§ 3.30 p.m.
§ The Minister of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Duncan Sandys)
I beg to move,That this House approves the Agreement concerning the relations between the United Kingdom and the European Coal and Steel Community, signed on 21st December, 1954.Having been actively connected with the movement for European unity in the years immediately following the war, hon. Members can imagine that it is a particular pleasure and privilege for me to have the opportunity of opening this debate and commending this Agreement to the House.
It was in May, 1950, that M. Robert Schuman announced his famous plan, and soon afterwards a conference was convened in Paris for the purpose of translating that plan into a treaty. In addition to the six continental countries mainly concerned, Britain also was invited to take part. As hon. Members will recall, there were some differences between hon. Members on this side of the House, who were at that time in opposition, and hon. Members opposite who were then the Government, about whether we should have accepted the invitation and attended the conference. I think I am right in saying, however, that we were all completely agreed on the main issue, namely, that Britain must retain her complete freedom to determine for herself her own economic policies in the interests of her people, and that, therefore, it was out of the question that Britain should become a full member of a supranational organisation such as was then proposed.
The fact that we were unable to join the Community did not in any sense imply that Britain was unsympathetic toward the Schuman Plan. On the contrary, it was warmly welcomed here as representing one of the first major results of the policy of European unity supported by all parties.
Coal and steel are the basic materials upon which almost all modern industry rests. The decision of the six countries of the Community to create by progressive stages a common market in these two vital products and to set up joint institutions to 882 control it was undoubtedly an outstanding event in international economic relations. Britain's output of coal and steel is greater than that of any other country in Western Europe, but the six countries together produce slightly more coal than we do and more than twice as much steel. Since these are two of our greatest industries, it is clear that the fiscal and commercial policies which the Community may at any time decide to pursue must be a matter of very great interest and importance to us. In the same way, the policies which we decide to adopt in this sphere are of considerable concern to the countries on the Continent.
From the start, Britain has made it abundantly clear that she wishes to cooperate as fully as possible with the new European Coal and Steel Community. The late Government, with the support of all parties, declared their desire—these were the exact words,to establish the closest possible association with the Community at all stages in its development.On more than one occasion the present Government have reaffirmed that policy in very similar terms.
In 1952, a British delegation, headed by Sir Cecil Weir, was established at the seat of the High Authority in Luxembourg. I think this is an appropriate moment for me to express the Government's appreciation of the work done over these years by Sir Cecil Weir. His wide experience of industry in Britain and the respect and trust which he enjoys on the Continent have been of great value in establishing an atmosphere of mutual confidence and understanding during these first and extremely important formative years.
The next step in the development of our relations was taken by the High Authority. In a letter dated 24th December, 1953, and published at the time as a White Paper, the President of the High Authority, M. Jean Monnet—who is not only a good European, but has shown himself a true friend of this country—proposed the creation of a formal association between the United Kingdom and the European Coal and Steel Community. He suggested that the basis of this association should be the reduction or elimination of protective measures between our respective markets in coal and steel. He also suggested the acceptance of certain rules 883 or principles which should govern our commercial policy in this field.
Her Majesty's Government studied M. Monnet's proposals thoroughly and most sympathetically. But we came to the conclusion that it was too soon to try to settle the final form which our relationship with the Community should take and the precise nature of the policies which should inspire it. We felt—and I believe we wereright—that it would be wiser to take a more modest step and to confine ourselves, at this stage, to the creation of machinery to promote fuller understanding of one another's problems, and to facilitate co-operation on current issues, as and when they arose.
In the subsequent negotiations I explained our views to M. Monnet and his colleagues. At the same time, I emphasised that we regarded this association not as a static contractual arrangement to be denned by treaty now, once and for all, but rather as a growing relationship which would develop progressively through the practical experience of meeting and working together.
This essentially empirical and British approach is somewhat different from the more logical and legal attitude which our Continental friends usually prefer. That is why we are particularly indebted to the High Authority and to the six Governments for their understanding of the British position and for their willingness to negotiate the Agreement upon this basis. The Agreement creates what we believe to be convenient and effective machinery for the continuous exchange of information and for consultation upon matters of common interest in regard to coal and steel. The scope of these arrangements is set out in Articles 6, 7 and 8 of the Agreement, which has been published as a White Paper.
Article 6 gives a list of some of the questions which, in our view, are likely to be the subjects of joint discussions. They naturally include all the main problems of these two great basic industries, production, estimates of future demand, exports, imports, technical developments and price policy. Exchange of information and mutual consultation on these very important matters will, in itself, be of great value. However, it may well be that as a result of these consultations we and the Community will come to the con- 884 clusion that it is to our mutual advantage to take common and complementary action upon a particular question. I certainly hope so, but I would emphasise once again to the House that we are not committed to anything beyond the exchange of information and consultation.
Article 7 deals specifically with the possibility that, in conditions of slump or scarcity, we or the Community, or both of us, might wish to adopt emergency measures to restrict imports or exports. The Article provides that, before we do so, we should discuss the situation with one another. I wish to make it quite clear that the undertaking to consult beforehand does not limit the freedom of either party subsequently to go ahead with the action which it proposes, subject to its other international obligations. On the other hand, after discussions such as are envisaged in this Article have taken place, it is quite possible that other ways may be found of dealing with the difficulties arising from conditions of surplus or scarcity in a manner which, while being equally effective, may interfere less with trade between us.
Article 8 is also concerned with commercial policy. It indicates the desire of both of us to facilitate the flow of trade between us in these two important commodities. That is the whole object of the Article. With that in mind it provides that there shall be an examination of restrictions and other factors affecting trade between us. The examinations—to quote from the Article—are to bewith a view to making such proposals for their reduction or elimination"—and I would ask hon. Members to listen to the next words—as may be agreed for the mutual benefit of the Community and the United Kingdom.I quote that passage in order to point out that we have entered into no commitment to reduce our steel tariff, or otherwise to change our commercial policy. In any case, no one-sided concessions are contemplated. Any proposals which may result from these examinations are to be "for the mutual benefit of both parties." That is the essence of the whole Agreement.
Article 9 is intended primarily to make it clear that the Agreement is in no way directed against third parties. In particular, we wished to emphasise that any measure for closer co-operation between 885 us which may be decided upon would not be designed to create cartels for the exclusive advantage of producers. In addition, we thought it desirable to state explicitly that any arrangement which might be made must take into account the special relationship between Britain and the rest of the Commonwealth.
The other Articles are principally concerned with creating the necessary machinery. The main channel of contact will be through the new Council of Association, which is to be composed of four representatives of the United Kingdom Government and four representatives of the High Authority. Wherever possible the British element will include one Minister. It will also include one member of the National Coal Board and one member of the Iron and Steel Board.
The appointment of members of outside bodies, as of right, to a Government delegation—which can be seen from the exchange of letters which have been published with the Agreement—is an unusual procedure, but it is the natural consequence of the unusual position which these two Boards have come to occupy in our economic structure. Parliament has conferred upon them extensive powers and responsibilities. So much so that a British team at the Council of Association which did not include members of those two Boards would, I believe, be unable to speak with real authority upon many of the problems which fall within the scope of the Agreement.
Throughout the negotiations both Boards have, of course, been closely consulted and, as hon. Members will observe from the White Paper, the two chairmen joined with me in signing the Agreement. I should like to say how much the Government have valued the broad-minded co-operation which they have received from Sir Hubert Houldsworth and Sir Archibald Forbes and their colleagues over this whole problem.
It is through the Council of Association and its committees that our relations with the European Coal and Steel Community will be primarily conducted. However, it seems likely to us that there will be questions on which more direct discussions with the individual Governments of the States concerned will be necessary and desirable. I have in mind such questions as tariffs and export subsidies. It is for this reason that the Agreement provides that there shall be 886 special meetings with the Council of Ministers of the member States. The importance which the six Governments attach to consultation with Britain is shown by the fact that the Agreement was signed not only by the High Authority, but also separately on behalf of each country. It is the six countries which will, in fact, ratify it.
To keep contact in the intervals between the meetings, it will be necessary for us to maintain a small permanent delegation in Luxembourg. The High Authority, similarly, wish to have a small delegation here in London. In the course of the negotiations, the question of diplomatic privileges and immunities was inevitably raised. Knowing the feelings of the House of Commons on this subject, which I myself fully share, I made it clear that no undertaking could be given until the views of Parliament could be ascertained, and no undertaking of any kind has, in fact, been given on this question.
When I explained the position, the High Authority readily accepted it. However, they not unreasonably asked that their delegation in London and ours in Luxembourg should be treated alike, which, as I say, was not a very unreasonable request. It means that if we were to grant no facilities to the High Authority's delegation here in London, our delegation in Luxembourg obviously could not expect to go on receiving the facilities which have been accorded to it during the last two and a half years.
I hope that the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens), who, I believe, is to speak for the party opposite, and other hon. Members, will think it worth while to express their opinions on this subject during the debate, so that the Government may know whether, in introducing the necessary one-Clause Bill, they can be sure of the support of the House of Commons. It would, naturally, be embarrassing to have controversy on a matter of this kind.
In conclusion, let me say that we do not regard this Agreement as an end in itself. It provides the machinery to facilitate consultation and co-operation. It creates a framework within which we sincerely hope a closer association between Britain and the Community will progressively develop. I have spoken mainly of the economic aspects of the Agree- 887 ment, but it also has considerable importance from the political standpoint, for it will rightly be interpreted as further evidence of Britain's determination at all times to play her part in promoting the unity and stability of Europe, and, by so doing, to contribute to the strength and peace of the free world.
§ 3.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Alfred Robens (Blyth)
We are obliged to the Minister of Housing and Local Government for the way in which he has interpreted this Agreement, and we will try to answer some of the questions which he has put to us, particularly the one about the diplomatic status of the High Authority's delegation in London.
Before I proceed to deal with these matters, however, I should like to draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to the fact that when we were the Government and there was a difference of opinion between us and the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends, then in opposition, over the question whether Britain should attend the initial conference in Paris, the invitation to the United Kingdom Government, it must always be remembered, was couched in very specific terms. Those specific terms—if my memory serves me rightly—meant that either we had to accept the principle of a supranational authority or we were not entitled to attend the conference.
