now stopped from taking decisions as to production and other matters which formerly they were free to take?

Mr. Nutting

No, Sir, I think that when my noble Friend reads the Agreement any fears he has on that question will be set at rest.

Mr. Wade

In view of the reference which the Minister has made to the interests of consumers, can he say whether one of the four persons appointed by the United Kingdom Government will be a representative of the consumers?

Mr. Nutting

I cannot say that for certain. As I said in my statement, one will, whenever possible, be a member of the Government, and two on the Council of Association will be representatives of the two Boards concerned. Who the fourth will be has not yet been decided.