§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. R. Allan.]
§ 7.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Alfred Robens (Blyth)
It is perhaps particularly appropriate that, after the debate which has just concluded, we should turn our minds to the affairs of the Council of Europe at Strasbourg. We shall do this for the remainder of our Parliamentary day. While it will be a brief debate of three hours, I have no doubt that contributions will be made which will show that the time which Parliament has decided to devote to the Council of Europe is worth while.
I hope to set a commendable example of brevity in order that many of my Parliamentary colleagues on both sides of the House may be able to make a contribution. Therefore, I do not propose to wander over the whole scene, but rather to concentrate upon what I consider to be matters to which the House should give some attention. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, who is speaking for the Government, will take note of the matters I shall raise and will convey them to the Minister of State or the Foreign Secretary, who is a member of the Committee of Ministers, because, unlike the debate which has just concluded, we have now entered a field in which we have responsibility, and the Foreign Secretary for the time being represents the British Government on the Committee of Ministers at Strasbourg. That is a powerful body, and it is therefore up to him to convey to his Ministerial Council the views of this House on relevant matters.
If, in all the European Parliaments of the 15 nations making up the Council of Europe, we can have debates of which their Foreign Secretaries, or their deputies who act at the Committee of Ministers, take note; and if they convey the feelings of their respective Houses of Parliament to the Committee of Ministers and thereafter down to the Council of Europe at Strasbourg, we shall then begin to link this European Parliament in a way which can be beneficial to all concerned.
I remember that when we debated this subject on a previous occasion I said 950 there was a great danger that the Council of Europe would die. I believe that was true then and I now believe that, as a result of a good deal of work which has been done in the last few years, the Council of Europe can live in a much more vital way than it has been living in the past. But much requires to be done, and I propose to say one or two things which I hope the Joint Under-Secretary of State will note and perhaps consider with a view to referring them to the Committee of Ministers when he or his colleagues are at their next meeting.
First, I start by saying that this European parliamentary forum is here to stay. It is worth while as a parliamentary forum. It can exist purely as a forum, or it can be something which does things. Just as in the previous debate we showed that a parliament need not be a legislative machine in order to be effective, so it may well be the case that, if we find work for the Council of Europe to do, whilst it will not have legislative powers it can nevertheless be of enormous influence with the Committee of Ministers and in that way influence the life of Europe.
In saying that it must be given something to do, I ought to add very quickly that it should be given something of its own to do. It has seemed to me that one of the weaknesses of the Council of Europe is that it has had to look around at what other international organisations have been doing and decide that it can play a part. I do not take the view that if two international organisations are studying the same problem it is necessarily wasteful or needless duplication or overlapping. It may be that the two bodies are approaching the same problem from different angles and that the discussions may be complementary. Nevertheless, I am bound to say that, in looking into this matter more closely, I have found a state of affairs which I cannot believe is satisfactory.
I have drawn up a few examples of what I regard as overlapping in terms of work. First, there is the question of refugees and manpower. Who is dealing with that in the international field? There is the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, there is the European Organisation on Manpower, there is the International Labour Office, there is the O.E.E.C. and there is the Council of 951 Europe. I cannot believe that five organisations can be effectively dealing with refugees and manpower without some duplication and some waste.
We turn to social security and we find that the International Labour Office, the Brussels Treaty Organisation and the Council of Europe are all dealing with it. We talk of the employment of the older worker, and the International Labour Office and the Council of Europe are both discussing it. We talk of the equalisation of social charges, and the International Labour Office and the Council of Europe are discussing it. When we come to the development of the undeveloped areas in Southern Europe, we find, if I may now lapse into initials, having given the full titles, that dealing with the matter are the E.C.E., the O.E.E.C. and the Council of Europe. If we talk of the problem of full employment, we find that the United Nations Economic and Social Council is dealing with the matter and so is the Council of Europe.
If we turn to economic development of overseas territories, we find that both O.E.E.C. and the Council of Europe are dealing with that matter. If we turn to the reduction of tariffs, we find both G.A.T.T. and the Council of Europe; if we turn to international cartels, we find the United Nations Economic and Social Council and the Council of Europe; if we turn to co-operation in the field of public health, we find the World Health Organisation and the Council of Europe; if we turn to European agriculture, we find the F.A.O. and the Conference of Ministers of Agriculture as well as the Council of Europe; if we turn to Statelessness and multiple nationality, we find the United Nations and the Council of Europe, and if we turn to problems of authors and ancillary rights in relation to television, we find the Berne Bureau, U.N.E.S.C.O., the I.L.O. and the Council of Europe.
I could give the House some more examples, but that would be tedious repetition. I think I have given sufficient details of important matters to show that there are too many organisations dealing with them to warrant the opinion that they are being dealt with without waste and inefficiency. I make no criticism of any single one of the organisations. As I have said, a problem can be approached from two or three different angles and 952 subsequent discussions and inquiries can be complementary, but I can hardly believe that in the list I have given that is so in every case. Therefore, I plead for some inquiry by the Committee of Ministers into the question of what I will term, for want of a better word, overlapping. I hope that, arising from a discussion by the Committee of Ministers, they might consider asking the Assembly of the Council of Europe for an opinion on the matter.
I take the view that the Council of Europe has been justified because it has been a parliamentary forum for very many important matters which must have been of very great benefit to Foreign Secretaries of the various nations when coming to conclusions. There is a very different atmosphere at Strasbourg away from our own internal political strife. One can look at a world or European problem in a quite different atmosphere. I am certain that speeches made there, because of the absence of the sort of party political strife which animates our life from time to time in this House, must have been of great benefit to Ministers who have to form opinions and come to conclusions on many weighty matters.
Therefore, I hope that it may be possible to make the Council of Europe a parliamentary forum for many of the European and international organisations which at the moment have no parliamentary forum. The Council of Europe has been able to develop this political forum idea. For example, the O.E.E.C. produces an annual report which is debated at Strasbourg. I am not sure that it is ideal once a year to debate an annual report. At one time I felt that when our industries were publicly-owned we would bring the searchlight of public opinion on their operations by a discussion of their annual reports in this House. Our experience has not been quite like that. We discuss the reports many months after they have been published. I do not think that has been the most effective way of turning the searchlight of public opinion on the operations of the boards.
I do not believe that merely to have the annual report of O.E.E.C. or of other organisations discussed at Strasbourg is the sort of parliamentary opinion we want. I would very much prefer that from time to time there should be interim reports dealing with specific matters 953 rather than an annual report dealing with the whole area of a subject. The Council of Ministers should be able to say to the Assembly from time to time, "Please discuss this specific matter"—whether it is an economic matter, a social matter, or a cultural matter—"We would like the opinion of parliamentarians on it before, as Foreign Secretaries, we make up our minds which way our respective countries ought to go."
I hope it will be possible to enable the Council of Europe to do things which could be effective and useful by making it a parliamentary forum for all the organisations which have been set up, particularly those set up since the war. If we do that we shall get a very happy compromise between the functional approach and the federal approach—the intergovernmental as against the federal approach.
Over the last three years, when I have been privileged to be one of the representatives of this House at the Consultative Assembly at Strasbourg, I have noticed how the atmosphere has changed, how the hard bickering between the functionalists and the federalists has disappeared. There is a more human approach to a problem as a problem and we are less concerned as to the kind of approach we should make. I think that is because those of us who have a functional approach to problems have seen the value of this parliamentary forum in Europe and the federalists have recognised that perhaps the parliamentary forum, outside their own communities, is as far as they can get in the direction in which they want to travel. We can make this work; we can make the Council of Europe a parliamentary forum which can influence Foreign Secretaries, which can influence Ministers and influence governments. In that way we can achieve integration in the political sense without federation and without subordinating any of our national parliamentary rights.
I believe that now we have a very good opportunity in which to start this operation. The good opportunity will present itself when finally the Paris Nine-Power Treaty has been ratified and the new Western European Union comes into operation. Here the Council of Europe has made one of the most sensible proposals that could possibly have been conceived. I hope the Committee of Ministers 954 will look at the proposal and find it acceptable. It has been said that we should not set up a separate parliament to deal with Western European Union as contained within the Agreement, but should see how far we can make the present Council of Europe fit the new situation. I do not propose to go into details of how that has been done; suffice it to say that it has been achieved.
We can use the Council of Europe—in a restricted way, I agree—as the parliamentary forum for Western European Union when it comes into operation. 1 regard that as a very useful piece of work, and I hope the Committee of Ministers will look favourably upon the decision arrived at in Strasbourg and that if and when W.E.U. comes into operation we shall begin to see the Council of Europe doing a job for itself, not merely having to be ancillary to many other organisations.
There is a third point I want to make to the hon. Gentleman. Again I do not want to be unfair, and I think we are extremely well served in many of the international organisations. Therefore, I will put it no higher than this, that there is a feeling that very often a number of public servants of various nationalities find this work in international organisations because their Civil Service chiefs at home feel that they are better without their services in their own departments. That is quite wrong. An international civil servant should be selected because of his ability, for so much depends on the efficiency of the work, guidance and advice which he and his fellows can give.
I hope, therefore, that the Council of Ministers will give very serious consideration to the development of an international secretariat for Strasbourg based not solely upon each nation demanding so many employees but upon the capacity of the men to do the job, whatever it may be. That means that there should be introduced a kind of civil service entrance examination similar to that which we have in this country.
I know there is an arrangement by which there is a balance struck for the Secretariat between the nationalities of the people working at Strasbourg. I suppose that must in one way or another be continued, but my own personal opinion is that I do not care what is the nationality of a man who is occupying a position. 955 What I do demand is that he be the most efficient man to do the job. Let us have an international secretariat of real excellence and efficiency. Let us have the best that we can get, and let us appeal to civil servants and those coming from universities, particularly the people who believe in international organisations, to offer themselves for this work so that we shall have individuals who are doing this as a professional piece of work because they happen to believe in this sort of organisation.
I could name offhand a number of people at Strasbourg who are there not because of the rewards they receive, but because they believe in a united Europe, because they believe in Strasbourg and are prepared to work there very often under less beneficial conditions and for smaller financial rewards than they would get elsewhere. But that is the kind of job they want to do. So I hope that Ministers will give consideration to the idea of building up an international civil service for which there is entrance examination with recruitment to the staff based upon ability.
The last thing I want to mention is this. I am inclined to think, because of the very large variety of organisations now dealing with similar or related matters, that we are spreading our European experts very thinly. I make no greater request than this, that it should be looked at as to whether or not there should not be organised at Strasbourg an international secretariat which would be capable of doing the work of other international organisations.
Most of the international organisations will require some staff of their own who are experts in a particular field, but there must be amongst all these international organisations, including the Council of Europe, a large number of people giving a common service. I do not know why it is necessary in that case to have groups of people all over Europe doing work that could be done at one place within a single common secretariat.
I do not know the answer to this. All I say is that there is obviously a problem, that we are spreading our experts in these international fields rather thinly, and that there surely is a case for an examination of the idea whether there is not an opportunity to build up an international 956 secretariat that could serve the existing international organisations in part or in whole, and also new organisations as they come into existence.
The Western European idea is an indication that that can be done because, with the exception of a few experts, I think it will be found that the secretariat at Strasbourg will be able to do the bulk of the work of W.E.U. If that is the case, we could concentrate in one place the best and most expert people among international civil servants so that their services would be available to a number of organisations. We should no longer be spreading our most expert international people, and I think that that would be to the great benefit of all these organisations.
Those are some of the things to which I hope the hon. Gentleman will give consideration. It is not a question today of arguing whether Strasbourg is good or bad. We have there this parliamentary forum. It is working better now than when I first went there. I think it can do a good deal more. It can be made more efficient, and I believe that we should now be turning our thoughts to constructive proposals for making it more efficient in creating greater unity amongst the European peoples.