Looking back, and in view of the right hon. Gentleman's speech today, it is clear that history has shown that we were right and that the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friend's were wrong, because they would not accept the principle of a supranational authority for the very reasons given this afternoon. Therefore, when it is indicated, at is was by the right hon. Gentleman, that there was a difference of opinion between us, it is right that that fact should be stated. The fact that we had to accept this principle prevented us from attending the initial conference.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, South)
I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman's memory is somewhat at fault. We refused to accept the proposition put up by the right hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friends at that time because we thought it was much wiser to go to the conference and find out what was requested of us, rather than simply 888 to refuse to have anything to do with it at all. It was on that issue that the vote turned.
§ Mr. Robens
That is true, but the fact is that we were not prepared to accept the principle of a supranational authority, and the invitation was couched in those terms. I was going on to say that had the original invitation been to a conference at which the question of a supranational authority was to be discussed, there would have been no difficulty in attending, but, quite frankly, the Government of that day obviously could not bind itself in advance to accept a supranational authority. Now, however, both parties are agreed on a close association, and it is with that association that we have to concern ourselves this afternoon.
Before I turn to the Agreement itself, perhaps I ought to say something about the question that has been posed by the right hon. Gentleman about the diplomatic status of the High Authority's delegation in London. Obviously, we cannot expect that our delegation in Luxembourg should enjoy more privileges or greater rights than the High Authority's delegation here in London. However, I am anxious, as many hon. Members are, about the extension of diplomatic privileges. With the setting up of so many international organisations and with the very large number of persons now involved, the number having diplomatic immunity seems to me to be getting far too big for the original purpose for which the immunity was originally intended.
We would agree that whatever rights are accorded should apply equally to both delegations, but it seems to me that the right hon. Gentleman should seek the advice of Sir Cecil Weir, head of the British delegation in Luxembourg, to determine just what is required. Is it a fact that full diplomatic rights are really needed for the purpose of doing this job? I am sure that Sir Cecil Weir, after his experience in Luxembourg, would be able to advise the right hon. Gentleman on just what rights are necessary for the members of the delegation so that they may carry out their functions efficiently and adequately. I myself would accept the advice of Sir Cecil Weir, and I therefore say to the right hon. Gentleman that, in that case, I do not think there would be any difficulty when his one Clause Bill is brought before us.
§ Mr. Robens
Before going deeper into the terms of the Agreement, I should like to pay a tribute to M. Jean Monnet, who has announced his impending retirement as President of the High Authority. I believe Jean Monnet to be a man of very great vision. He really believes in the economic integration of Europe. His goal is peace and prosperity for Europe. Instead of a Europe composed of nations continually quarrelling with one another he wants to see a co-operative Europe.
Jean Monnet believes, as I believe, that if we want to get the nations of Europe to be co-operative, it is not sufficient just to make political agreements with one another. There has to be something much more binding than treaties of political contact. If we want to avoid quarrelling, we must have something much more—greater economic integration.
Jean Monnet, who was the great architect of this work, deserves the highest tribute from all of us in European Parliaments for the way in which he has brought his idea to fruition, small though it may be at this moment. I believe that historians will write of Jean Monnet that he was essentially a man with a practical mind, whose forward views placed him a quarter or perhaps half a century ahead of his fellow men. I hope that to whatever new sphere he goes he will be as successful there in securing achievements as he has been in securing them for the High Authority.
I wonder how many people in the United Kingdom know anything at all about the Coal and Steel Community. We, as a Parliament, will this evening tie the United Kingdom to a treaty of association with a new organisation—we shall not divide on this issue—with a Community which is an integration of six nations dealing with coal and steel on the Continent of Europe. Very few people indeed in the United Kingdom know what this Community means, either to themselves or to Europe.
The Community works within two limits. One is the geographical limit of the six nations and the other is the economic limit of dealing with coal and steel. These are the only fields of effective action in which the Community can operate. It has set up a body of Par- 890 liamentarians which has now had sufficient experience to develop authority of itself. It has no legislative powers. This body of Parliamentarians falls mainly into three parties, Christian Democrat, Socialist, and Liberal. It has no legislative power, but it has the one great power that it can dismiss or remove the High Authority, if it secures sufficient votes to do that.
Therefore, the Community has been gathering influence. As one who has been closely studying what the Community has been doing over the last few years, I think there is no doubt, despite the fact that it has no legislative power, that it has had a rapidly growing influence upon the policy of the High Authority. It is a lesson for us that in setting up these new organisations, these political sounding-boards, it is not always necessary that they should have legislative power. They can be very effective when they exercise power through influence, in the way in which this body of Parliamentarians of the European Coal and Steel Community has done.
When we look at what the Coal and Steel Community has done, what can we write down? It has a consultative committee of producers, workers and consumers, dealing with, helping, and advising the High Authority about coal and steel. The workers in Europe, in trade unions associated with the I.C.F.T.U., set up a liaison committee to deal with the problems of the workers. This is very important, because for the first time in our history there is a single body dealing with six countries' workers in two great industries to which the I.C.F.T.U. can make representations. That is very important.
The appreciable achievement of the High Authority has, I suppose, been in the field of the common market. Since the High Authority was established it has abolished all customs duties, quotas and double pricing. There are no currency restrictions of any kind in connection with coal and steel transactions. It has abolished transport discrimination.
From the end of January this year—the 20th, I think—extra freight charges on raw materials, scrap, iron ore, coal, and steel crossing frontiers are to be removed progressively during the next two years by agreement. That is to be done by stages which will reduce substantially—some people say by as much as 20 per 891 cent.—the charges on cross-frontier traffic within the common market. These are very great achievements, breaking down barriers between nations and leading to a freer interchange of trade. While this is being done only in two vital commodities at the moment, there is no reason why this should not be a model for community organisation extended into other economic fields.
There has also been a very marked increase in inter-State coal and steel movements within the Community, and a tendency towards price reduction. Coal movement has increased by 300,000 to 400,000 tons a month. Iron ore traffic from France into Belgium and Luxembourg has increased by 150,000 to 200,000 tons a month. Steel prices have been reduced by about 8 per cent. or 10 per cent., not wholly because of the Community, but partly because of the single market, which has produced competitive conditions within the steel industry in Europe. That is a very important factor.
There has been another good effect in relation to the recent recession and boom. In 1953, during a period of recession, the effects of the recession were limited by reason of the fact that there was a common market. Within Europe there were pockets of high demand. The consequence was that the high demand cushioned the effect of the general trade recession. That was a very good thing for Europe, and particularly for certain nations in Europe.
Conversely, in 1954 and under boom conditions, prices rose much more slowly than would have been the case without the common market, as in March, 1952. It is interesting to look at the two phases of the boom and to see how rapidly prices rose in 1952 and how much more slowly they rose in the boom period of 1954. It means that in Europe, and in the six nations, there are assured supplies. The competitive element is certainly encouraging modernisation. In the centre of France are five companies making a special steel. As the result of the opening up of markets these companies have now been merged, with surprisingly good results in technical improvement and modernisation.
The activities of the Community are not solely directed to the economic achievements. There are social implications 892 which are very important, when we consider the very large number of workers employed in these great industries. It was my very good fortune to meet M. Finet, who is a member of the High Authority and pays special attention to the problems of workers and to general social problems. At one time he was the general secretary of a very large Belgian trade union and formerly was President of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. He has been looking at the problems of workers throughout the six countries in coal and steel and has produced some remarkable results.
For example, in modernisation and technical improvement a certain amount of redundancy inevitably takes place, it may be only for a short time. The High Authority, through the work of M. Finet, has been able to make arrangements for the resettlement of redundant workers. At the request of member Governments, the High Authority can provide funds to tide workers over the period of unemployment. Presumably this money will be additional to any social insurance schemes that may be operating in the six nations.
In addition, the Authority can provide money for the re-training of workers in new skills within the same industry or, indeed, outside this industry, and to induce workers to move to other areas in Europe where there is work available.
In the United Kingdom, we have an interesting experience of this situation in relation to the Scottish coalfields—the Lanarkshire coalfields slowly reducing their manpower requirements and the newly-opened and developing mines in Fifeshire requiring large numbers of additional workers. As the Minister of Fuel and Power and his Parliamentary Secretary know so well, because we had, not a common market, but an integrated industry, it was possible to move redundant workers from Lanarkshire to Fifeshire with the minimum inconvenience to the workers concerned, and with great results to the coal industry in Scotland.
Exactly the same has been done through the High Authority. It has arranged, for example, free travel for the workers to the other places to which they are to go; it guarantees their housing, and it makes a substantial resettlement grant for each family of about £200 per family as a settling-in allowance, and, of course, it guarantees a new job.
893 Another interesting piece of work which M. Finet is doing—and I had the opportunity of discussing this with him at great length—is in connection with an application, at the suggestion of the unions, to the High Authority, that a collective bargaining code should be provided. We in this country, who are dependent on exports for our very lives, know full well the effect of cheap labour in various parts of the world on our own industrial production and competition. Europe would have similar difficulties to face if there were an enormous variation in wages and conditions for workers in the Coal and Steel Community.
Until the Community was formed, and until the six nations got together in this way, it was quite impossible to do anything about a collective bargaining code; but now, at the request of the unions—not at the request of the High Authority—we see M. Finet, a member of the High Authority, busily collecting all the information which would enable proper comparisons to be made between the various coal and steel workers in the six nations. That is not an easy task—indeed, it is a difficult one—because there are perquisites which go with various tasks and affect the wages element; but, nevertheless, because we have the High Authority, it is possible, particularly since M. Finet is a man with great trade union experience, to be able to produce the data on which ultimately to base a collective bargaining code. I do not know how far the unions and the High Authority will go, but, obviously, they may reach a stage when they will have wage agreements which are reasonably common to the six nations.