§ 7.26 p.m.
§ Mr. John Maclay (Renfrew, West)
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) has made a second speech today with almost every word of which I am in entire agreement. He has made two admirable contributions to the subjects we have been debating today, and, in fact, his second speech has made it unnecessary for me to address the House for very long. I had also prepared a formidable list of organisations which were linked up with Strasbourg, and I have drawn much the same conclusions as the right hon. Gentleman has on the subject of overlapping.
Before I come to that point, however, I should like to deal with something which is more fundamental. I have been privileged to attend the Council of Europe, at Strasbourg, only during the last twelve months. When I first went there it was with the same attitude to the Council as most people in this country who have heard of it normally have. I say "who have heard of it" with some deliberation. There is no doubt that the work of the Council of Europe is not a great public issue in this country. If one 957 talks about it in one's constituency there are not many people who understand what one is talking about. We cannot quickly cure that, but I would mention that every time I have spoken at universities or to young people on the subject they are interested. That is what really matters, because it is the European idea, the idea of sensible co-operation, which is important above all to future generations.
Now that the supranational issue of E.D.C. is out of the way, whatever one may have felt about it in the past—and I was a supporter of it—there is no doubt that some fears have been removed. Young people can be persuaded to take a great interest in this work and the time will come when, through their own efforts or through various organisations which are doing constructive work for European union, they will take an active part.
Now I come to what was my approach when I first went to Strasbourg. I thought that the Council of Europe was probably another useful organisation which had not much real effect on international life. I expected to find a group of people meeting and talking at the Council and its main value to consist of the personal contacts made outside the Assembly, and even outside committee, in the lobbies and tea rooms or wherever one goes in Strasbourg and meets people.
That I found to be true but, along with everybody else who has taken part in the detailed committee work and the detailed debates of the Consultative Assembly, I found that its importance was much greater. The Council is undoubtedly filling a gap in Europe. It is meeting the desire, above all, since the war, to cease thinking exclusively nationally and to find some meeting point of ideas which, while preserving nationality, can reflect the bigger thought of Europe—above all, of free Europe.
This takes expression in several different ways. In the Assembly debates national attitudes are brought out strongly. But even in this last year one began to see national attitudes merging slightly with multi-national points of view. That is their value. In commitee, the national point of view seems to disappear almost completely. National party attitudes may be reflected in committee work, but often there is concentrated attention on the 958 issue before the committee with speakers practically forgetting their own basic nationality. Sometimes, of course, they remember it too quickly, and remarks they have made in the course of the discussion are not always borne out in the voting. Yet in the process there is an interesting widening of thought going on all the time and that must be valuable.
Another thing which is worth noting by people who have not seen the Council of Europe in action is that while in the foreign affairs of this country the backbench Member does not contribute much to effective policy, that is not the case on the Continent. In this country the Government make up their mind, they have their negotiations, they come to conclusions which, of course, the House of Commons discusses and we have our influence in debate and can throw out a Government; but we do not do that very often from the back benches. This produces a stability of Government here which is helpful to the world generally, but back benchers on the Continent are extremely powerful, if not all-powerful, in foreign affairs. We have had too many examples of that lately. What is happening in Strasbourg now is that we are getting together with the back benchers of European Parliaments, arguing with them, trying to persuade them, according to what we think is right, as to what they ought to do.
I would not pretend that the debates in the Assembly or in committee of the Council of Europe affect vitally the decisions of foreign Governments, but they certainly affect the ability of foreign Governments to get policies through when it comes to debates and votes on foreign affairs in their own Parliaments. All of us working there realise that we are not just talking and arguing with individuals. The people we are arguing with have different constitutions and different electoral systems from our own and they are those who will determine foreign policy. I know that the Minister is very conscious of this fact and I hope that the Foreign Office also realise it.
Sometimes I have felt, perhaps wrongly, that the Foreign Office in our own country, as well as in others, looks on some of the operations of the Council of Europe as rather a nuisance. I do not entirely blame them for that attitude. There we have ordinary Members of Parliament getting together and discussing 959 what should properly be the affair of the Quai D'Orsay and other places where these things are properly discussed. But I beseach Foreign Offices in general to appreciate the real value of the purely political debates at Strasbourg.
As far as the committee work is concerned, the right hon. Member for Blyth mentioned the overlapping of the organisations which exist for Europe and for international purposes. It is a formidable list and I have another half-dozen to add to those mentioned already. However, a point which was not covered by the right hon. Gentleman was that all these authorities, almost without exception, are bodies of experts; they are Government officials and not Parliamentarians. That must be remembered when we are trying to work out a more effective procedure for the Council of Europe. I believe, with the right hon. Gentleman, that much more can be done by the Council of Europe to pool the efforts of all those organisations to avoid overlapping and to make their work more effective.
I doubt whether the Council of Europe, even with its Secretariat, can ever take their place. We may find, however, that we can cut down the number of these organisations because the duty of a Parliamentarian, whether in his own Parliament or in the Council of Europe, is to scrutinise the work of the different executives, and all these international bodies are the product of the decisions of different Governments. If we can get our procedure worked out so that in committee we are in constant touch with the work of those other bodies, we can see much more effectively that there is no overlapping and that money is being wisely spent. We have slight difficulties over the control of the spending of money but obviously, although I regret it, the Assembly in its present structure cannot expect to have effective control over the spending of the member Governments.
However, the right of comment is important and we might develop the various devices already set up for maintaining contact with, for example, O.E.E.C. That is working well. Liaison with the Brussels Treaty Organisation is fairly good, but it could develop more than it has done. The Brussels Treaty Powers have certain functions on economic matters, social and cultural.
960 Their economic functions are carried out almost entirely by O.E.E.C. which links up well by a system of annual report and, still more important, by the occasional visits of their experts to our own committees at Strasbourg. Relations with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation are being worked out though not yet effective. If, therefore, we could see what are the limits of what Strasbourg can do, and then work to those limits, we can do something worth while.
§ Mr. Robens
This is interesting. I should like to ask the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman on the following point. Let us assume that O.E.E.C. is invited by Ministers to look at an economic problem. Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that it would be worth while if, at the Council of Europe, we had a political debate before the problem went to the experts?
§ Mr. Maclay
Yes, I can visualise occasions when it might be, though it is difficult to think out at once how the procedure would work. If a new problem arose it might be well to get a preview in that way.
The real point is that too much has been hoped for of Strasbourg by some people in the past. They have wanted it to become something it cannot be unless we reach a full federal Europe. I do not object to those who think that the federal solution is right for free Europe continuing to advocate it, but I ask them to realise that the Consultative Assembly is not a federal body, and that there has been a waste of effort in the last few years in trying to make it something that it cannot be.
My own impression is that this attitude is beginning to modify and that there is a greater realisation of what power we have in the Council of Europe. If we concentrate on using those powers, which are considerable—members of the Parliaments of 15 nations, with a good Secretariat, getting together to consider the great and minor problems of the day, expressing views on them, forwarding them to Ministers—that is all extremely important and useful work. If we use that to the full extent of our ability in accordance with the existing constitution, we can do very much more than in the past. I remain convinced that the Council of Europe is a great 961 experiment which has fully justified itself and can justify itself still more in the years to come.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ Mr. George Brown (Belper)
My only reason for intervening now is that, like the two right hon. Gentlemen who have preceded me, I have been to Strasbourg, although my term of duty there finished a year or so ago. As it happens, I hold a point of view almost exactly opposed to that of the two right hon. Gentlemen. It is probable that I shall be the only hon. Member who will put this point of view, and it may irritate many people that I put it in the way that I do, in which case I apologise in advance.
I think there is a grave danger that the atmosphere of Strasbourg somehow captures the imagination of the people who go there, and it is rarely that one sits back and looks critically at the Council of Europe and at what it is trying to do and achieving. It may be that I am completely wrong and that my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Maclay) are right, but I should like to say what I have to say and hear what arguments are brought against it.
I believe that the difficulty is that both right hon. Gentlemen have begun by seeking to make a case for the Council of Europe which is tenable only on a federal or supranational basis. Having made a case which is tenable only on that basis, they then say that that basis is not acceptable and that something must be thought out to justify what the Council of Europe can do, since they have already destroyed the basis on which it could be a real Council of Europe. The reason the right hon. Gentlemen are in their difficulty is simply that they are then struggling hard to think of justification for something the justification for which they have already destroyed.
I am most interested in the fact that the right hon. Member for Renfrew, West, having worked himself up to describe what might be done, was presented with a perfectly pertinent point by my right hon. Friend, who was, I thought, trying to help him to use clearer words, but instead of saying "That is what I meant," he said that one would have to think whether it would work out that way 962 or not and that one could not say straight off that it would be so.
The difficulty is that the Council of Europe cannot be what it was "sold" as going to be. One of the reasons I have no great difficulty in going to meetings of universities and young people, who are very keen to be keen about the European idea, and putting forward a different point of view from that of the right hon. Gentleman, is that I am afraid that he is so leading them up the garden path about it—he may be very careful about what he means by "Council of Europe" but he is encouraging them in ideas which nobody is really seriously trying to carry out—that there will finally be a great deal of disillusionment.
My right hon. Friend said that the Council of Europe should be given something of its own to do. Neither when I was at Strasbourg nor since have I ever found anyone who could describe what it could be given of its own to do.
§ Mr. Frederick Peart (Workington) rose——
§ Mr. Brown
I would give way, but I know that my hon. Friend himself wants to speak. I realise that he feels strongly about my having taken part in the debate so soon. Since he feels like that, I think it would be better if he answered me in the course of his own speech.
The difficulty about trying to give the Council of Europe something of its own to do is that the Council cannot do anything of its own. It is not a Government body, and it is not a body with any powers. When we are talking about overlapping with the I.L.O., the World Health Organisation or the Food and Agriculture Organisation we are simply not comparing like with like. There may well be some overlapping between the Government organisations which have been set up since 1945, but, by definition, the Council of Europe cannot overlap with them. Those organisations are set up as functional bodies with powers, with Government backing and with Governments being committed by what is done, whereas the Council of Europe, by definition, is not that at all. Nobody is committed by what the Council of Europe discusses.
My right hon. Friend several times said that the Council of Europe is justified as a Parliamentary forum. At the 963 end of his speech he said that it was not a question whether it was good or bad; it existed as a Parliamentary forum. If the Council were prepared to be a Parliamentary forum, a rather supranational I.P.U. as it were, I should be happy about it, but that is exactly what the Council will not be. At any rate, that is what it does not want to be. Nobody going there wants it to be a supranational I.P.U. or Parliamentary forum discussing what all the other executive, Government-packed bodies axe doing.
Speaking for myself, I got a lot of personal value out of going there and meeting colleagues from other Parliaments, and no doubt those who follow me will derive the same benefit, and, therefore, the Council may be justified from that point of view, but I do not see that it can be justified on the ground of fitting it in as one of the Governmental executive bodies, which it is not.
§ Mr. Maclay
The right hon. Gentleman is missing the point. If he had listened to the earlier speeches on the subject he would have discovered that no one is attempting to do what he is suggesting about the Council of Europe.
§ Mr. Brown
I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman means that I did not hear the speeches which just preceded me. I heard them, but whether I understood them is another matter, although I did my best.
What I am saying is that nobody says that that is what the Council is trying to do, but when we talk about overlapping with Government organisations and suggest that overlapping between the Council, the I.L.O. or the W.H.O. should be stopped, that can be the only logical conclusion of what is being said. Otherwise, there is no point in the remark about overlapping.
By definition, merely complaining about the overlapping must mean that one thinks that one organisation is doing something that another could do. The Council cannot do anything that the other organisations do because its whole nature is different. Other delegations to the Council will not accept the argument that it can be just a forum for debate; they want the Council to do things and all the time they are pressing that it should do things.
For the same reasons I do not find attractive my right hon. Friend's idea of 964 an international secretariat at the Council of Europe, doing jobs for the other organisations. It would be a waste to send an international secretariat of high standing to Strasbourg to service an organisation which can do nothing at the end of it, which can initiative no real thing, and which can commit nobody at home to its function. Certainly, such a body could not do the secretariat work for organisations like I.L.O. or F.A.O., where an altogether different job has to be done in altogether different circumstances and for altogether different reasons.
Whenever I spoke like this at Strasbourg—I did so sometimes, both privately and publicly—I was accused of being against European co-operation. I hope I have more success with you, Mr. Speaker, than I had over there with my colleagues from the Continent. I take this line precisely because I want to see some effective European co-operation. I am a trade union official if I am anything at all, and the international trade secretariats of the trade unions and the I.L.O. achieve far more in the way of real integration than the Council of Europe can ever do.
§ Mr. Brown
Yes, it is because they have the power. Nobody is prepared to give the Council of Europe the power to do it. I certainly should not be willing to give it. My view is that co-operation can only be effective if Governments are committed by what the Council does and if the people who go there have some authority.
What is Strasbourg? With all respect to my distinguished colleagues who have been there before, during and since my short visit, the fact is that it is a meeting place for the Oppositions of Europe. It is a meeting place for people without power at home; for people who have no platform at home. Discussion there commits no one at home, neither the speaker nor his friends nor his party; nor, what is more important, the Government at home.
The right hon. Member for Renfrew, West said that at Strasbourg we could get at the back-benchers. I think that had he put the point the other way round and said that at Strasbourg the backbenchers got at us, he would have been 965 nearer the mark. Strasbourg is a Parliament of back-benchers. They go there without having consulted anyone, without responsibility to anyone and they commit no one. They shoot off their own views. If one suggested that the keynote of the place was irresponsibility, it might sound rather harsh, but I do not think that it would be far wrong.
Think of the mischief which has been done there from time to time. The present Prime Minister went there as a displaced person without a platform. He amused himself in a high old way and in a manner in which various other Ministers have found it difficult to remedy. It took a long while for the Foreign Office to remedy some of the things which the Prime Minister did. The mischief which the Prime Minister did at Strasbourg caused a lot of harm to this country and to those of us there during the days when we tried to reach an understanding about the impossibility of the wider conception of E.D.C.
A great deal of mischief was also done by M. Henri Spaak when he had no platform at home, and it is being undone now with great difficulty. I doubt whether the idea of a Western defence integration with a German contribution would have taken so long or been so difficult a matter had we not had the Strasbourg Assembly, where a good deal of mischief was done which has taken a long time to undo.
My other criticism or complaint is that the Assembly at Strasbourg has no real interest in real things. My right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth spoke about the discussions on economic affairs and O.E.E.C. My experience was that at Strasbourg we would begin a discussion on O.E.E.C. very late on a certain evening, quite accidentally. When it was discovered that the Committee on Political Questions had not its report ready for the projected discussion on a political question, the O.E.E.C. Report would be rushed in; a few speeches made, and then the debate put off until the following week.
It was extremely difficult to get a real discussion at Strasbourg about real things, such as the economic condition of Europe, on questions of financial policy which might damage other countries, because those were questions on which authority and commitments are essential. 966 One may talk about political questions and grand plans—I think that "Faite I' Europe" was the expression generally used when speakers could not think of anything else to say—but when one started to argue about currency issues, financial policies, economic questions, trade and trade union rights, and so on, one found oneself in the sphere of concrete decisions, and it does not seem to me that Strasbourg is empowered to deal with such things.
None of this would matter, nor should I be justified in discussing it now, were it not that I feel that Strasbourg could be a dangerous place for Great Britain. The attitude of our Continental friends is largely one of putting pressure upon us. They always seem to want something from us, which is natural enough, because we seem always to be doing something which would, or would not, be helpful to them. I remember the earlier discussions about a "green pool." My hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Peart), who now fills more adequately than I various posts on agricultural committees which I formerly held, will have a better knowledge of the present position. But I remember the earlier discussions about a European agricultural authority which was to be a wide-ranging supranational body to exercise widespread control over agricultural production, consumption and prices in Europe.
Some of us had great difficulty in "holding the pass" about that. What would it have added up to? After all, if one is as kind as possible one may still say that the French do not outshine us in their ability to control their home agricultural producer or to get him to produce what is required and to sell it at the requisite price. But the French were very keen on forming an organisation to control our agricultural production. We should have found ourselves wide open to receive whatever the Danes, the Dutch or the Italians wanted to send—and the French, too, if they had anything to send—while we should have been obliged to get rid of a large part of our agriculture in order to take it.
Their argument was that such a relationship on our part was fundamental and proper to the agriculturists in Europe. That was the sort of thing which we should do. No consideration was paid to 967 the extent to which we should have to stretch our economy and alter our social life, and so on, to do so—to say nothing of the effect it would have on the standard of our workers. When I was at Strasbourg it seemed to me that all the time we were being made the subject of continual pressure so that we might be, as it were, pushed back, and forced into conceding this, that and the other. That appears to me to be very dangerous.
Can Strasbourg be made an effective place? Not, I think, in the way argued by my right hon. Friend. Not if the Council is inserted, as it were, into the field of Government bodies. That cannot be done with what is merely a meeting of Parliamentarians without responsibility. I suppose it might become an assembly or a forum, but I do not think that it would stay like that. I do not think that the Continental politicians would be content with such a situation, and so I doubt whether Strasbourg has much of an effective part to play at all. I do not wish to see it overshadow or hamper existing executive bodies such as O.E.E.C., the I.L.O. or the F.A.O. I do not wish to see such organisations tied to the Strasbourg chariot, which would mean that they would be held back in their work.
There have been many discussions about those who go to Strasbourg and the composition of our delegation. Our representatives have been changed at fairly frequent intervals. It is a matter for argument as to how long anyone should stay as a representative at Strasbourg. Of course, if changes are made at frequent intervals it often happens that one drops out from important committees just at the point when one feels that there is a chance of doing something useful.
I enjoyed my period at Strasbourg, but I think I got out while I was still able to be objective about the place. There is a lot to be said for British Parliamentarians—with their rather different tradiditions and outlooks vis-à-vis the Parliaments of our Continental friends—going to Strasbourg and mixing with our Continental colleagues and seeing that our traditions are explained to them as well as theirs to us. But there is little to be said for our people staying there beyond the point at which they can continue to explain that difference and why Parliament works as it does over here.
968 I am sure that it is a bad thing for a Minister to go to Strasbourg. A Minister there becomes the subject of very great pressures. He gets into great difficulty, and begins sending telegrams back home seeking instructions, just as though he were leading a delegation at one of the executive, Government-backed organisations. He begins to make compromises, just as he would in other places. He begins to do deals behind doors late at night, just as is done at the United Nations, without realising that when he makes a compromise, although he does so upon the instructions and with the prior agreement of the Government at home—to whom he has sent and from whom he has received telegrams—the people with whom he is dealing are in no position to do the same, because they are members of opposition parties and are irresponsible. If we are to continue to go to Strasbourg, I want it to be regarded as a forum for debate by back benchers, or front benchers who are not carrying Ministerial responsibility. We shall then be on all fours with the others and shall not get into trouble.
Above all, I hope that we shall resist the temptation to think of ourselves as a Continental European Power. That we are not. Although it is common form now for everybody who makes a speech about anything to preface it by saying that the H-bomb has changed our fundamental thinking, I still say that we are not a Continental European Power. We are still a world Power, at the head of a Commonwealth, with all kinds of different interests and outlooks. One of the dangers about Strasbourg is that we get pushed into a state where we forget that fact, and begin thinking of ourselves as a Continental European Power. One of the reasons I was always so glad to see the Australian observer, Sir Keith Officer, at Strasbourg was that he was a visible reminder to us, when we were getting most wrapped up with the intricacies and subtleties of the Strasbourg atmosphere, that we had commitments and interests outside which we ought to remember.
I apologise again for having spoken for so long. I thank the House for listening to my point of view, with which most hon. Members must be in grievous disagreement and which must be most unattractive to them, but I feel very strongly 969 that it is becoming almost common form not to face the important and fundamental facts about the Council of Europe, but to find something nice to say about it if we can. I hope that the House will at any rate do me the honour of thinking about what I have said.
§ 8.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Smithers (Winchester)
I have listened with very great interest to the three right hon. Gentlemen who have spoken. I might almost use the Strasbourg phrase—"my three dear colleagues." The right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) seemed to think that what he said would meet with a great deal of disapproval on the part of Members on both sides of the House, but such a lot of what he said is so obviously based upon common sense and upon his own very robust appreciation of things that I agree with a great deal of it. What I disagree with are many of his subsidiary conclusions.
He said three things with which I agree. First, I agree that it is not relevant to speak of overlapping in the context of the Council of Europe, which, as the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, is trying to do something totally different from all the other organisations. On the other hand, the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) was quite right when he indicated the extent to which the Council of Europe might play a complementary rôle to many of those organisations.
I should like to make a digression for a moment to show how the fact that many organisations are participating in a certain project does not necessarily mean that their functions are overlapping, and I hope that I shall take the right hon. Member for Belper with me in this argument. I would point out what happened in the case of the convertibility of sterling, and the moves made towards it. First, there was the 1952 Commonwealth Conference, at which it was discussed; then there was a visit by the Chancellor to the United States to discuss the same topic; then there were bilateral talks with all the European powers; then a debate at the Council of Europe. The O.E.E.C. then became the centre for technical consultation upon this very complicated and important matter, and a Ministerial Group, of which the Chancellor is the chairman, was set up to handle it. There were bilateral talks between the United Kingdom and the International Monetary 970 Fund, and also between the United Kingdom and G.A.T.T. upon the world trade aspect. Finally, there were consultations with the European Payments Union and O.E.E.C. as to what would replace those bodies after convertibility.
The right hon. Member for Blyth might say that that was a case of overlapping, but I should like to mention what was said by the Secretary-General of O.E.E.C, Monsieur Marjolin, namely, that it was a veritable combined operation. While I do not deny what the right hon. Gentleman said in opening the debate, namely, that there may be much overlapping, I believe that it is quite misleading to read out a long list of the initials of organisations and to say, "Cannot we roll them all into one and make them a single organisation?" My reason for saying so is quite simple and fundamental. If we had a world state, or even a European state, we could set up authorities with all-embracing qualities in the economic, social or any other field. But so long as we have a world or a Europe divided up into many different political spheres, it is inevitable that we must have quite a variety of organisations to tackle the various problems which arise.
The business of the Council of Europe, as was said by the right hon. Member for Blyth, is to marshal political opinion in the various countries behind the admirable work which is being done by various organisations at an intergovernmental level and to enable us, in our various Parliaments, to take our electorates with us. That is the useful and proper role of the Council of Europe.
On that point I am in disagreement with the right hon. Member for Belper. He said that he did not want to Council of Europe to overshadow O.E.E.C. and the various other international bodies. Nor do I; it would be ridiculous—and I do not think that there is any danger of it doing so. The fact is that the experience of the right hon. Member for Belper in these matters was short—as he said.
§ Mr. Smithers
Yes; but it was intense, and is now a little out of date. The whole atmosphere of the place has changed, through bitter experience. The 971 failure of the E.D.C. experiment, for example, has gone a long way to convince our Continental colleagues that a supranational authority and the federal solution, though they may come, will not work today. The failure of E.D.C. was proof of that. The French nation rejected it categorically, as I believe, when the French Parliament refused to sanction it.