There we have some of the work which the Community has done. It is all excellect work which can only redound to the credit of the High Authority, and it will also benefit very considerably the European economic position.
At the same time, it would be a great mistake on our part if we thought that here was this great new idea, this new experiment in economic integration in Europe, and that all was well with it. I do not take that view at all; neither does the High Authority. It has many problems to deal with, and one of the great problems is to deal with the cartels. One of the fortunate effects of what has been done in this country under the public ownership of the coal industry is that, 894 while it is true that we have a coal monopoly, it is under the searchlight of public opinion all the time and the Government of the day have to accept responsibility to the consumers. Therefore, it is a monopoly with a public interest and not a private interest or a shareholders' interest.
In the six nations, of course, there is not public ownership; there is a mixed economy. The fact is that cartels are very strong on the Continent but I am satisfied after personal conversations with members of the High Authority that it is determined to deal with the bad effects of cartels. The power lies with the High Authority, but its problem is to work out methods by which that power can be exercised.
In May, 1953, price lists were issued by the Common Organisation for Ruhr Coal, the Brussels Steel Cartel and the French Technical Association of Coal Importers—three very large cartels. When the price lists were issued by these three large organisations—there are others, too, but I am merely picking out these three—there was a strangeness about the fact that the prices were so very similar. It was subsequently admitted that the reason the price lists were strangely similar was that there was, in fact, a gentleman's agreement on prices.
The High Authority so far has failed, in the main, to enforce the prohibition of price-fixing agreements. We in this House can understand how difficult it must be for the High Authority, in view of the discussions which we have had across these benches, when we have been dealing with the price fixing of motor car accessories, and so on—things within our own circuit, so to speak.
I am sure that the High Authority is really determined to prevent the bad effects of cartelisation, and I am sure we wish it well and hope that its efforts are successful in dealing with the bad effects of cartels and price fixing. It has this great problem of cartels with which it is dealing, and it may well take some time before it can reach a proper solution of the problem.
It has also the problem of harmonising the economic policies of the countries which come within the Community in the field of fuel and power. Of course, there is the problem of the use of solid fuel versus other fuels—again, a problem 895 which we have in this country—but, by virtue of the fact that the Minister has great oversight over these industries, he is able to produce a fuel policy which best suits the needs of this nation.
It is not easy, but, nevertheless, the Minister can see that it is possible to produce a sound commonsense fuel and power policy. That is what the High Authority will have to do for the six nations in Europe. It will be a very difficult task, because it means going back to Governments and harmonising their economic policies in the field of fuel and power, such as the development of hydro-electricity, fuel oil, and things of that kind.
Another problem—I am not mentioning them all but only those which, I think, are among the most important—is the free movement of labour. That is a very difficult problem indeed. Exporting unemployment and importing labour is a difficult matter for any country to deal with. We have our own troubles in this country. While we are short of workers in many industries, we find that there is great reluctance to permit foreign workers to work here. The Community desires to see this free exchange of labour, and I think it is absolutely right to get this exchange of labour, so that there are not large pockets of unemployment in one country and shortages of workers in another.
If we can get this movement of labour, I think it is a good thing to do so. There are many social and psychological problems associated with it, and, therefore, I say, in drawing attention to the accomplishments of the Community, that we must also look at some of the other great problems which face it.
Nevertheless, I am satisfied with the men who are running the High Authority. In association with a number of my hon. Friends, I have been to Luxembourg and have had an opportunity of talking with the personnel—apart from the High Authority—and I want to say that we were very greatly impressed by the very high standard shown. The thing that perhaps impressed us more than anything else was that these people had, in a way, lost their nationality. They were thinking, not in terms of their own nation and their own nation's economic advantage, but in terms of six-nation 896 Europeans, and looking at the thing as a whole. I think that there are some very fine people on the staff of the High Authority. It is those people who have done this great work and who have these great problems to face.
Now we turn to this association. What does it mean to us? It means, in the Minister's own words, that we shall have constant consultation at high level. That is all to the good. I approve wholeheartedly the idea of the Council of Association. I shall not weary the House with them now but I ask hon. Members to read very carefully Articles 6, 7,8 and 9, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. Article 6 refers to ten important items. It does not, of course, exclude other items.
Our own workers in the coal and steel industries should note that one of these items is the arrangement for the promotion of the safety, health and welfare of persons employed in the two industries. A lot of research work has been done—medical research work. If we can exchange the benefits of our knowledge with the other nations now represented by the High Authority and bring a great deal of extra safety, health and welfare to those workers, it will be a good thing.
It is a good thing that, when additional restrictions upon trade are even being considered—either by the High Authority or by the United Kingdom Government—to be able to get together and explain why we need them. It may well be that out of consultation and discussion of that kind it may be found that they are not necessary. Some method may be discovered by which it will be possible to meet in another way the problem which it was proposed to meet by additional restrictions. I think that is an excellent thing to do.
In Article 8 we see the desire for a freer and more flexible trade—a greater degree of trade between nations. I call attention to the important fact in Article 9 that the Council of Association, which is the body upon which our own representatives will sit, is there not merely to concern itself with the people who control—whether by public or by private ownership—the coal and steel industries of the United Kingdom and of the six member-nations of the Community. It is there to give adequate consideration to the interests of the consumers of the products 897 of those two great industries. I hope that our representatives will always bear in mind that the consumers' interest is paramount above all else, because it is consumer demand that will expand the economy, increase the purchasing power and raise the standard of life for all those who live in this country and in those six nations in Europe—and, I hope, in Europe as a whole.
What does it all mean? I think it means that the integration of Europe will go on—and it would have gone on without us. It is better that the integration of Europe should go on in close association with the United Kingdom. It is important that this great country, centre of a great Commonwealth, a country which has great influence in the world, should not lose the tremendous influence that it can have, and does have now in Europe, in the place where we all live. Therefore, integration in Europe will go on, slowly or quickly according to the mood and way in which the Parliamentarians of the various nations so decide.
If I may say so, Mr. Speaker, I think that this Agreement is the model of the association which we would be ready to accept in any organisations, any communities that may be set up in Europe to deal with things other than coal and steel. Here we have a model of association which we can apply rapidly. It has taken a few years to reach this stage. The Community struggled on, wondering whether Britain was with it or against it, undecided, pulled about by political considerations.
The right hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I am sure, if I say that at one time Europeans were led by many speakers to believe that the Conservative Party was all for a federal, a united, Europe and that when the Conservative Party came into office those Europeans were very disappointed. They felt that they had had a slap in the face; that a bucket of cold water had been poured over their enthusiasm. The Minister of State for Foreign Affairs knows that we have experienced that—but that is history; it is past.
Here we have a model of association in which both parties in this House concur, and I hope that if new organisations are set up in Europe we shall not waste a lot of time but say, "We have a model of association" and see how that can be applied to any other form of community 898 organisation that is set up inside Europe. It is an empirical approach, an approach which we in Britain understand so well, although I find it difficult, try though I do, to get my Continental colleagues to understand it. Nevertheless, for us I think that it is the right approach, the approach we understand and in which we believe, I think it is the practical approach—the approach that will bring results.
In saying that we approve the Government's Motion, I say so not because of what we have at present but rather because of the Europe which we can see arising from this great and bold experiment of the Community. In those six countries there are 160 million consumers. By association, we shall add another 50 million to that number. There will be 210 million people who have begun to be slowly bound together. That is a huge market. What an opportunity for developing and expanding the economy of those 210 million people, for raising their standard of life, for increasing their purchasing power and for guaranteeing, during all our lives, full employment for those people.
This can be likened to planting an acorn from which grows the mighty oak. That tree will thrust its roots in the ground. It will grow ever bigger and its branches will begin to overshadow more and more of the soil in which it is planted. When we look back upon this modest scene in this House today, I believe that we shall be proud that we played our part in planting the tiny acorn.
§ 4.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)
I am very glad that this Motion has been brought before the House by the Minister of Housing and Local Government, for not only was he responsible for negotiating, concluding and signing this Agreement, but, as he rightly reminded the House, he played an important part in a very strenuous and able effort to bring about a closer relationship among the countries of Europe and between Europe and ourselves.
I well remember the date upon which M. Schuman announced his plan to the world. It occurred on a day when the Foreign Secretaries of many of the European countries were here, together with Mr. Dean Acheson, who was over here from America at the invitation of our own 899 Foreign Secretary. I well remember the impact which M. Schuman's offer had upon us all at that time. We can certainly claim, even today, all these years afterwards, that it was the greatest step towards peace in Europe ever taken. What is more, it was the most generous step which could be taken and it could be initiated only by France, which had suffered so much in the three tremendous wars of 1870, 1914 and 1939.
We do not always remember what were the causes underlying the war of 1870, which probably led to the events which have happened in our generation. One of the underlying causes was the desire of Germany for access once again to the iron and coal fields of Alsace-Lorraine. A new discovery had just been made by a great scientist in this country which made it possible to use the very low grade iron ore in those fields for purposes for which it had been thought previously it was of no use. That had stirred the desires and ambitions of Germany. No wonder that every effort was being made at that time to cause disagreement between those two countries.
Then, for the first time, there came that amazing offer from France—an offer that the very matter which had been in dispute between them, the territory where the iron ore and the coal was to be found, should be placed under a joint control. In that way they would abolish once and for all the causes which had brought about differences between them—differences ultimately leading to war.
That being so, one can well understand the bitter disappointment at the attitude taken by what was then His Majesty's Government. In turning down the whole offer flat, they not only said, "We will not go in with you," but they said, "We will not even sit round the table and discuss this matter with you." That was their attitude, although this was the finest step towards peace in the world which had been made.
Holland, who had nothing to offer in coal or steel or any great works, said "We do not know what our position can be under this new offer, but we would like to sit around the table with the other countries, to discuss the position and to see whether we can help in some way. It may be that then we shall be able to come in."
900 Not only in the House but also privately one made every possible effort to persuade the then Prime Minister to change his mind at least to the extent of following the line taken by Holland. In fact, isolation was the attitude adopted by the then Government, and the offer was turned down.
I listened, as the House listened, with admiration to the speech by the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens). It was factual, eloquent and most persuasive, and he pointed out the tremendous advantages which arise not only to the six countries in Europe but, indeed, to the whole world from the co-operation of the peoples of those six countries in the production of coal and steel. As he rightly said, there is the advantage of the abolition of cartels, which will come about, the assistance which is given to one another technically, even the exchange of labour, which is a great difficulty in this country. I was not surprised to hear the right hon. Gentleman speak in such eloquent terms, because the call from his side of the House used to be "Workers of the world unite." I do not know what has happened to that call nowadays. Even a colour bar is set up.
§ Mr. Davies
I am delighted to hear that because the story which I have heard from other industries, like the coal industry, is rather different. There was a time when it was not necessary for invitations to be sent, and I should like to see that state of affairs again. As the right hon. Gentleman said, how wonderful it will be when there is a free exchange between one country and another so that there is not unemployment in one country and scarcity of labour in another, too much prosperity in one country and lack of decent conditions in another.
All that might come about as a result of this Agreement—which, in those days, was rejected. I was glad to hear the right hon. Member for Blyth, who, we are pleased to note, is having an increasing influence in his own party, speak 901 so openly and so well about this matter. I hope he will continue along those lines.
May I also join with the right hon. Gentleman in paying the highest possible tribute to M. Jean Monnet, who, not only since the war but also during the war, did work which can never properly be assessed on behalf of the free nations, and particularly on behalf of his beloved France and of this country—work which he has continued since in this broader scheme of his for bringing peoples together, for breaking down these barriers and for removing causes of jealousy and enmity.
I welcome the Agreement as far as it goes. The Minister rightly described it as a very modest step. It is only a modest step, but it is a good thing to know that these great industries in this country will be in close consultation with the High Authority on all these matters which have been fully explained by the right hon. Gentleman.
The step is so modest that I think all the Minister has done so far is to touch the water with his toes. I wish he would go a little further. One day he may swim in that pool which will bring greater prosperity not only to the workers but to the consumers—and how right the right hon. Member for Blyth was to mention the consumers, who matter most. As long as they are satisfied, I am sure that all will go well. Like the right hon. Member for Blyth, I welcome the Agreement. I only hope that it is the first step, to be followed by a much bigger step very soon.
§ 4.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Aubrey Jones (Birmingham, Hall Green)
It will be within the knowledge of the House that the Agreement we are talking about today affects an industry with which I happen to be connected. The Agreement raises issues which far transcend any particular industry. It raises far greater issues of economic and foreign policy. Any views I may express, therefore, do not reflect those of any body with which I happen to be associated; they are my own and are formed in the light of those much wider considerations.
Both opening speakers in the debate, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government and the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens), repudiated the principle of supranationalism. I was not sure about the right hon. and 902 learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies), but I think I can take it as axiomatic that the House rejects the supranational principle. That being so, as a country we cannot become a full member of what is the embryo of a European federal union.
To what extent can we go in association with such a union? It ought to be one of the purposes of this debate today to try to answer that question, although I think that so far no one has attempted to answer it. I confess that in approaching the question I find myself in difficulty. The House will remember that in 1952 we agreed to enter into an "intimate and enduring association" with the Community. That may mean much or it may mean little.
When I look at the Agreement which is before us, I am also constrained to the view that it may mean something very limited and it may, on the other hand, mean very much. As I see it, the crucial Article in the Agreement is Article 8, in which we pledge ourselves to certain talks with a view to the "reduction or elimination" of restrictions on exports and imports. The operative word, I suggest, is "elimination." I put it to the House that if we advance to the elimination of all restrictions on trade, in effect we become very largely a full member of the Community.
I am not a Free Trader, because I do not consider Free Trade to be possible except over an area which, in fact, is a political unit. That is why the great Free Trade idea of the nineteenth century broke down; the world is not a political unit. That is why Lord Beaverbrook's ideal of Empire Free Trade never came to pass, because the Empire is not a political unit. If we were to agree to the complete elimination of all restrictions on trade with the Community, I think that at the end of the day we would have to advance to a political identity, to a political union, with the Continent.
I will give one or two instances of what I have in mind. My right hon. Friend mentioned the tariff on steel. That tariff was introduced in the 'thirties partly because the steel industry was threatened with extinction. It was an industry of importance from the point of view of national security. A tariff on steel for the purposes of national security may one day again become necessary—I do 903 not know—but were we to concede the permanent elimination of any tariff on steel we should be unable to do what we thought necessary on the grounds of national security.
I take another instance. There exist at the moment restrictions on the exports from this country of coal and steel, because both commodities happen to be scarce. Were we to allow their free export that free export would be prejudicial to full employment. If, therefore, we are to maintain full employment it seems to me that some restrictions must necessarily remain. If we regard ourselves as one political unit with the Continent, the issue of full employment may not matter so much, but so long as we are not one political union I do not think we can prejudice full employment.
I take another instance. In this country we have certain pricing policies for coal and steel framed in the light of domestic considerations. In the Community there are different policies. If we have complete freedom of trade between the two bodies we must at the end of the day arrive at the same pricing policies and we would change our present policies in this country not because we thought it desirable in itself to change them, not because there was any merit in the change itself, but for the sake of keeping in line with the Continent. That would be all right if we were one political unit with the Continent, but as we are not the matter is different.
I do not see that we can proceed to the complete elimination of restriction on exports and imports. What we can do, most certainly, is to reduce barriers. The tariff on steel grew up in the 'thirties and could certainly be reviewed in the different conditions of today. Most certainly, also, we can lay down and enforce a code of good behaviour for commercial policy. [HON. MEMBERS: "We?"] I am using the word "we" in the sense—and I hope I am not being presumptuous—of identifying myself with the country. We can certainly exchange information with regard to investment, and that exchange can be useful.
As for exchange of information on other matters, I have greater doubts. In other words, I see this Council of Association as doing in the limited and special fields of coal and steel what O.E.E.C. does 904 generally for the entire economy of Europe. Were the Community one day to abandon its federal aspect and its supranational ambition, I hope it would not develop into just a club of the industries concerned, but that it would develop under the auspices of O.E.E.C.
I am sceptical whether the Community will ever really realise its supranational intentions. The right hon. Member for Blyth mentioned certain difficulties. It is the easiest thing in the world formally to throw down trade barriers and say that trade is now free. Having done that, the High Authority has then to proceed much farther—it has to weld the six industries into one, with proper division of labour between them, comparable social payments and a comparable fiscal burden—butonce it attempts to do that it runs into a whole barrage of national resistances. The functional method of approaching federation was designed to avoid those difficulties, but at the end of the day I doubt whether it can avoid them; inevitably, it comes up against them.
For the time being, however, the community is a supranational institution. And though we do not accept its supranational character, it is most important that we should have good relations with it. In order that there should be good relations I offer three precepts. The first is that we should be clear and unambiguous. Please do not let us promise something that, in the end, we cannot fulfil, or give the impression that we shall do something which, at the end of the day, we cannot do.
Secondly, do not let us do anything on our part to whittle down the supranational concept. Do not let us give the impression of entering this body in the hope one day of moulding and shaping it into a form acceptable to ourselves. That has happened in the past; people in this country have uttered sentiments in that direction and I cannot help regretting the legacy of resentment and ill-feeling which, in consequence, has been left behind.
Lastly, although, as a country, we do not accept the supranational principle, I hope that, none the less, we shall fully recognise the High Authority for what it is, a supranational institution. It is not just a trading body; it is not comparable with the Coal Board or the Steel Board. It is something much bigger. It is a 905 supra-Government provisionally holding office pending the due appointment of the first European Federal Government.
In that respect, I should like to respond to the question put to us by my right hon. Friend, whether we should grant diplomatic immunity to a delegation from a community of this kind. I say that most certainly we should. It is not comparable to any other international organisation. Other organisations recognise national independence; this does not. It pretends to be a Government and, though we do not accept it, at least let us accord it full respect. In my view, it would be an act of grossest discourtesy to do otherwise. My precept for good relations is that, despite non-acceptance of supranationalism, there should be clarity as far as our intentions are concerned, there should be non-hindrance and, above all, respect.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)
I am sure that no one in the House will want to waste time by arguing about what did and did not happen when the Schuman Plan was first dealt with here. I have, however, been verifying the matter, and there is no doubt whatever that my right hon. Friend's recollection was perfectly right and that the reason the Government of the day took no part in the discussions that finally resulted in the Agreement was that the French Government, who had proposed those discussions, made the supranational status of the Authority and the acceptance of that supranational status by any State taking part in the discussions an absolute condition from which they would not depart.
If any hon. Member is doubtful about the matter—I am not going to quote it—if he looks at Volume 476 of HANSARD and the statement of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition—the Prime Minister, as he was then—beginning at column 35, he will find that that is absolutely clear. I am afraid that on that matter the recollection of the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies), the leader of the Liberal Party, is somewhat incorrect if he thinks otherwise.
§ Mr. C. Davies
I well remember the statement made by the Leader of the Opposition, but my recollection also is that an approach was made by Holland without giving that undertaking and that 906 we asked that a similar approach might be made by this Government.
§ Mr. Mitchison
It was made perfectly clear to us—it was clear in the White Paper and in the debate—that unless we would accept beforehand a supranational authority, we were not to take part in the discussions. The Dutch were not in the same position and they are now one of the States who are parties to the Authority, which is, as the hon. Member for Hall Green (Mr. Aubrey Jones) has so clearly explained, a supranational authority. But I do not want to waste time on that.
The White Paper sets out an Agreement which, I believe, everyone in the House will welcome. Hon. Members will welcome it for two reasons. First, because it is practical evidence of that belief in the possibilities of European unity which all parties in this House have had for some time. Secondly, the House will welcome it because it does not go too far. It is simply an agreement for consultation, for discussion and for doing what may be agreed out with the Agreement as a result of that consultation and discussion.