The right hon. Member for Belper complained that Strasbourg captures the imagination of Members who go there. I agree. If he was not captured by the atmosphere of Strasbourg he must be a uniquely insensitive individual because, after a little while, most of us feel that we are in touch with a great living movement, with political forces from all over Europe which are much more intense than ours and which have a desire for a Europe much better, in three respects, than what went before.
First of all, there is the urgent desire to build a solid European economy, so large and powerful that we shall be able to support and bear out the political ideas in which we in this free continent believe, whatever our party may be. Secondly, we must be big enough and powerful enough to enable us to organise a really effective European defence system. And thirdly, of course, in the process of doing those things, we must resolve the international quarrels which have plagued Europe in years gone by.
Those three things are great ideals, and I believe that they inspire the vast majority of the delegates who go to Strasbourg, from whatever nation or whatever party. I am sorry that these ideas did not inspire the right hon. Member for Belper when he was there. I can only hope that he will go back one day and have another try. There were a number of other points in his speech which I should have liked to have answered. He said that the case was tried to be made on a supranational basis by those who support the Council of Europe experiment; and that, in fact, the Council of Europe cannot do anything on its own. I do not agree with either of those statements.
In the first place, I do not really think that there is anybody who goes to Strasbourg from this House who thinks other than that the proper role for the Council 972 of Europe is that of a parliamentary forum, about which the two right hon. Gentlemen who opened the debate spoke. That is its proper rôle. Then the right hon. Gentleman said that the Council of Europe cannot do anything. So able a Parliamentary debater as he ought to be the very last man to say that a Parliamentary forum cannot do anything. I remember him blowing the roof off this place time and time again with his very able and discomforting speeches.
In the Council of Europe we have a very admirable forum, and I believe that everyone who goes to Strasbourg comes back powerfully influenced by the debates which take place there. Many such things which have altered my political opinions—and, I believe, those of some of my hon. Friends—live in my memory. If the right hon. Gentleman is so insensitive to other people's points of view, and if, for instance, he regards the eloquence of M. Spaak as just mischief, then I am sorry for him. As for political leaders making Strasbourg a place where those in opposition work mischief——
§ Mr. Smithers
The right hon. Gentleman says "Hear, hear." Does he include his right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) in that category? I must say that during that right hon. Gentleman's time at Strasbourg he has played a most responsible part, and I think that the right hon. Member for Belper ought to have made an exception in his case. I am very surprised that he did not.
The right hon. Gentleman also complained that pressure was being placed upon us to do this, that and the other. Of course there is. In the Continent of Europe we are acknowledged to be much the most coherent and powerful European nation at the present time. No one disputes that, and it is always the prerogative of leaders to be under pressure. Let the right hon. Gentleman ask his own leaders if they are ever under pressure. I am sure that they would not deny it at the present time. If Britain, because of the role she plays in Europe, is under much fiercer pressure at Strasbourg than one of the small Powers or one of the ex-enemy occupied countries, that is only a natural consequence of our very important position in that Assembly.
973 I am looking through my notes to see what other interesting observations the right hon. Gentleman made, but I am afraid that if I go on to consider them any further I shall have to tear up all of the speech which I wanted to make. However, I will endeavour briefly to deliver a little of it. I think that it is a good thing for us to be debating the Strasbourg Assembly today, because we are at a point where European opinion is rapidly changing and where the European institutions through which we work are also altering very rapidly. Therefore, I think it advisable for this House to give some indication of what is the national attitude—if I may use such a phrase—towards this institution.
I believe that it is possible to deduce certain things about it. A few months ago, I said that there were three political driving forces in Europe at the present time: the desire to bear out our own way of life by a corresponding economic and financial effort, the desire to provide for our defence, and the desire to prevent internal European conflicts in the future. I think those are the things for which the Council of Europe was set up, and that they were the great aspiration which gave it life. But, of course, as soon as it began to work, it became apparent that there were great differences as to how these things should be done. The federalists tried to impose on a Europe not ready for it a political formula, namely, federalism.
I am quite clear in my own mind that we cannot create the political facts of life by popping a formula on top of the situation. We have, first, to create a situation and then find a political formula to fit it. It was soon found that it would be quite impossible to establish any federal organisation within the Council of Europe, because the United Kingdom was there. Therefore, we came to a compromise arrangement in the European Coal and Steel Community, an organisation which we discussed earlier today, whereby those who wanted to federate went outside the Council of Europe to do it, so to speak, and whereby it was arranged that Britain and the non-federal Powers should have links with them. But when that was tried in the E.D.C. it was found that we could not unite Europe on any basis in which Great Britain did not play the same part as that played by the 974 other major political Powers on the Continent, and so the second home truth came to dawn upon us. I believe that we are now clear as to what can and what cannot be done in Europe towards creating a more closely integrated continent, and as to what the rôle of the Council of Europe should be.
So I wish to say two things to my right hon. Friend the Minister. The first is that I am sure that, having made a considerable political advance with the Western European Union arrangement and having, as it were, tacked the European Coal and Steel Community, the remainder of the federal experiment, on to the rest of Europe by the Agreement which has just been made, we should now concentrate all our efforts and policy on the firmer economic integration of Europe.
The public would be astonished if it fully appreciated what has already been done, if it knew the extent to which all the organisations represented work together and the extent to which Governments work together in a system utterly different from anything which existed before the war. The old days of cut-throat competition, to which one of my hon. Friends referred earlier on, are quite gone by; and there is now a truly international approach in Europe to many problems, such as unemployment, financial and economic policies and so forth. This is a very fruitful field, and very much more can be done there.
I suggest, then, that our policy should run along two main lines. The first should be economic integration, which can be swiftly carried forward, and, the second should be an intensification of the economic work of the Council of Europe to which reference has already been made by two of the right hon. Gentlemen who preceded me. By taking more interest in economic affairs, the Council of Europe can bring an international Parliamentary opinion to bear and to support the efforts of the Governments who are collaborating to bring about a more closely integrated European economy. It is very difficult to draw the line between what is economic and what is political. If we get a single European economy, we shall one day begin to find that we are approaching a situation where political union will not seem so attractive because it will not be 975 so necessary. We shall have arrived at something which will be very much better.
I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister and his colleagues in the Foreign Office will take from this House to the Council of Ministers at Strasbourg the following message. There is an invaluable service to be performed in the growing political community of Europe by a great debating Assembly, an Assembly competent to debate all subjects but which, at the present time, ought to be helping to carry forward the economic integration of Europe. If it does that, I believe the Assembly will continue to make a very valuable and increasing contribution to the unification of Europe, without any of the dangers and difficulties which the right hon. Member for Belper so eloquently put before us actually arising.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Peart (Workington)
I agree very much with a great deal of what was said by the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Smithers), particularly in reference to the need for more economic debates in the Council of Europe, and that is where I should like to take up the cudgels with my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) who spoke so strongly against the Council of Europe. I am certain that my right hon. Friend feels that it has outlived its usefulness and that we should not give it that support which we are doing this evening.
From my own experience over the last three years, I have felt that there has been an attempt in the Council of Europe to debate precisely those subjects which have been mentioned by my right hon. Friend and the hon. Gentleman opposite. Economic matters have been debated, not only in the Consultative Assembly and the full Assembly itself, but also in the respective committees. I know that we have had over the last year considerable debate, for example, in the agricultural committee, and there I agree with the hon. Member for Winchester when he says that my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper is out of date.
I have found that the agricultural committee, which was originally designed to set up to try to organise procedure and preparations for the creation of a high authority, has changed its functions entirely. Today the agricultural committee, in the light of the decision to create a 976 new organisation in Europe for agricultural marketing, is concerned with real things, and that committee of the Council of Europe is now doing a very useful job.
Indeed, I remember that my own first humble contribution at Strasbourg was to try to get the Consultative Assembly to agree that a specific agricultural problem—a very humble but important one—concerning livestock disease in Europe should be a matter of concern of the Council's agricultural committee, and that that committee should do more of that work. I know that that committee now has to discuss European forestry, and my right hon. Friend should know that a joint committee, of which he was the distinguished chairman, conducted a very valuable survey connected with the resettlement of agricultural refugees. That committee's work has been continued, and I hope it will carry on.
I hope the House will not accept the pessimism of my right hon. Friend, but will recognise that there has been a change at Strasbourg and that we are now having more and more debates on economic matters. I know that my right hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bottomley), who will wind up from this side in this debate, has over and over again at Strasbourg devoted many of his speeches to economic matters, not only those affecting Europe, but also those affecting the Colonial Territories of the various countries represented at Strasbourg.
I do not accept the pessimism of my right hon. Friend. I believe he made a refreshing speech, a very fine debating speech, but I disagree with him. It is all very well to say that we should not think of ourselves as being a continental Power, but we are a continental Power in the sense that we have got to play our part in Europe. I recognise that we are the leaders of a great Commonwealth, but if British leadership is not felt on the Continent of Europe in the years to come, then leadership will come from another source.
That is what I am afraid of. If we remain apathetic or apart from Europe or hostile to the Council of Europe, if we become hostile to new organisations that are created let us make no mistake—another Power will emerge in Europe to give that leadership. After all, there is Germany now being rebuilt. 977 It might not be Germany, but it might well be the Soviet Union, seeking to pursue her aims in Europe on her own lines.
I want British influence in Europe. I believe that British influence is essential, and, in that sense, I hope that we shall not take a negative view. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper will look at this matter again, because, after all, he will remember that at our annual conference—if I may introduce a party note—we agreed in "Challenge to Britain" to give every support to the new Europe which is now emerging. I am sorry that I myself in my humble way did not give this support earlier. I am suggesting not that we should sell our sovereignty, but merely that we should give that support to the wider Europe which is emerging in various forms.
I, too, wish to deal with some of the problems that have been raised today. I agree very much with the suggestion of my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth, which was pursued by the right hon. Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Maclay), that there is a danger of overlapping and duplication, and that many other organisations will be using their secretariat to do work which is already being carried out by the Council of Europe's Committees. I accept that that is something which must be looked at, and I support the idea of an inquiry. The Committee of Ministers should take up this subject, and, perhaps, there should be a full discussion at another session at Strasbourg on this very matter.
But I think there is something even more dangerous, and that is the danger, not of overlapping and duplication, but of fragmentation in Europe. Let us look at the European pattern. We have the Council of Europe, with its various committees, the Committee of Ministers, and the Consultative Assembly, which is already working as a forum, and, there again, I am glad that it is a forum.
I would rather have European statesmen meeting even in the Council of Europe than remaining behind their national frontiers sulking and preparing for war. I would rather have European politicians meeting in Europe and discussing common problems and sharing opinions, and, if compromises are reached, nobody loses by that. It is the strengthening of democratic processes of 978 discussion and democratic principles which we want on the Continent of Europe, and if Britain in that forum can give an example and leadership it will help European democracy.
But there is a danger. Here we have the Council of Europe, and we have the danger of other new organisations emerging. We have just been debating the European Coal and Steel Community. It has been my privilege, along with many other Members of Parliament, to visit Luxembourg and have a look at the Coal and Steel Community. I think it is a healthy organisation.
Despite the pessimism of many people, the Coal and Steel Community is working, whether we like it or not. Today we have decided to sign a form of association which is to last for a very long time. The Community is there, and it is a new type of organisation in Europe based on federal lines, quite different from the Council of Europe which we are debating now. It has a different parliamentary assembly from the Consultative Assembly at Strasbourg. It has its own committees and a very effective and able secretariat; it is working well in its field and, in future, its field may well be extended, perhaps to transport or to something else. At least, it is a healthy baby. Its existence creates a problem not only for the Council of Europe but for Europe itself.