I should like to associate myself with what has been said in praise of M. Monnet. It requires a man of ability and vision to get a great project of this sort started. It requires a man of singular integrity, having got it started, having found what must be an exciting find—a very interesting job indeed, and something of the highest importance for the ideas which he has in view—voluntarily to leave it because he thinks it right to do something else connected with the same ideas elsewhere. I take off my hat to a man who has the vision to start a thing like this and the courage to leave it because he thinks that that is the right thing to do at the moment.
M. Monnet said, when I was talking to him about this—and I entirely agree: "The British work this way. You cannot bind them much to start with. If it works, they will come closer. If it does not work, they will leave it at that." That is perfectly true. It is rather interesting to see that before the Agreement was made, the Iron and Steel Federation, from a very different point of view, had said much the same thing. It had said, in effect, "We do not like codes in this country"—nor do we. "We prefer to 907 see how the thing works and to bind ourselves as little as possible to the letter of the law, hoping that the spirit will be better than the letter." That is what is happening here.
I want to take up only a short time to point to one or two of the things that struck me very much in looking at the way in which the Agreement and the High Authority were actually working. First, like every other visitor there, I was really impressed with the quality and the public spirit of the high officials and others who were working it. One can judge of an enterprise to some extent in that way and can say of two things, which both appear promising on paper, that one is far more promising than the other because of the spirit of those who are operating it. They have shown themselves to be capable and to be idealists by what they have done so far; for, surely, they have had a very short time.
If I come to one or two of the difficulties that those officials have met, it is, therefore, in no carping spirit but is in recognition that very much has been done in a short time. They found, of course, the usual commercial and industrial difficulties that one would expect in a highly important industry of this kind over Europe. One of the essentials of the Agreement and of the organisation that has been set up was that price lists should be published and should be strictly kept to, and steps were taken to enforce this; and limits within which this could, and should, be enforced, after discussion—in fact, after an actual decision on the subject—were arrived at.
Then, the High Authority made a spot check and looked at 48 firms. Thirty-five of them, it was quite plain, were guilty of more or less serious irregularities. One does not want to take that as a sign of failure—I do not think it is that; but it does illustrate the practical difficulty of putting this sort of thing into effect.
Next, I take another case. The High Authority came to deal with cartels and concentrations, which are something which is not capable of exact definition. Even if one does define it, one has still to look at the spirit of the matter and see whether it is a mischievous cartel or concentration or merely one that might be described by those unfortunate words but 908 which really does no harm to anyone. At the start, we had a pretty definite prejudice against these things and, I confess, some little doubt as to what was going on, For that reason alone, I am glad that we are consulting and discussing matters with the High Authority. We want more light on all this.
What has disturbed me and has disturbed others also is what is happening with regard to the steel and coal interests in the Ruhr. Certain concentrations, big groups in the Ruhr, which were deprived of their coal, or the greater part of it, under Allied measures of deconcentration are now getting it back. There were, I believe, four medium concerns, one of which—the Mannesmann concern—I take as an instance. It had its coal taken away from it. It has now got it back, and has done so with the sanction of the High Authority. Of the other three concerns, two have also got back their coal. The figures are fairly large, although not large in proportion to the total amount of Western European or even West German coal production; nevertheless, they are still substantial quantities. In one case it is six million tons of coal a year, three million in another case and four million in another. The fourth of the medium concerns apparently expects to get it.
I would simply say that that kind of thing obviously needs watching, and it needs watching from the point of view of our national interests and from a much wider point of view. The object of the Schuman Plan, the object of this Agreement, is, amongst other things, to secure peace within Western Europe, and peace in the widest and broadest sense imaginable. It is to prevent the possibility of economic struggles again leading to war, as they often have in the past, particularly in the case of Germany; and if that purpose is to be effected, then surely sooner or later we shall have to look into the question of this concentration of power in single concerns in Germany, particularly if those single concerns remain largely under the control of individual German groups, often of German families with various unfortunate names which we all in this House remember.
I mention these two things not in derogation in any way of what the High Authority is doing but as an indication of the immensity of the task it has to 909 face, and, I believe, some indication of the extreme importance of it. I turn from two matters where it seems to me there are risks, risks which may be broadly put into the very simple phrase, keeping the steel barons in order—something which we have occasionally found a little difficult in this country, and which has been obviously more difficult in Germany in the past. I turn from that to one or two points where, I think, most remarkable successes have already been achieved.
One of these is in the matter of investment. I do not know how far people in this country realise how extremely difficult it is to get large-scale projects financed abroad in any way that we should regard as satisfactory. Arrangements are different in different countries. I am talking of the machinery. The variations of interest at the same time between one country in Western Europe and another are quite startling. The machinery, except, I think, in the Netherlands, is pretty inefficient, and there appears to be no adequate arrangement at all for the kind of long-term financing that, for good or for ill, we are accustomed to in this country.
This problem has been tackled by the High Authority, and tackled with very considerable success. It is already succeeding in reducing the interest in various countries, for instance, from round about 9½ per cent., a high figure, in Western Germany during the period of the last Report, to 7 per cent., still a high figure. It is arranging gradually a certain internationalisation within Western Europe of these arrangements, and I would say that what it is doing in this way is contributing to cheaper steel. It is the exact opposite of what is happening in this country, where there is a higher rate of interest charged to the steel industry now, because it has been denationalised, than there used to be when it was public property. It is, accordingly, a step forward, and an advance where an advance was much needed.
The second thing it is doing that I would select for mention is very closely connected with that. As part of its arrangements in connection with financing, it has raised 100 million dollars in America, and that 100 million dollars is to be lent out to the particular concerns under the double security of what pledges and charges and the like can be given by 910 the borrowing firms and the guarantee fund of the High Authority itself, which is raised by a levy over the industry. From the point of view of the lender, it is a pretty good security, I think.
That money is to be applied in financing various projects. I am not going into them. They are connected on the whole with the coal industry rather than with the steel industry. However, I would say this about these arrangements, that they are excellent from this point of view, that that finance is given only as to about a quarter of the total cost of the project; the remainder has to be found elsewhere, and, of course, if part of it can be lent at a comparatively low rate out of this fund, that not only reduces the total rate of interest chargeable on the industry, but tends to bring down the rate demanded by bankers and others for the rest of the money.
A quarter of that 100 million dollars is to be devoted to housing, and the High Authority, I am not surprised to see, is wiser in this matter than some industrialists in this country. It is taking a very firm line about not having any tied houses. Perhaps when the discussions take place they will not be entirely one sided, and we in this country shall be sensible enough to learn from what they are doing abroad about the practical disadvantages of tied houses—not only our coal, but our iron and steel concerns, too. Some day or another, as a result of this Agreement and what flows from it, we may get even the tied houses in Corby untied. That is, perhaps, a rather parochial point compared with the things we are considering now, but the principle is there all the same, and it is quite right. What the High Authority is doing in housing is to use it as part of the means of facilitating the movements of workers which are almost inevitable in any reorganisation of the steel industry of Western Europe, much of which is sadly out of date.
It is in connection with that that it is studying the question of pay, and it is looking at pay very properly. It has already got out the most valuable statistics of the money received, not only in the wage packets but in social security benefits and so on, by the workers in different countries in Western Europe. It is going one further and proposes to apply those figures to ascertain the real 911 wages; that is to say, by a comparison of budgets and expenditure to find out what the standard of living really is in those countries; and it is accepting what it ought to accept under the Agreement, a general responsibility not only for preventing decreases in wages but also, in the terms of the preamble, for improving the standards of living.
I say, with confidence, that if we consider how this is working at the present, we find two things. First of all, that the difficulties are major difficulties. They are, I think, the difficulties of any shift of power, a shift in this case from individual, powerful capitalist concerns to this supranational authority. It is finding all those difficulties, it is facing up to them, and it is making considerable progress indeed. On the other hand, we find that it is taking a wide view of its functions. It is looking at the social effects of what it is doing. It is trying not only to promote peace in the long run by making war impossible, but the foundations of peace in a common life and in common interests and in common work over the area of all the countries that are members of this High Authority.
I am thoroughly glad, therefore, that this Agreement has been put before us for approval today. I feel sure that nothing that we say here will be taken by those who are concerned with the High Authority as anything but an appreciation of their difficulties, on the one hand, and the spirit and success with which they are meeting them, on the other.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
This debate seems to have produced one non sequitur after another. I am absolutely at one with the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison), and indeed with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government and the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens), in wanting to do anything which is likely to strengthen Europe in the cause of peace and to assist in a united effort. When one expresses such a view, one must be quite sure that anything which is presented before us in this House, such as the White Paper we are now considering, represents the best way in which that objective can be achieved.
The right hon. Member for Blyth recalled the occasion when the Schuman 912 Plan was introduced and the House first expressed its opinion upon it. I remember that occasion very well, because five of my colleagues and myself felt unable to support the official Opposition view, for the reason that we did not like the supranational flavour about it. There has been a dispute since then between the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) and the right hon. Member for Blyth as to exactly why the Government of that day, now the Opposition, took the line which they did. I can only speak for the line that I took, which was that we ought not to do anything which was likely to encourage supranational bodies in Europe.
I still adhere to that view, because I believe that the terrible danger of such bodies is that if they are tested before they are put into full operation the whole organisation crumbles and one has greater weakness and chaos than prevailed before the whole organisation was started. I do not believe that the countries of Europe are capable of producing a lasting supranational authority, although I am at one with the aim which led to the creation of the Authority, that is, in order to strengthen Europe and to prevent the outbreak of a third world war.
That aim is important, but on examination of the Agreement I find it a little difficult to ally some of its terms with what my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government said when he opened the debate. My right hon. Friend gave a categorical assurance that Britain would retain her complete freedom in economic policy and he maintained that the Agreement achieved that freedom. I ask the House to examine the Agreement much more closely than anybody who has spoken in the debate appears to have done.