We have also a new organisation for agriculture, which has been mentioned this evening. It is on different lines. It was created last year, out of a Paris conference. Now it is to have a Ministerial Committee assisted by a committee of deputies and another secretariat. As yet, this new organisation has not got under way, but our own Minister of Agriculture is to have his first meeting there next month. The existence of this new organisation for agriculture creates another problem for Europe.
A third organisation, the Western Union, is to emerge from the discussions on defence, arising out of the old Brussels Treaty Organisation. There again, that organisation is to have its own parliamentary control, its own parliamentary assembly and its own secretariat. Again, there is another organisation in Europe. I see that it was recently proposed at Strasbourg that we should have another organisation, an economic and social council, which no doubt would also have its control organisation and its secretariat.
979 So we can see in Europe in process a kind of fragmentation. I once used the term at Strasbourg "a dangerous centrifugal force," which could lead to very serious disintegration in Europe, dispersal of effort, overlapping, duplication and a weakening of that essential European unity in which we all believe, not only a political but an economic unity. That is what we must look at, and which I am certain the Council of Europe must consider. How can we counteract this dangerous fragmentation?
We adopted in the Council of Europe the Eden Plan, which proposed a form of association for the relationship to the Council of Europe of the Coal and Steel Community. That was a good example of an attempt to bring the new organisations together. We have to go further. At Strasbourg, the right hon. Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Maclay) attempted, in a memorandum which he submitted to the Council of Europe, to lay down arrangements for the relationship between the Council of Europe and the new Western Union Organisation. I will not go into the details, except to say that they were unique and that they are being considered carefully.
I am not sure what really was decided at London and Paris, when the Paris-London Agreements were discussed. Let me take the first White Paper, Cmd. 9289, dealing with the London Nine-Power conference which began in September, 1954. On page 6, it states:The Brussels Council will make an Annual Report on its activities concerning the control of armaments to the Delegates of the Brussels Treaty Powers, to the Consultative Assembly of the Council of Europe.Dealing with the conference at Paris in October, Command Paper 9304 lays down the following in Article V:A new Article shall be inserted in the Treaty as Article IX: 'The Council of Western European Union shall make an annual report on its activities, and in particular concerning the control of armaments to an Assembly composed of representatives of the Brussels Treaty Powers, to the Consultative Assembly of the Council of Europe.'That is not strong and effective enough.
I think that there must be greater contact between the new Western Union organisation when it comes into being and the Council of Europe. I myself have great sympathy with the French proposal for an arms pool. I do not know 980 what will be the effect of that proposal. I know that the British Government are hostile to it. But it may well be that the arms pool, run on the lines not of the Council of Europe or of Western Union, but of the Iron and Steel Community may provide the answer for another new type of organisation, effectively controlled.
Nevertheless, I believe that the Council of Europe should have close links with the new organisations. I believe, too, that the agricultural organisation, which I have mentioned, under O.E.E.C. should be associated with the Council of Europe. Indeed, the Council of Europe's agricultural committee, as is on record, has put to the Consultative Assembly that there should be close links between the committee of agriculture at Strasbourg and the new Ministerial Committee under O.E.E.C, and that there should be also links between the secretariat for agriculture at Strasbourg and the new secretariat which is to be created under the new O.E.E.C. organisation.
I would therefore ask the Minister, in replying, or even beyond this House, to bear these points in mind. If there is this dangerous fragmentation in Europe —if we allow these forces which I have mentioned, to get out of hand, if we have too much overlapping and too much duplication—there is a great danger that the cause of European unity will be weakened. It is important that we should be vigilant in this matter. I believe, too, that it is important that we should see to it that there is effective Parliamentary control over many of these organisations. That, I think, was mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) in his opening speech.
It is essential that the experts who form the various secretariats, the various assemblies and committees should be watched. I do not say that in any bad sense; they are doing a very fine technical job, but it is essential that the decisions should be decisions of people with direct responsibility. That, I am certain, is important. It is all very well to say, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper said, that we go to Strasbourg as irresponsible persons. That really is not true. We are responsible, in the end, to our own British House of Commons, and I am partly responsible 981 to my own party in this matter. I am proud of that. I am partly responsible to my own constituents, and it is wrong to say that we go to Strasbourg as irresponsible persons.
We are responsible to public opinion here in our own country. We are partly, it is true, responsible to public opinion in Europe. That is why we have debates, and that is why it is necessary that we should exert democratic pressures and have democratic discussions, but, in the end, we should be able to impose control on these experts.
I am not ashamed of going to Strasbourg, and I am not afraid that I may be won over by my Continental friends to a point of view which may be opposite to the point of view of the right hon. Member for Belper. I have faith in my own principles, in my own Socialism, in my own country, and in my own democracy to safeguard me from any of the shocks that Strasbourg can offer, and I am certain that that is true of right hon. Gentlemen opposite as well. So let us remember that Strasbourg is an important forum for political and democratic discussions, and it should be vigilant and watchful over these new organisations which have been created.
There are many ways to achieve European unity. I shall not resurrect the old argument of federalism against the intergovernmental approach. In Europe there are many ways to achieve this unity and many processes are unfolding. The Coal and Steel Community has been successful. Strasbourg is a kind of forum; the new agricultural organisation under O.E.E.C. will be another kind. The new flexible arrangements which are there may have a certain strength and may have a certain weakness, but I believe that in the end, slowly and gradually, a greater unity will be reached, but it will only be reached if we, the British people, are not indifferent to what is happening on the Continent.
We must have a faith and a belief in what is happening. I am not ashamed to say that my constituents are not indifferent to this matter. The right hon. Member for Renfrew, West spoke about university audiences. I detected a note of pessimism there. In discussing this with miners and steel workers, ordinary men and women, good citizens, I find that they are interested in these matters and in the 982 shape of the new Europe. After all, many of them were involved as soldiers in Europe. They do not want to be involved in another Europe of that kind but in a peaceful Europe.
I would say again to my friends—and strongly—"Let us not be indifferent. Let us give that essential leadership. Let us not spit upon these men, our Continental friends whom we know at Strasbourg, who are seeking to build this new organisation." Many of them risked their lives in the Resistance movement, and many of them resisted bravely Nazism and the Nazi-Fascist dictatorial creed in the war years. Many of those are the people we meet at Strasbourg. They are the men and women who are trying to build a new Europe which will be peaceful and strong. In that sense, I wish them every success.
§ 8.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Fletcher-Cooke (Darwen)
I think that everyone this evening agrees that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) is thoroughly out of date. I can only assume that he has now gone out of the Chamber to brush up his acquaintance with the handbook "Challenge to Britain" and will come back to apologise.
I am sure that the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart), whose eloquence inspired us all, will forgive me if I do not follow him in the grand things he said. I do not think that what he said was any less real than the things which the right hon. Gentleman for Belper thought to be the only real things. For some reason which I could not understand, the right hon. Gentleman thought that only financial and economic matters were real and that the things of the spirit of which the hon. Member spoke are in some sense unreal. I therefore agree with the hon. Member for Workington and not with his right hon. Friend.
I want to mention a small, short, but rather nagging point, and I hope that the House will not think that my enthusiasm for the Consultative Assembly is any the less because this point, though small, is rather critical. One of the great merits of our meetings in committee and subcommittee at Strasbourg is that from time to time there are joint meetings of Committees of the Assembly; that is to say, of 983 the Parliamentarians and the experts who are the representatives of the Ministers.
In the case of rather technical subjects that is particularly valuable. For example, I am on a committee that deals with the very important, though not very dramatic, subject of the reciprocal treatment of nationals. There we try to persuade the foreigner one way, and the foreigner tries to persuade us that some of our rules and regulations relating to foreigners trying to work here could perhaps be modified, and that we might be able to reach sensible agreement between the fifteen nations of Europe on that sort of thing. That is, I submit, real work if ever there was.
A constitutional rule has been laid down somewhere in the British Governmental machine that British experts may not meet with us at Strasbourg and so, when we reach Strasbourg as Parliamentarians and delegates, we find that there are no British experts. There are Dutch, German and Italian experts on one side of the table, and Dutch, German and Italian Parliamentarians on the other; and there are British Parliamentarians—but no British civil servants. For some reason it is thought to be unconstitutional that the Assembly should have the benefit of the advice of British civil servants.
Where this constitutional principle comes from I have never discovered. It certainly does not come from any of the books on constitutional law or history which I have ever read. Indeed, in some cases—for instance, in the case of the Committee on Cultural Affairs—it is relaxed, so it cannot be very wicked if an exception of that kind is made. I should not have thought that my hon. and cultural Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis), who sits on the Committee for Cultural Affairs, was in any way embarrassed by the presence of British civil servants as experts at such joint meetings, and I do not think I should be embarrassed, nor would the British bureaucrat be embarrassed, if, on the Committee for the Reciprocal Treatment of Nationals, we had his invaluable help.
In many cases, this difficulty means that the British case goes by default. Clearly, the British representative on that committee and on other similar committees cannot know all the technical objections 984 which may exist—and they may be quite good objections—to the suggestions which delegates from other countries make.
I remember that at the last meeting I had very much to guess what the British case had been on certain points. I am sure we had a good case, but we seemed to be in a minority; we seemed to be reactionary, as it were, to be holding out for some old rules, the reason for which I did not know. I should very much have liked to know the reason and I should have liked the assistance of British experts. But no; a strange rule has been laid down at some level in the Civil Service—and I do not know what level—that the British expert would somehow be contaminated by my presence, or vice versa.
It may well be that in the case of very hotly disputed, immediately political subjects—although I would argue to the contrary—there is some constitutional objection to British civil servants and British Members of Parliament meeting together in a foreign town; although what it can be I do not know. But on a matter of legal or technical importance—such as the reciprocal treatment of nationals or the many other subjects which do not get into the headlines but which are of great value and are discussed in these committees of the Council of Europe—I cannot for the life of me understand what the objection is.
I ask my hon. Friend the Joint Undersecretary of State to look at this rule again, because it seems to me that it is put there to guard against imaginary dangers. I ask him to believe that it impedes not merely the work of the Council of Europe but also the effective presentation of the British case in these committees, and that should not be allowed.
In conclusion, in a few sentences, I want to add my small voice to commend the work which has recently been done in the Council of Europe. I do not believe that people in this country or even hon. Members in the House altogether appreciate the importance in Continental opinion of keeping a Parliamentary check on the international bureaucrat. When the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) was listing the duplications in the various international bodies, I could not help thinking that these very duplications, in each 985 case the second of the two bodies being the Council of Europe, were a very good justification for the Council of Europe.
We know these international civil servants and trust them very largely. We may know them and trust them—they may be the best people in the world—but, nevertheless, their power is very great. Unless a Parliamentary body is watching them—only an international Parliamentary body can watch international bureaucrats—I fear that they may become the masters, the managerial revolutionaries, the big brothers of the modern world instead of its servants. I therefore believe that in its consultative capacity the Council of Europe plays a very important part and one which this country will increasingly recognise.
§ 8.51 p.m.
§ Mr. James H. Hoy (Leith)
I wish to say a few words as one who attended the Consultative Assembly at Strasbourg for two or three years. I am not frightened of the bureaucrats, national or international, in the same way as the hon. Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke). I have found them at all times very helpful. It is true as of all employees that one has to look after them. We have to see that they carry out the policies laid down by their Governments, but one should not treat them in this respect as a class of people seeking to impose their ways and their personal feelings on unwilling Governments. They are the instruments of their Governments, carrying out what their Governments ask them to do.