Article 4 (3) of the Agreement states:The proceedings and papers of the Council of Association shall not be made public except in so far as the Council of Association may agree otherwise.I am not so much worried about the proceedings as about the papers. What will the papers be about? I presume that papers will be issued about the matters which are mentioned in Article 6. They will be concerned with:… matters of common interest concerning coal and steel …913 which will include,(a) Conditions of trade in coal and steel between the Community and the United Kingdom;Are we being told seriously today that we are now to prevent Her Majesty's Government, if they so wish, from publishing anything under that heading unless it has been approved by the Council of Association? That is how I read Articles 4 and 6.
I grant that there are four nominees of the United Kingdom on the Council and four members from other countries, but what will occur if the majority happens to go the other way? One can well see it happening. The right hon. Member for Blyth said something which was perfectly true of these organisations. He said that some of the other member countries now in the Coal and Steel Community had virtually lost their nationality altogether. There is a disease which has developed more since the war than it ever did before. I can only describe it as "delegationitis." It has a most destroying effect upon a person's remembrance of what he was sent to do originally. The delegation is apt to become more important than those who delegated it, and that is what might happen in this Council of Association.
It happens in this country in some organisations which have great power. Anybody who is sent by Her Majesty's Government as their representative on this Council of Association ought to have the interest of the United Kingdom paramount in his mind. I do not know for how long he will be able to retain that interest. If we have to join other organisations like those set up since the war, the time during which a delegate will remain fully aware that his main purpose is to look after the United Kingdom interests will become shorter and shorter as time goes on. When one sets up a national or international bureaucracy there is a tendency to make the bureaucracy more important than the subject it was originally set up to deal with.
Other items to which the publication of papers will relate, according to Article 6 of the Agreement are:(f) General objectives of development and main lines of investment policy;Are we to be told that the Government cannot possibly make disclosures to the House on these subjects, and iron and 914 steel interests in the country cannot make statements about them in this country, because those disclosures and statements have not been approved by the Council of Association? I should not be so anxious if it were not for the fact that, since the United Nations and other international organisations have been set up, one has had instances over and over again where simply because matters are under consideration by those other bodies nothing can be said about them in the House of Commons.
If we had a referendum on this Agreement today, I believe that it would be rejected by a large majority, but that does not mean automatically that Her Majesty's Government are wrong in introducing it. The right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) spoke on another occasion of how the House of Commons has to give a lead in some matters. I believe that Governments have sometimes to do things of which the country does not always approve beforehand.
I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government and my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs are deeply sincere in their belief that this Agreement will do us no possible damage, may conceivably do us some good and will help Europe in the future. I do not agree with them. I believe that the Agreement is restrictive of British sovereignty, and that we have had enough restriction of British sovereignty since the war not to agree with further restriction. I agreed with much of what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Hall Green (Mr. Aubrey Jones). He made it abundantly clear that the European Coal and Steel Community has been set up with a supranational aim. There is regret amongst member States in that supranational body that the United Kingdom is not in it, but I say "Thank goodness the United Kingdom is not." It is one of the very few things upon which I can congratulate the late Government—the fact that they did not attend the meeting of the supranational authority on the terms on which they were asked to go.
I think that some people assume that because E.D.C. failed supranationalism is dead in Europe. I wish it were. I do not believe it is, and I think that what M. Mendes-France said in August last year 915 at the time before E.D.C. was finally rejected is very relevant to this debate. He warned his own people of the great danger if the economic consequences of E.D.C. existed and if international bureaucracy dictated to France what she should spend and how she should spend money on armaments, steel, cotton and so forth. This is part of the same plan. It is all the whittling down of national sovereignty.
Some hon. Members think that national sovereignty today is not important. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth suggested that people should shed their nationalism as though it were an old overcoat. I personally believe that if a few more people in this country would think more of their own nationalism here it would be a very good thing for the world at large. It is practicably impossible, for instance, for any Member of this House to be in favour of a supranational authority and be loyal to the oath we take when coming into this House. I am only speaking for myself, and I am perfectly sure that hon. Members opposite are speaking according to the dictates of their consciences. All I am asking is that they should not expect me to support some of the things they put forward.
Why do I believe in national sovereignty and why am I against federation? It is simply for this reason, that I believe that in piping times, when there is a boom atmosphere, it is easy enough to get these agreements working. But what happens when the terms of trade change? The old French proverb "Sauve qui peut" is then apt to operate. What is going to happen if an international organisation has been set up which is going to bind us in association with other international bodies, such as we are asked to do today? In times of recession it will be necessary to break the undertaking given in the interests of one's own country. What was it in 1932 which really helped the British economy to get going again? The right to put on the tariffs which we wanted to introduce in mutual agreement with the Commonwealth.
There is a great fallacy underlying the talk about tariffs automatically restricting trade. I strongly disagree with that view. They are a director to trade, and in some cases can be a positive encouragement. If anyone doubts that, let him look at what happened between 1932 and 1939. 916 Article 8 tends to deny to us the right to put on tariffs if they become necessary. I do not say for a moment that they need to be increased today, but if there were a repetition of the sort of conditions of 1931, tariffs would probably be about the only thing which could save this country's economy. Here we are being asked to run the risk of having another inter national supranational body interfering with our right to do with our Common wealth——
§ Mr. Mitchison
The hon. and gallant Member is getting so worried that I feel very sorry for him, but if he reads this White Paper he will find that it commits this country to nothing whatever but discussion.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
The hon. and learned Member, I am sure, believes that, and I am absolutely certain that the Government themselves believe it. All I ask hon. Members supporting this plan and the Government to do is to read this White Paper again to see how many different interpretations could be put upon it. I have voiced some of the anxieties which arise in my mind as to some of the possible interpretations.
It is true that Article 9 says:In fulfilling their functions, the Council of Associations shall, among other considerations"—I like "among other considerations"—have regard to the interests of consumers, as well as of producers, of coal and steel in the Community and the United Kingdom.I should much prefer that instead of the phrase "and the United Kingdom" it read "or the United Kingdom or both." It looks to me as if that means that the Council of Association shall have the right to take into consideration only those things which are directed both to the Community and to the United Kingdom. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Kettering is a lawyer and ought to have detected that one himself.
We have been told that one of the arguments in favour of this Council of Association is that this Agreement will prevent cartels being set up. I think a lot of other constructions could be put upon that. There isthe special relationship between the United Kingdom and other members of the Commonwealth of Nations.917 That is all very nice. All that is undertaken here is that in fulfilling its functions the Council of Association shall, among other considerations, have regard to these things.
§ Mr. Jack Jones
I have listened with great patience to the long-drawn-out story about the economy of Her Majesty's Government, but can the hon. and gallant Member show us one instance where Her Majesty's Government can be overruled by this supranational body?
§ Major Legge-Bourke
If I may say so to the hon. Gentleman, who knows the steel industry extremely well, he ought not to be so easily gulled.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
What I am directing my remarks to is what the Council of Association can do by way of restricting the activities of Her Majesty's Government. I am much more concerned with that aspect than I am with the question put to me by the hon. Member. How much is the Council restricted by Her Majesty's Government? I say that the more this Council of Association is restricted by Her Majesty's Government the better. What I am anxious to avoid is the Council dictating to Her Majesty's Government, and if we consider the last part of Article 4 in conjunction with Article 6, I say that there are possibilities of great restrictions there. It seems to me that this Council can prevent vital information being given to us by Her Majesty's Government, and that is something which we should not tolerate.
I apologise for keeping the House as long as I have and for striking a discordant note while everybody else is singing the praises of this Agreement. I only repeat that I am quite satisfied in my mind that those who have spoken in favour of this Agreement sincerely believe what they have said, but I say that it could be a most dangerous thing for this country and Her Majesty's Government would be well advised to tidy up the wording a good deal.
As to inserting something about diplomatic privileges, I was much impressed by the point put forward by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth, that there should be some limited 918 form, rather than a full measure of, diplomatic privileges. I think there are too many people enjoying them. I certainly do not accept for one moment the agreement which apparently my right hon. Friend has entered into, that whatever we decide about these things should be equal between the two sides, because I say our delegation to the supranational authority represents a sovereign Government, but the people coming from that body represent an international conglomeration which has neither sovereignty nor the right of existence.
§ 5.29 p.m.
§ Mr. H. Hynd (Accrington)
We thought this was going to be a non-controversial debate, but I notice that the two Government back-bench speakers, the hon. Member for Hall Green (Mr. Aubrey Jones) and the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke), have both shown that they are very troubled about the Agreement. It seems to me that we on this side must defend the Government against their own supporters on this occasion.
But surely people who have any misgivings at all must agree on one thing, that many people had doubts as to how long the Coal and Steel Community would continue once it was set up. They may have wished it well, but many of them thought that this new experiment, though a courageous one, faced tremendous odds, and various people gave it different terms of existence. The Community still exists, however, and so far it has managed to meet the great difficulties with which it has been confronted. It has done better than many of its friends thought it could do when it was set up, so we ought to give it that measure of support at any rate.
I am sorry that we did not enter the organisation as a full member at the beginning. Our fears at that time were exaggerated, and I think we should have taken part in the discussions. The present measure of association is very slight; as the Minister told us this afternoon, it consists simply of the exchange of information and consultation. That is nothing to be excited about, and it does not justify any opposition to signing the Agreement.
There is one remarkable thing—this may be what has influenced the remarks of the two previous speakers opposite— 919 that the European Coal and Steel Community has shown the great advantage of sensible co-operation in coal and steel. It has a great advantage over the free-for-all competition in which hon. Gentlemen opposite usually believe.
§ Mr. Aubrey Jones
The hon. Gentleman has referred to me as opposing the Agreement. Yet I said that I was fully in agreement with co-operation, though not with federation, which is a different thing.
§ Mr. Hynd
If the hon. Gentleman is in favour of the Agreement, I misunderstood him and apologise, but that was the impression left on my mind by his rather pessimistic comments. My right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) described this as an empirical approach which he found difficult to explain to the people he met at those meetings. Of course it is difficult to explain. People cannot understand this approach which we are pleased to call empirical. It sounds a very respectable word for a rather selfish attitude. We are saying to the others, "You should unite for the benefit of Europe but we will not come in with you; we will stand on the sidelines and, in so far as we feel it will benefit us, we will consult with you and exchange information, but that is as far as we will go."