Some things have been said about the Council of Europe, from both sides, which in my view are very true. My right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown), if he did nothing else, helped to enliven the debate by putting a point of view held by many people inside and outside this House. In my opinion, he went a little too far, because I support the Council of Europe. I think one of the failings of the Council of Europe was that it got off to a very bad start. Following the war, people who had been our comrades in the war on the Continent were anxious to create something which would prevent another world war taking place. They were in a great hurry to carry the job through. Let it be said for Britain that Britain had not made up her mind what part she was to play in the new Europe. The Government were rather hesitant because of their commitments to 986 the Commonwealth and other associations and so were a little backward in making any constructive proposals.
What my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper said about the then Opposition using the situation for purely party political purposes had a great deal of truth in it. As the House has been reminded today by my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton), I remember the action of the present Minister of Housing and Local Government during the debates on the Schuman Plan. We remember very well the Macmillan-Eccles proposals at the Council of Europe. They gave some hope to Continental Europeans who, apparently thought they were being deserted by British Europeans. They were not helped by the motion which was moved by the Prime Minister—referred to today by my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper—about the creation of a European Army with a European Minister of Defence. That was described some time later by another right hon. Gentleman as an irrevocable decision. One cannot play about with the word "irrevocable"; it means only what it says.
Naturally when the right hon. Gentlemen became the Government of this country, the Europeans expected that Government to carry out the resolutions for which they had been responsible at Strasbourg. After they became the Government they decided they could not go quite so far as they had when they were the Opposition. Continentals felt that their case had been weakened. Anyone who was at Strasbourg at that time will remember that, instead of seeking to do something to help Europe, there was the struggle between federalists and functionalists going on all the time. Because of this the Council itself was doing very little work.
A second weakness is the number of resolutions submitted by members. Anybody who has been to a Council meeting at Strasbourg, if it has not improved in the last year or two, will know that delegates were snowed under with papers which it was impossible to read or understand. That was one of the great drawbacks to the organisation. Indeed, so many motions were brought before the Council that in its concluding stages we used to pass a resolution a 987 minute on all sorts of subjects, from European defence to agriculture and fisheries. They were all pushed through rapidly, and, obviously, people outside the organisation could not have great respect for that kind of thing.
But despite these difficulties, I feel that the Council has a part to play. At the time I was attending there my party in this House formed the Government but they were not very constructive in their efforts when it came to the Consultative Assembly. They were always waiting to find out what other people's proposals were before making any constructive proposals of their own.
Then a big change took place. I remember it well, for it was when my right hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) tabled his motion on full employment and industry in Europe. A great debate ensued, and we had the opinions of European countries about the problems which they faced in these matters. There was a smaller occasion which I recall when the Assembly was asked by many Representatives, including myself, to deal with the whole question of over-fishing in the North Sea, something which was of special importance to the countries of Europe. Let it be said that where other organisations had failed to get ratification, through exposure on that occasion the Council of Europe achieved agreement and those countries which up to that time had not ratified the convention did so, so that something of considerable help to Europe was achieved.
During the time I attended the Council of Europe I did not take part in many debates. I did participate in the economic debate arid on the question of fisheries, which I have just mentioned, because the motion was in my name. But I thought that one of the things that might be done in the Council of Europe was to overhaul its procedure and to see whether, out of the morass in which we found ourselves, we could not so streamline matters that we would be able to carry out work in a much more effective manner and in a way which would gain us greater respect outside the Council.
As rapporteur of a committee, I had the privilege of inviting delegates from Europe to this building, and here, for three days, we met in a very happy atmosphere. 988 I am certain that at the end of the day an improvement was made in the procedural rules, and we did something towards perfecting the machine which provides a forum for the people of Europe.
Altogether, I am not depressed by the difficulties. I know that in its initial stages the Council had to cope with growing pains. But I am certain that an organisation of this kind, which provides a forum for the free peoples of Europe to meet to discuss their difficulties and to find solutions for them, is something which should have the wholehearted support of this House. I am sure that even my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper, when he casts his mind back, will think of some good things the Council has done. I would give it my wholehearted support to make it an even greater success in future, because I believe that it has an important part to play in unifying the people of Europe who are interested in the democratic way of life.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)
We should be grateful to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) for giving us someone to disagree with in this debate. The right hon. Gentleman blew in, blew us up, and blew out. That performance had its value, because it is possible for those who are associated with an organisation like the Council of Europe to become a little pot-bound inside it. These international organisations sometimes have artificial atmospheres of which we should beware and occasionally be warned.
But the picture which the right hon. Gentleman drew of the Council of Europe was nothing better than a caricature. I could not understand some of his criticisms. Sometimes the right hon. Gentleman seemed to be saying that it was an irresponsible body because all the people who went there were back benchers responsible to no one; though even on that I would say that back benchers at Strasbourg are just as much responsible, and in just the same way, as they are when they speak in this House. Then at other times the right hon. Gentleman seemed to be regretting Strasbourg because it took there people who held Ministerial rank and might commit their government, more especially the British Government, in some inadvertent way.
989 As hon. Members well know, the Council of Europe consists of two parts, though we commonly concentrate our attention on only one. It consists of a Committee of Ministers composed of the Foreign Secretary of each of the 15 member States, and of a Consultative Assembly containing 132 Parliamentary representatives drawn in varying proportions from the 15 member States. During the two years I have attended the meetings of the Consultative Assembly, a not inconsiderable proportion of its 132representatives have been Ministers in various European governments. The practice of sending Ministers as representatives to that Assembly is much more common among the Continental States than it is with the United Kingdom, though even we have two Ministers among our 18 representatives there at the present time.
It is wrong to suggest that the Council of Europe either has been or ought to be merely a debating forum. If it has been possible to persuade the Consultative Assembly and then the Committee of Ministers about any proposition, we have done virtually what we wanted so to do; because if a resolution is passed by the Consultative Assembly, then goes to the Committee of Ministers and is accepted by them, the Governments of the 15 member countries—not just the back-bench Parliamentarians—have, through their responsible Foreign Minister, agreed to that proposition and, in practice, proposals which have gone through that procedure come into force.
The range of matters dealt with at Strasbourg is vast. We had a debate earlier today about the European Coal and Steel Community. That idea was launched at Strasbourg by M. Schuman. It was not merely conceived at Strasbourg; it was developed there. It is no exaggeration to say—in fact, it is a trite truth—that it would never have come into being if the Council of Europe had not existed. The Coal and Steel Community is both logically and historically an offshoot of the Council. It is something on the very biggest scale which the Council has created.
What astonishes me when I consider that body is how much it has actually done in a life of less than 5½years. A good deal of money and talk has been poured into international organisations, but I wonder how many can show in 5½ 990 years a record of achievement like that of the Council.
The right hon. Member for Belper distinguished the Council from Government-backed organisations. But it is, of course, a Government-backed organisation. It was set up by international Treaty—there is nothing unofficial about the Council—which has been formally ratified by the Parliaments of all the 15 member countries. It is in every sense an official organisation.
The Statute of the Council was passed in May, 1949, and the Council first met in August, 1949. Within a matter of months it had launched the Coal and Steel Community idea and very shortly afterwards brought it into force. Within a matter of months of its being set up, it had launched the idea of a European Army. The Pleven Plan, which later became the E.D.C., was conceived and developed at Strasbourg. It went through the machine at Strasbourg. It did not become effective, but ought we not to bear in mind how nearly it did become effective and what a tremendous conception it was? It was ratified by five of the six countries and defeated only by a majority in the Parliament of the sixth country. If last August the majority had been the other way in the last Parliament, what should we not now be saying about the Council of Europe and the achievements at Strasbourg? Whatever defects it may have had, the European Defence Community was a tremendous conception, and it would have been a tremendous step forward for the ideal of a united Europe, to which, I suppose, every hon. Member is devoted.
There are also lesser matters. It is easy to laugh at such things as the "green pool" for agriculture or what one of my noble Friends has called the "wooden bloc" for forestry, rather grandiose projects which are unlikely to reach fruition and which, I think, it would be against British interests to carry to fruition.
We cannot have an international organisation of 15 nations with differing traditions and very different outlooks without their putting up some red herrings. I hope I may be excused for that metaphor; I do not think that one can put up a red herring, but I am sure the House knows what I mean. However, there are very many other smaller projects 991 which have been useful and have come to fruition.
I am a member of the legal committee of the Council. It is continually bringing into effect useful reforms in European law which do not remain in the atmosphere of debate at Strasbourg but actually take effect and confer benefits, although they may not be dramatic or highly publicised, upon the people of the member States. Our sub-committee for the simplification of frontier formalities has had great success in getting rid of visas between the member States, carrying out an ideal which the late Mr. Ernest Bevin put before us. But, although I would immediately give to Mr. Bevin the credit for reviving that idea after the war, I am sure that his former colleagues opposite will agree that the Council of Europe at Strasbourg is the machinery which has carried it out.
The same committee is working on frontier formalities for motor cars, a question which includes some vexatious problems and a matter about which we all want to see progress made. There is also the simplification and unification of the law relating to the liability of innkeepers for the effects of travellers. That is not a highly dramatic subject, but it is very useful. It would be nice if one knew that in the 15 countries represented at Strasbourg there was uniformity in the law regulating a traveller and his luggage and the hotelkeeper. All these minor matters are being and can be dealt with at Strasbourg. There is the question of compulsory third-party insurance for motorists in all the 15 countries. How useful and important that would be. Such things comprise the daily activities of the legal committee and they can be done at Strasbourg better than anywhere else.
What are the alternatives to Strasbourg? They would be diplomatic or ordinary international conferences composed of negotiators for the various Governments. At Strasbourg we have Ministers and unofficial Members of Parliament. At Strasbourg a representative may make his case, and there are committees of experts—I use that word with due modesty. In the case of the legal committee there are lawyers who have experience derived from their practice and we have the advice of the Government legal experts.
992 I differ from my hon. Friend about whether such experts should take part in the committee debates. We can consult them and be briefed by them before debates. But I think that it would be a pity if British Members of Parliament were to engage in possibly acrimonious differences of opinion in a committee debate with British civil servants. That is my personal view. I would prefer to be briefed by them beforehand rather than to debate with them. But we have these facilities at Strasbourg. The matter then goes forward to the Assembly and the Committee of Ministers, and I have never known any of the proposals of the legal committee to be rejected.
In our national Parliaments representatives can take the next step of keeping up a constant agitation by putting Parliamentary Questions, moving Motions and exercising influence in various ways to make sure that the agreements arrived at at Strasbourg are ratified. As hon. Members know, it is one thing to get an international agreement and another to get it ratified. One of the most useful activities of the Council of Europe is to ginger up Governments to make sure they live up to the undertakings given in the Committee of Ministers.
I have mentioned only a few of the minor activities at Strasbourg of which I have personal knowledge. In my experience, it is not only a debating forum, but an extremely useful international instrument. My real answer to the right hon. Member for Belper is that his attitude to the Council of Europe must be wrong because, were we to adopt it, the European idea would be dead in a matter of months. We dare not let the European idea die because it would have to be replaced by something else, and I am quite sure that any replacement would be much less acceptable to me.
There are many bruised sensitivities in Europe. At the moment the nations are all bound together in an enthusiasm for a united Europe, harking back to the old ideal of the Holy Roman Empire. It is a conception which can guarantee the peace inside Europe, and which can make Europe an economically viable community. Above all, it is an ideal into which can be sublimated all the ancient combativeness of the different European communities. For those reasons we should nourish and cherish the Council of 993 Europe. It is our way of saying that we in Britain are behind Europe in its efforts to achieve unity.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Mr. G. M. Thomson (Dundee, East)
I agree with many of the things which the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. R. Bell) has just said, but he has given expression to a confusion of outlook about the Council of Europe which is very much at the root of our debate tonight. He said that the Council should not simply be regarded as a forum, and he went on to give a number of instances where the Council has had very great influence in setting up new European institutions. The fact is that these institutions are set up by Governments, and not by the Council. The Consultative Assembly has a very great influence in creating the opinion which finally compels Governments to do these things, but it is the Governments which do it.