That was not the idea of the present Minister of Housing and Local Government when he and I were at the Hague Congress together, looking forward to a great future for Europe through co-operation. We felt it would be more real than that. This I believe to be a complete justification for what was known as the functional approach towards European co-operation. This is the first successful experiment, and I am delighted that it has been so successful. I would like to see it extended, and I see no reason, if in another year or two the Community continues to cope successfully with the problems of the coal and steel industries, why its activities should not be extended to, say, transport. I suggest transport because about 40 per cent. of the freight transport within the six countries concerned consists of the transport of the products of those two industries. Therefore, it would not be too big a step forward to extend the activities of the 920 organisation to cover West European transport.
I want to ask the Minister what he meant when he said he thought this was a framework within which he hoped for closer association between Britain and the organisation. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will explain in what direction he hopes there will be closer association, and what kind of closer association he had in mind? I found it difficult to associate those remarks with his earlier ones when he said that Britain must retain complete freedom to determine her own economic policy. We cannot have it both ways. If we are to take the isolationist position mentioned by the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely, we cannot at the same time say that we hope for closer association with the Community. That seems to be a paradox which requires clarification.
Another question is, who will represent this country on the Council of Association? We are to be entitled to nominate four people. I do not suppose that the right hon. Gentleman can give names today, but what kind of people will they be? Will they be Ministers or hon. Members of this House or civil servants? Also, will the annual report visualised in this Agreement be laid before the House for discussion? That is essential if hon. Members are to follow the activities of the Association as they should.
With those remarks, I give my full support to this Agreement so far as it goes, only regretting that we are not more closely associated with what I regard as an important body, with which it will be essential for us to associate more closely in the future if we are not to suffer economically by attempting to compete against the combined coal and steel industries of those six countries.
§ 5.39 p.m.
§ Colonel C. G. Lancaster (South Fylde)
Unfortunately, the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) is no longer in his place. I wanted to tell him that, for almost the first time in my experience, I found myself in nearly total agreement with what he said. Like that hon. and learned Member and several other hon. Gentlemen opposite, I paid a recent visit to Luxembourg and was immensely impressed with all I heard and saw there in regard to the European Coal and Steel Community. M. Monnet, in particular, 921 impressed me not only with his balance and wisdom but with the tone and temper which he set amongst the higher members of the High Authority and their staff. I join with my right hon. Friend in paying tribute also to our delegation there under the leadership of Sir Cecil Weir. I was impressed with their grip of the problems confronting them and with the sensible approach to their task in working in association with the Community.
Now I want to make one or two general observations in regard to this problem. At the time the Schuman Plan was first considered, I suggested that we should be wise to associate ourselves with the movement rather than to federate with it. I did so advisedly because my mind went back to the time before the 1914 war when there was growing up something of the same order, though it lacked the political concept which permeates the Community. It was not dissimiliar from what is now essentially a political as well as an economic federation.
In those days the community of interests between the Ruhr and Westphalia, the Saar and Lorraine, Belgium and Holland, was becoming a very real thing and was developing in a certain sense to be something of a threat to our own interests on the Continent. The 1914 War and subsequent events rather shattered the original conception, and what has now been set up is, I admit, in many ways a different thing. There is certainly no question of a cartel arising in the minds of those who are directing the Community. Indeed, any suggestion that there might be an element of cartel is hotly, and rightly, resented.
However, as has been pointed out, we are living at this moment in a seller's market where there is a demand all over the world for the wares which are being produced by the Community as well as by us. However, should that position be reversed and should the strain arise of over-production with the consequent unemployment and other disadvantages which go with over-production, we might find our traditional markets very much influenced by what is occurring in the Community.
Hon. Members opposite may not wish to recognise that under a free economy the efficiency in, for example, the coal world—I do not know whether the same applies to the steel world—is appreciating 922 on the Continent at a greater rate than it is in this country under state control. If conditions turn in the way that they may turn, with a recession, it may well be that we shall find competition in our traditional markets made more difficult for us.
To that extent, I welcome this Association because I believe that thereby, by discussion, by prior knowledge and by the advantages of consultation, we may be able to cushion the effects. Were we to stand outside the Community and have nothing to do with it, we should find ourselves in considerable difficulty if those conditions should arise. It is all to the good that we have had the wisdom to enter into this Association, and to that extent I join hon. Members on both sides of the House who welcome the Association and wish it well.
§ 5.44 p.m.
§ Mr. George Chetwynd (Stockton-on-Tees)
I find myself in considerable agreement with the views expressed by the hon. and gallant Member for South Fylde (Colonel Lancaster). I was with him on the delegation about which he has spoken. Like him, I was impressed with the very high calibre of not only the members of the High Authority but also the directors of the departments, the technicians and all others concerned with this developing Community.
I have agreed to be very brief, and so I must more or less headline what I have to say. The position with most of my hon. Friends is still the same as it was when the matter was first debated, and that is that full membership of the organisation for Great Britain is quite impossible. Nothing has happened since then to convince us that we could surrender part of our sovereignty in vital industrial fields to a supranational body.
However, from what I have seen, the body in Luxembourg is not quite so supranational as some people thought at the beginning it would be. It is responsible to a high court, it is responsible in some measure to a common assembly, and it has the advantage of becoming more and more responsible to a general public opinion.
On the other hand, it is not possible for us to remain in isolation from this body. That is not a practical proposition. It is quite impossible for Great Britain to stand aloof and disinterested from what takes 923 place in Europe. That brings us to the form of association that we are discussing today. The policy of association with the Community has been the consistent aim of the British Labour Party. Sir Stafford Cripps, in his speech when we debated the Schuman Plan, made it quite clear that we were in favour of an association with whatever form came out of the discussions.
The time has come, and the Government have faced this, when we must get down to establishing a formal relationship with the Community. It is a reality. In spite of what the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) thinks, it is now well established in Western Europe, and I believe it is here to stay. It covers an area of about 449,000 square miles, and in 1954 it had a record output of 43,800,000 tons of steel, and it has had a post-war peak output of 241,600,000 tons of coal. Thus, it is something of which we must take account; we cannot just ignore it and pretend that it does not exist.
By its efforts over the last two or three years the Community has brought about a common market in all the fields with which it is concerned. It has brought about a transfer of workers. It has brought about the re-equipping and integration of steelworks, the modernisation of coalmines, and so on, with the general result that the artificial pattern of trade which previously existed is slowly but surely being removed and coal and steel are beginning now to flow in increasing quantities along the natural routes to the right places at the right time.
For political reasons alone, to enable the Government to show that we are interested in trying to build up a greater unity in Western Europe, it is to our advantage to be associated with the Community. I believe that for economic reasons as well and for the plain self-interest of this country, we have everything to gain by this form of association.
It is not possible to make a dramatic gesture by, for instance, stationing about four divisions of troops in Europe for fifty years to show that we intend to be considered as interested in Western Europe. We cannot move a steelworks or a coalmine into Western Europe and say, "We will share this with you all," but the least 924 we can do is to say that we will cooperate and discuss all the matters which are laid down in the Agreement with a view to avoiding the worst horrors which affected us with the growth of cartels during the inter-war years. If we can prevent that sort of development, that alone will make association well worth while for us.
If we can combine for the purpose of increasing the consumption of steel throughout Europe and the world, that will, in turn, bring immeasurable benefits to the workers in the steel and coal industries at home. There are difficulties, of course, and I took the opportunity, in a debate at Strasbourg some years ago, to point these out to M. Monnet. It is true that British public opinion is not fully aroused to what it involves. There is no climate of opinion in this country for participation or association. I doubt if one in a hundred in my constituency could tell me what E.C.S.C. means; many would probably think it a football club.
Nevertheless, this does not mean that we have to leave the Community alone. It is up to us to inform public opinion. I should like to know what steps the Government propose to take to publicise the activities of the organisation, not only by an annual report to the House, which may be lost among so many other things, but by daily contact with opinion in this country.
It is also true that the steel industry is not very enthusiastic about the Agreement. It would rather there were a commercial association direct between the firms in this country and the firms on the Continent. I think that would be a disaster, or it could be a disaster, and I would much rather have a Government-to-Government approach on the matter, subject, in the last resort, to the will of Parliament.
Some of our people thought at one stage that the High Authority could take actions to close coalmines or steelworks in this country. I raised the question with M. Monnet and, of course, he said that this was completely baseless and a chimera. Therefore, I do not think we need have any fears on that ground. I should like to know what the Government will do to take the initiative in this matter and to carry along with them the British coal and steel industries.
925 There is more than one way of killing a pig. One can strangle it at birth—which is perhaps what some people would have preferred in this case—or one may kill it by slow starvation over a long period. I do not wish to see this association starved. I wish to see fruitful cooperation. I should like to see not only initiative from Luxembourg but efforts from this country to make the association worth while.
My general conclusion is that this Agreement may mean a lot, or it may mean nothing at all. It might die through lack of interest. But if we start in a limited fashion with discussions about the future of tariffs, investment, market trends and social questions, the Council could do useful work. It could lower obstacles to trade. It could co-ordinate development on long-term plans. I am convinced that this offers no threat of unemployment to our people and that it is something which we can support to the full.
We have provision for discussions at Ministerial level, but I wish to see discussions and joint action at Parliamentary level. I hope that the Minister will tell us—because it meets with some support from the Common Assembly—that the High Authority has means of associating hon. Members of this House with the Common Assembly when matters of general interest are under discussion. I hope we can do that, even though it means that the Members of this House on the Consultative Assembly of the Council of Europe are, at the same time, the members sitting in the Common Assembly. I am sure that most hon. Members on this side of the House wish that this association, which is now only a framework, will develop into a live permanent organisation.
§ 5.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Robson Brown (Esher)
I wish to associate myself with the speeches of approbation which we have heard this afternoon and to say that the Minister and the Government have moved in the way we would wish and so far as we could have wished them to do. The empirical approach is the good English approach, the wise approach and, in the long run, the most sensible approach.