I want to draw attention to the fact that the setting up of the Western European Union presents the Council with quite a new situation. It raises the whole question of the future of the Council, and whether, indeed, it is to have a future. We are entering a new chapter in the affairs of European institutions. We have passed beyond the partisan chapter of the past. We have seen today the great amount of agreement which now exists across the Floor of the House. It is apparent that the federalist idea has now been defeated and will for some time be well in the background.
By what method shall we move forward? The E.C.S.C. has been set up and we are now to have Western European Union. The question is whether the Council is to regard these bodies as rivals, or whether it should establish for itself an integrating or co-ordinating rôle. I believe that the latter proposition offers the main hope, but if the Council is to do that job it must do it by providing a Parliamentary forum. The more international organisations that are set up, the more there are of the bewildering sets of initials that bedevil our political reading, the more necessary it is that these international bodies of Government officials and Ministers should have alongside them a forum where the back benchers of the various Parliaments of Europe can come together and bring to bear upon those Ministerial and official bodies an 994 informed public opinion. The stage which has now been reached with the proposed setting up of Western European Union provides an opportunity for the reconsideration of the machinery of the Council. A committee is now sitting investigating the secretarial services of the Council, and it might well extend its attention to the procedure of the Council.
During the short time I have been there it has become apparent to me that we all owe a very great debt to the painstaking and patient work which has been done by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) and the right hon. Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Maclay) in the Committee on General Affairs. Much of the work which they have to do there, however, is based upon the assumption that the Council is a legislative Parliamentary body, and they spend long hours seeking by great verbal ingenuity to get agreed resolutions covering points of view which are in fact widely different. It would be more effective if the Council were a forum in which the real differences of opinion were vigorously expressed, instead of concealed by such verbiage.
If my suggestion were adopted, these opinions would make a greater impact upon the Ministers of the various Governments. That is the future role that we should try to create for the Council. It should be a body to co-ordinate and integrate the various activities within Europe, a place where Parliamentarians can meet and, by using it as a real sounding board, bring informed pressure to bear upon their Ministers, and, at the same time, help to make an impact upon the public opinions of their respective countries.
§ 9.20 p.m.
§ Mr. A. G. Bottomley (Rochester and Chatham)
This has been a very interesting debate, with only one jarring note from my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown). We must not forget that he represents a point of view, but I think that in the course of my speech I shall be able to show him and those who support him that they are wrong.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Belper did say that at the Consultative Assembly he was an individual without any responsibility, but in fact he is a very responsible person. He has a 995 responsibility to this House of Commons. He was appointed by this House as a representative and of course he has a responsibility to his constituents.
I was rather disappointed to hear the right hon. Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Maclay) say that in his opinion our constituents were not interested in the Council of Europe. I am bound to say, speaking for the constituency which I represent, that the people there are interested. Perhaps that is because of the existence of the Royal Dockyard, which means that they have wide overseas connections. Next Sunday I am attending a Labour Party conference, and I know that if I do not speak of the work of the Consultative Assembly those there will be extremely disappointed.
As far as this debate is concerned, all of us have a responsibility, because, if anything, the Council of Europe was created in this Parliament, and when I say this Parliament I mean this House. Was it not during the war years, when Europe knew little of what was in store for it, that the then Prime Minister made a broadcast in 1943 in the course of which he said that we must have a world organisation and that one of the main pillars of that organisation must be the Council of Europe?
It is true that from 1945 to 1947 little was done about creating the Council of Europe, but there were very good reasons for it. We were hoping to secure international peace and security. We were aware that our Soviet allies were nervous and afraid of the Western bloc, and we did all we could to make it possible for the Soviet Union to come into this united endeavour to secure peace and security. It was not until we saw, by subsequent actions, that that would be difficult that we went ahead in a different direction, and a warning note was sounded by the then Foreign Secretary, the late Mr. Ernest Bevin, who managed to secure the Dunkirk Treaty, which was the forerunner of a good deal of European co-operation.
We know that subsequently we followed that up, in January, 1948, by Mr. Bevin saying that the free nations of the Western world must now draw more closely together. It would be wrong if I gave the impression that he wanted the Consultative Assembly. He was a practical person and took the view that it would be 996 much better first to create a European civil service, and, with that end in view, there were formed the Brussels Treaty Organisation and the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation. Mr. Bevin strongly took the view that if we got these organisations working, with civil servants knowing their jobs building up these institutions, we could bring about a Parliamentary institution with some measure of control.
However, we now have the Council of Europe in being. There are many who consider it a waste of time; there are others who expect too much of it. I think we shall do well to remember that, of all international organisations today, this is the only one in which Parliamentarians other than Ministers meet to discuss and debate matters. I should like to say—and I will not pursue the matter, because it would be out of order—that I regret that the present Government are not continuing what the last Government did in sending Parliamentarians to the United Nations. The Council of Europe is the only place where Parliamentarians can meet together. Even if it did nothing but meet to exchange ideas, I still think that it would serve a useful purpose. But it does much more than that.
As has been said already, there was fruitless discussion over a very considerable period between those who favoured the federation of Europe and those who took the functional view on the method of development for the Council. Those days have gone, and I think it can be proved that we are now getting down to useful work. Indeed, that was thought by the last Prime Minister of France. M. Mendès-France thought it necessary and valuable enough for him to address the Assembly of the Council of Europe upon the international situation, and at that same sitting the Belgian Foreign Minister also spoke. I suggest that, if eminent statesmen of that kind find it worth while to come to the Assembly, it is an indication that it is being taken much more seriously today than in the past.
Much has been said, and particularly by my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Peart), about the way that the Council of Europe has dealt with agricultural matters, which has brought confidence to the European communities. It deserves credit for that. Other hon. 997 Members gave illustrations of the work done in its respective committees.
Let us not forget that, as an Assembly, we have created a Commission of Human Rights. Had there been a Commission for Human rights in Europe before the war, and all the nations had been committed to freedom of thought, freedom of speech and to all those standards in which we believe, there would, I think, have been a climate of public opinion which have resisted the march of totalitarian rule. I put it no higher than that. Not only have we the Commission of Human Rights, but also the cultural conventions. I will not go into these except to say that useful work has been accomplished.
I wish to speak about some of the work with which I have been familiar. I was vice-chairman of the Committee on Social Questions. I was not aware, as I am sure many other hon. Members were not, that throughout Western Europe there are 119 social security schemes in 15 countries and 28 bi-lateral or multilateral agreements covering those schemes. We know from experience of our own party conflicts that it is difficult enough to standardise social security legislation in this country. But this has not deterred the European Parliamentarians. They have gone ahead, and now have a committee of experts examining the matter, and, obviously, because of what was said by my right hon. Friend and others, they have been very careful to avoid overlapping.
It is recognised that the International Labour Organisation does much work in this field, and the Committee on Social Questions saw to it that the I.L.O. was given the job of asking member Governments the maximum standards of social security which they were prepared to adopt. It is true that this kind of work then began to develop into what my hon. Friend said was the likelihood of another organisation, the social council.
Although many were prepared to go ahead with that, there were others who took an opposite view, and not only by speech. Indeed, to make absolutely certain that my own views were known, I put in writing my objections to the creation of a social council. That council is not in being, and is not likely to be. This is an indication that if Parliamentarians who go there do the job properly they can 998 influence the Assembly in the right direction.
To refer to the Committee on Economic Questions, of which I happen to be the raporteur at the present time, it is true that the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation, responsible to the Ministers as such, has an opportunity of ventilating its report to the Assembly of the Council of Europe. Were it left there, I would agree that a justifiable criticism could be made that not enough time was given to it. Since I have been the raporteur, we have seen to it that O.E.E.C. experts have come to the Committee, where we have questioned them and deliberated with them at length in order to find out more about their report. It may be a very useful thing to pinpoint some of these committee recommendations for discussion in the main Assembly.
At the last session of the Council of Europe we had a most useful discussion on East—West trade. Some of us had the opportunity of pointing out to Western European nations that they might follow the standards that we have adopted. It was an opportunity to show that we had played the game. In Paris, we had restricted the transfer of particular goods to the Soviet Union, and we were able to show why it had to be done. In the case of East—West trade, we showed Western European nations something that was worth developing. The propositions that we put up there are still being seriously considered as a means of extending trade.
As the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Smithers) has said, we also had a very useful discussion on the convertibility of currency. There was a unanimous decision by the Assembly which carried some weight, and which must have given serious thought to the Ministers when they met to discuss the convertibility of currency. It is on record that the Council of Europe itself suggested that a multilateral system of payments should be established, to include the inter-convertibility of European currency. Those who were on that committee—I was not—can claim some credit for having been the forerunners in creating the European Payments Union, which has done such useful work in recent years.
There have been discussions in that committee upon full employment. The 999 Governments in the Council of Europe are called upon to submit annual reports on employment, prices and national incomes. All this kind of information, coming into the hands of Parliamentarians throughout Europe, means that they are provided with opportunities to add to their knowledge in their various Parliaments, in order to overcome the evils of unemployment that used to exist so much before the war. If this were a political speech I could say more about the prospects for the future, and discuss the economic policies of the Government compared with those which we on this side would follow, but it is not the time to do so.
The organisation of agricultural markets has been referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Workington. It is interesting to note that there was a conference of Ministers, at which a proposition made by one of my hon. Friends and his supporters was given most careful consideration. We have also discussed customs and tariff barriers. Remember that we did not want overlapping, having regard to what some of us had experienced in other international organisations. That kind of discussion and scheme was followed on the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. We discussed in detail what we like to call "The Council of Europe Plan." In reports that have been published this month we see that there has been a Convention on Patents, whereby the formalities required when patent applications are published have been adopted and completed in Western European nations.
I should like, in the few minutes still at my disposal, to develop a pet theme of mine, but something which is so important that I must ventilate my view on it in the House again. As delegates to the Council of Europe we have a right not only to express our views there but to take the opportunity, in our own Parliaments, of urging our Government to take action upon things which we think are of vital importance.
I have taken a very great interest in Asia. A good many of us who have had an opportunity of taking a more energetic and active interest in that part of the world will agree that we might not be faced with the struggles that are going on at present in that part of the world 1000 if we had applied our minds to the matter. That is true now of Africa. We shall find in due time that we shall have to spend, in preparation for a struggle by warlike methods, much more of our wealth than we might otherwise, unless we consider the matter now in a much more peaceful manner.
The Government ought to consider the Strasbourg Plan, which we sent to the Government and to the Commonwealth Governments. I do not subscribe entirely to the Strasbourg Plan, but I pay credit to those who conceived the idea in the past. Several parts of it do not claim my support, but I will not go into that aspect of the matter now. It is not the time to do so, and time would not permit, even if I wanted to do so, but we have to look at this matter in a much more serious way than we appear to be doing at the moment. If the Joint Undersecretary of State for Foreign Affairs will look at the resolution which the Committee of Ministers, of which his senior colleague is a member, discussed at its last meeting, he will see that there was a special report of O.E.E.C. on the Strasbourg Plan, which was submitted to the Committee of Ministers, together with a motion which I myself had presented to the Assembly, and which it was agreed should go back to the Committee of Ministers.
I hope I shall not weary the House if I read the motion, because it is important that the Minister should know what I am asking him to urge the Government to support at the Committee of Ministers. The motion which I submitted said:The Assembly,Believing that the economic advancement of both Africa and Europe is a task of the utmost urgency that can be achieved only by the closest co-operation of the two continents;Noting the various proposals that have been made on the subject both elsewhere and in this Assembly;Stressing that all measures taken must be in accordance with the wishes of the peoples most directly concerned;Recommends that the Committee of Ministers convene a series of conferences in Strasbourg under the auspices of the Council of Europe in which the elected representatives of the peoples of Africa and representatives of European countries be invited to study the best ways and means for the co-operative development of their countries.It will be noted that I say "a series of conferences." That is to make it pos- 1001 sible for different parts of Africa to come in with the complementary parts, so that there may be more uniformity and some development possible, without trying to link those parts not so developed as ours, bearing in mind that a good many have self-government now, and self-governing territories ought to have the same opportunity of meeting on equal terms with the countries which are already members of the Council of Europe.
I believe that if this can be done, then the Government will be giving an added impetus to the work of the Council of Europe, and making it possible for those of us who serve in the Assembly to see whether we cannot widen the narrow limits laid down by the recommendations concerning ourselves in trying to serve the Africans—I put the emphasis there first —and make it possible for all of us to have greater consultation than might otherwise be the case.
This debate has been extremely useful. It is a pity that we do not have an opportunity of discussing the affairs of the Council of Europe more often. I believe that we should use the opportunity when it is provided, not only to review some of the work which has been done, and not only to recognise that it is an institution which has come to stay, but to recognise that if we do not play our parts, then others may. I think that British influence is really necessary and useful not only for ourselves but for Europe as a whole. I believe that we can, by linking ourselves with Africa, create a situation in which we can truly say that the Assembly is not only a parliamentary forum but a place where extremely useful work has been done.
§ 9.39 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Lord John Hope)
In commencing what is for me the first task of its kind, I would say to the House that I consider myself fortunate in being able to wind up a debate on a subject of which I have always been, since I first came into contact with it, particularly fond.
I thought that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) who opened the debate—and it was his second innings of the day—made a speech of very great interest. I have the pleasantest 1002 memories of his comradeship in days that are fairly far behind us, when he and I together watched the formation of what was intended to be a European political community, had E.D.C. come into being. I mention that because something he said about the Articles of Association with the Schuman Pool touched a chord in my memory, as I think it must have done in his. He spoke of those Articles as a perfect example of their kind. I believe they are, but I could not help thinking that that part of that embryo plan—which never came into being—which concerns the articles of association which this country would have had with a European political community were extremely practical and good, in exactly the same way as the right hon. Gentleman was struck by the Schuman Agreement today. But that is past history.
The right hon. Gentleman was much more optimistic about the state of health of the Council of Europe today than he was when he last addressed the House on the subject. One rejoices to see that. He reminded the House today that on that occasion he had said that there was a danger of the Council of Europe dying. He then told my right hon. Friend who was then Under-Secretary that the Council of Europe was dying before his very eyes. Today, as I say, he feels more optimistic, and I think that those who then thought like him now share his increased optimism. There are reasons for it.
May I now go through the points which were made and the questions which were asked before coming, in conclusion, to a proposition which I want to leave with the House? The right hon. Gentleman noted first how much less contentious had become the argument about supra-nationality. That is absolutely accurate. I think, with him and others, that that is a very healthy sign. I believe, further, that the argument was always very largely, though not entirely, false, to this extent. However much we may have got upon our high horses about the idea of supra-nationality, I think we have all come to realise that, without losing our ultimate sovereignty as a nation, there are occasions when we have to put what seem to be our short-term nationalist advantage into the pool for the long-term communal advantage—which is also our own. Supranationality and the retention of sovereignty are not by any means alto- 1003 gether mutually exclusive when it comes to practical suggestions.
The right hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members mentioned the difficulty of overlapping. The right hon. Gentleman himself gave us a most imposing list, under various headings, of what he claimed to be this overlapping. There is, of course, bound to be a certain amount of overlapping in this kind of affair, but it is so often the way one looks at a thing and describes it which affects one's strength of feeling. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that if, instead of using this rather harsh word "overlapping" too much, he gradually infiltrates into his vocabulary the word "dovetailing" it might meet the case. Sometimes, of course, there is overlapping, but on other occasions I prefer this constuctive and peaceful word "dovetailing," which is precisely what goes on in many of these organisations.
The right hon. Gentleman asked for an inquiry to be instituted by the Committee of Ministers, and I believe the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) also asked for that. I do not think it would serve any purpose. There is no question but that these different agencies must go on and we, as members of the Assembly of the Council of Europe, must have our own links with them which we want to watch.
§ Lord John Hope
It will be most interesting to see what conclusion they reach.
The right hon. Gentleman asked whether annual reports were the best way of applying what he called the searchlight and suggested an interim report on specific matters as a substitute. That is a matter of opinion, but I think that the annual report is the better of the two vehicles and that it is better to have the whole report so that people can discuss it rather than that somebody—I do not know who—should choose which bits and pieces in an interim report will be discussed. There would be bound to be complaints that this, that or the other inconvenient piece of information had been 1004 left out. It is far better to have it in the light of day in toto.
§ Lord John Hope
The right hon. Gentleman did not say that, but it brings his case nearer to mine, although it does not bring it quite all the way.
He mentioned the thorny problem of an international secretariat. That is very much on the tapis at the moment, and the Committee of Ministers has instructed the secretariat of the Council of Europe to undertake a comprehensive study of the question in conjunction with other European organisations. These other organisations have agreed to participate, and study is proceeding. I hope that news will encourage the right hon. Gentleman.
I agree that we do not want any prejudices in terms of childish nationalism to intrude on the personnel question here. On the other hand I think he would agree that we want a balance. It would be silly and unfortunate to stand firm over an unsuitable appointee but if we can get a balance in terms of the different nations, that would be the ideal at which to aim.
The right hon. Member and the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thomson) both touched upon the question of Western European Union. It would be wrong at this stage for me to go into any detail about an organisation which has not yet come into being but I cannot let this occasion pass without adding my tribute to those which have been paid to my right hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Maclay) for the extremely helpful and businesslike way in-which he led the onslaught on this problem at the Council of Europe recently.
I want to make it plain to one hon. Member—I think the hon. Member for Dundee, East—that this Western European Union is intended, if it comes into being, to have its own Assembly. There is no doubt whatever that that is intended. As for the secretariat, there will be as great an integration as we can possibly get with that of the Council of Europe.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West drew attention to the public interest in this country in what is taking place in Europe. I agree very much with him and with those right hon. and hon. Members who said that there is the interest if we can find the right audience. 1005 I believe the reason for which there is not great public interest is largely because of the attitude of the Press—and they are quite entitled to it—for, like some critical politicians, some of them hate it and others think it is a bore. In those circumstances, we cannot expect what we might call universal coverage of its meetings.
The right hon. Member suspected—very gently, but nevertheless firmly—that the Foreign Office looks upon some of the matters in connection with the Council of Europe as a bit of a nuisance. I can assure him from personal experience that that is not so. What in fact is the case is that those who serve in the Foreign Office always put their backs into the question of the Council of Europe and do their very best to make it a going concern so that we Ministers can do our best when the time comes. I want to make the point quite firmly that there is nothing but co-operation in the Foreign Office over the Council of Europe.
I come to the speech of the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown). It has been so thoroughly analysed from various quarters of the House that I think there is very little more in addition that I want to say, except that I could have hardly disagreed with it more.
§ Lord John Hope
I did not like it very much in the first part and, when the right hon. Member said that Ministers who go to the Council of Europe are bored——
§ Lord John Hope
I beg pardon, what the right hon. Member said was that he thought Ministers should not go to the Council of Europe as they are subject to pressures and are troublesome.
§ Mr. Brown
Let the hon. Gentleman answer what I said. I said I thought Ministers from this country should not go to the Council of Europe because there are no Ministers there from other countries. They make bargains with people, get pushed off the point and make concessions, thinking that they are dealing with other people who can commit their Government at home. Then we find that this country has been committed whilst no one else has.
§ Lord John Hope
I do hope I do not take too much on myself when I say that I do not personally suffer any of those illusions when I go there, nor have my colleagues who have been there before me. I think the right hon. Member is unduly pessimistic about that. So long as I misheard his suspected accusations that we were troublesome when we go there, I am much happier about his speech altogether. The right hon. Member stressed that in his opinion we are not a Continental Power. He said we tend to think too much in the European way when we are at Strasbourg. I think that claim was effectively answered by the hon. Member for Workington. I wonder very much whether that is a practical way of looking at things in these days of quick and short communications. Of course we are a Commonwealth Power, of course we are an island Power and of course we have close links with the United States of America, but I think it is a mistake to suppose that we are not also a European Power at the same time.
§ Lord John Hope
Continental if one likes; it is the same thing to me, as there is only a tiny puddle between ourselves and the Continent.
My hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Smithers) asked about further economic integration in Europe and economic studies to be undertaken. I imagine he wanted steps in that regard to be speeded up. He knows as well as I do—he said so in his speech—that a great deal has already been done. I think the way in which this part of the business is going on is about right, although there is no complacency intended in that observation.
The hon. Member for Workington spoke of a new agricultural organisation. It is not a question of a new agricultural organisation, tout it is a Ministerial Committee of O.E.E.C. which has been established. Because we thought it essential that agricultural questions should be treated within the framework of European economy as a whole we opposed the establishment of a separate organisation and urged that the work begun by the Conference should be done by O.E.E.C.
1007 My hon. Friend the Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) was irked by the fact that civil servants, apparently, are not allowed to appear before the committees of the Council of Europe. He asked whether it was true that they were allowed now to appear before the committee dealing with cultural matters, and whether that was an exception. The answer to both those questions is "Yes"; they are allowed, and it is an exception. This whole question is obviously a vexed one. The status of the British civil servant is not the same as that of the European civil servant. We are brought up on the principle of Ministerial responsibility, and that clearly must weigh heavily in the balance. Nevertheless, if and when the international civil service is formed, then naturally this would not apply because civil servants from this country would join and would abide by the rules of the international body.
The hon. Member for Leith (Mr. Hoy) complained that there was far too much paper in the Council of Europe. Certainly there is, but I think that is the complaint of every politician in every country. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bottomley) asked me to say something encouraging about the conferences, which he has in mind. I am afraid without going further into it now that I cannot give him much hope. We feel these conferences in this particular way are not going to be very much help.
May I say this in conclusion? There is much that the Council of Europe does which is unsung but which is extremely helpful. Its real strength lies in the fact —and others have said the same thing in much the same way tonight—that this is the only political assembly which is truly European. Here the delegates of 250 million Europeans have developed a collective sense of proportion. I believe that the crises in the cold war of nerves all over the world in the last few years have proved the Assembly beyond doubt, and while courage lately has been failing 1008 in some quarters, the Assembly has declared with unshaken consistency and by an overwhelming majority its conviction that the way to security and peace lies in standing firm on the lines of a European unit and in immediate ratification of the Paris Agreements.
I would remind the House in that connection that many of these delegates and certainly the millions that they represent know what it is to be occupied by a conqueror. We cannot help thinking that the resolutions which have been passed lately by these Parliamentarians on the lines which I have just mentioned are worth far more than the frothy blusterings of those who give contrary advice. I am sorry that there was a most unhappy article written in the contrary sense in "Le Monde" last week by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan). I still prefer the resolutions which all these people have agreed to pass because they have lived and worked through the shadows for many years.
I am sure that the private side cannot be over-emphasised, the valuable contacts which we Parliamentarians can make with Parliamentarians from all over Europe. One of the things we have managed to do in this House of Commons is to enable the Parliamentarians on the Continent to understand the British. It is not an easy thing to do, but I am quite certain that there has been a service performed in this respect.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth, who opened the debate, said that the influence of the Council is its weapon. That is so because it has no legislative power. But influence can be decisive, and I believe—and I have tried to give examples—that the influence of the Council of Europe is for good. May it flourish.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. P. G. T. Buchan-Hepburn)
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.