I wish to speak from the point of view of steel production and to say that on talking to the men in the industry, and not the management of the industry, I 926 have found a certain uneasiness about the plan and its effect upon their future employment. I have assured them that against the present background and proposals, and in the commitments which we have made, there is no danger in that respect; but there is a very grave danger that we are displaying a too easy optimism about the future of these proposals.
I welcome the vision of the future outlined by the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens). I hope he is right, but we must be very level-headed in these matters. It may well be that we are at the peak of present expansion of trade. I hope not, but it may well be so. If that be the case, I believe that the Community and Great Britain might be likened to a three-wheel cart, unless the United States is included in some way or other. I cannot visualise a community, particularly a steel community, working successfully in periods of serious fluctuations of trade unless it includes the United States. I feel, therefore, that we should look upon this plan as the preliminary to an international understanding.
I believe that here I am supported by figures of great import. In 1953, the world production of steel reached a record total of 230 million tons. That represented an increase in one year alone of 22 million tons, which is more than the total output of Great Britain in one year and an increase of 11 per cent. over the previous year. What is more important, it represents twice the tonnage of 1937–38.
Why do I give these figures? Because there is another figure which is of great importance. In 1954, output dropped from 230 million tons to about 219 million tons. The major part of that drop was in the United States. If the United States ever came into the markets of the world and took orders regardless of cost, the steel economy of Europe and of this country would suffer seriously. It is well for us to consider these matters in good time before an adverse change in trade takes place and to try to bring in the United States with us.
It is projected that in the next five years the world production of steel will reach the stupendous total of 278 million tons, an increase of over 20 per cent. I think it only natural that workers in the industry in this country should ask, "How are we to dispose of that over the 927 world?" The House and the country should note that we depend on the export of steel. A remarkable thing is that, after taking into account the imports of steel, the exports of British steel in the raw last year was only 2,375,000 tons. But steel exported in the form of finished goods amounts to over 4 million tons a year. Our finishing trades are selling our steel for us.
A remarkable fact is that out of that 4 million tons no less than 27 per cent. went to Europe and the United States, with the greater part in Europe. One does not need to think very long before realising the impact of that figure if we or any country in Europe should meet with a recession in trade. The effect, naturally, would be to take away that 27 per cent. from us by European manufacturers.
The intention and purpose of the Iron and Steel Community is to bring down the cost of steel in Europe wherever possible. It is realised that steel is the raw material of the modern age, and if the price of European steel be low their competitive position in other trades in which steel is used would be that much better. It is well that we in this country should bear these figures in mind and not indulge in over-optimistic feelings about the future. It must surely be our purpose to make good steel and cheap steel, but also to work to unite the steel nations of the world in an international steel community.
§ 5.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Jack Jones (Rotherham)
I welcome the oportunity of saying a few words about this Agreement. To put it briefly, it means to me that Her Majesty's Tory Government have put into print what His late Majesty's Labour Government put into words. It is an expression of good will towards this European organisation, which is as it should be.
We opposed a supranational set-up and I would still oppose anything of the sort. The hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) and other hon. Members have said that when they went to Luxembourg they were astonished to find experienced and intelligent people there. Wherever they go they will find that steel workers or coal workers are among the best people, because they have 928 been brought up to accept responsibility. Men in the steel and coal industries are accustomed to dealing with the hard facts of a situation.
M. Monnet, for whom I have a great personal regard, would like to see us "go the whole hog" in this matter, but there are many reasons why we cannot. No Government, whether Socialist, Liberal, Coalition or Tory, could enter into an agreement to give other nations the right to dictate wage rates, conditions or prices in this country without the good will of the mining community and the steel workers. They would be heading for disaster if they did. That is why we cannot agree to such a course.
At the same time, there is no reason why this or any other British Government should not take part in a policy of mutual understanding and good will with the European countries. There are many things which may be done. Hon. Members have mentioned some and I could mention others. We might show other countries how we conduct our trade union business and explain what are really the functions of management and trade unions in this country. Questions such as the integration of scientific knowledge can be gone into. I know that the Community has already done some good work, including that of reducing freight charges and bringing to an end the practice whereby a truck was conveyed full one way and was brought back empty.
The Community has brought down prices, and that is a good thing. It will keep us very much on the qui vive to see that our prices compete with those of other countries. If there is one thing which we must produce it is an unlimited supply of high quality steel at the cheapest possible price. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) mentioned that the wrong way of going about the matter is by giving increased dividends, but that is a subject for another debate. Continental firms have been able to obtain capital at controlled rates of interest, which is another way of doing good work within the industry.
I think I can speak on behalf of one of the major industries concerned—the steel industry—and say that it welcomes the fact that the policy which the country wants to express has now been put in writing. This should encourage our 929 friends on the Continent to do all that is possible, each with the other, to bring about a situation which will tend towards peace in the world.
§ 6.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Roberts (Sheffield, Heeley)
It is a pity that the end of this debate has been rushed. I should have thought that the Government could have given more time to this very important subject. I very much doubt whether many hon. Members will be here at ten o'clock, when we finish discussing the second part of tonight's business. I should have preferred to see this debate continued. At any rate, it seems as though Sheffield will have the last word from the back benches. That is as it should be, because Sheffield is very much interested in this subject.
I had an interesting speech to deliver to the House but I shall not now do so, largely owing to the shortage of time. I shall content myself by asking one question of my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs. This question has not yet been raised, and it was certainly not mentioned by my right hon. Friend in his opening speech. What form of Parliamentary control shall we have over the deliberations of this Association? Shall we be able to ask Questions about it? If so, of whom are we to ask Questions? I imagine that it will not be the Minister of Housing and Local Government.
I feel that the Association will have more importance in relation to the general co-ordination of production of steel in Western Europe during the next 10 years than anything has had in the last 15 years. If this Agreement works, as it may well do, questions arise about the situation of steel works; what type they shall be; in what countries they are to be placed, and how they are to work in with the defence programme. Those are vitally important questions. We should be told now how it is proposed that Parliamentary control shall be exercised in this matter.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will deal specifically with this point. It is vitally important that people should be encouraged to take an interest in the matter. It would have helped if we had had a longer debate, but if my right hon. Friend will answer my question we shall be better able to see how the system is likely to work out in the future.
§ 6.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Mulley (Sheffield, Park)
It is very appropriate that the two last back-bench speeches in this debate should be given by hon. Members representing Sheffield constituencies. I find myself in the most unusual position of agreeing with everything that the hon. Member for Heeley (Mr. P. Roberts) has said. I agree that it would have been better if this debate could have gone on a little longer. I also agree about the importance of more information being made available about this Association, and the necessity for Parliamentary responsibility in the matter.
I should have liked to go into the very interesting point made by the hon. Member for Hall Green (Mr. Aubrey Jones), concerning the position of organisations which exhibit supranational tendencies. Time does not permit me to go fully into that aspect of the matter, but I would venture the observation that we should make our position abundantly clear to our friends on the Continent. At any time now somebody may suggest that a similar body should be set up for some other industry, and it would avoid the embarrassment of an invitation that we could not accept if it were made clear that the only terms upon which we could consider attending a conference dealing with our association with the Continent would be that there should not be any pre-condition of a supranational principle.
I do not want to become involved in the arguments which we had in the House and elsewhere two or three years ago, but it is quite clear that, whatever might have been the outcome of that conference, it would have been a mistake if we had gone, because if it had then failed we should have had the responsibility of killing the idea. We are in a very different position from Holland. It is for the Government to make it quite clear that we are anxious to co-operate with Europe, but if they want to talk to us about the matter they should not ask us to accept the principle of organisation in advance.
I welcome this Association for two reasons. First, it is the least that we can do to assist the economic development of Europe and, secondly, it is in our self-interest. I need not enlarge upon the reasons for that; they have been explained by many hon. Members. It is 931 abundantly clear that a Community with an annual steel production of 43 million tons and an annual coal production of 241 million tons on our doorstep is something about which we have to think.
I hope that the Association will develop into something valuable and worth while, but also that no one will take the view that because a document has been signed and sealed we have a close association with the Community. All that the Agreement does is to lay down the framework within which a close association can be developed. I hope that the responsible Minister will take the initiative and not leave all the running of the machine to the members of the High Authority in Luxembourg. There is no reason why some of the items mentioned in Article 6 should not be dealt with at once. I certainly think that we should consider discussions which might lead to a reduction in restrictions upon trade, import and export duties, and so on.
I believe that our steel industry is able to face any competition that may be forthcoming, both as to quality and price. It will be a very sad day for us if we feel that we have to protect the industry because we cannot take our place in the world market. Although the ownership of the industry is an issue between the two sides of the House, I think it is agreed that it needs to be supervised by the Iron and Steel Board. I believe that a logical extension of that principle is provided by the facilities which are laid down in the Agreement with the European Coal and Steel Community.
I have talked mainly about steel because that is my constituency interest and also because it is in its dealings with steel that the Association will impinge to the greatest extent upon our economy. As far as coal is concerned, I do not believe that it will have quite the same effect.
I wish to join with other hon. Members in paying a tribute to M. Monnet. There is no doubt that it was his inspiration which caused the Community to be set up, and I believe that he has been largely responsible for the great practical success which it has achieved. From a short visit to Luxembourg, I am satisfied that the organisation is very successful, and is not, as I thought at one time, a remote and rigid Authority. It is approaching its work on a very practical 932 basis. It may be, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. Jack Jones) said, that it is because those responsible are steel and coal people, but I also think it is due to the fact that when people get down to doing a job, they often forget some of the theories on which the organisation was based.
Although the High Authority has supranational powers, it consults both the trade unions and the national Governments concerned at every stage, and I believe that it is because of these things that it has succeeded. Whether or not it becomes a blueprint for a federal Europe, I am sure that the European Coal and Steel Community is here to stay, and that, as a consequence of its operations, there will be an increase both in the production and quality of coal and steel on the Continent, and also a lowering of prices. These things will, I am sure, be to the benefit not only of the peoples of the Community countries, but to the peoples of Europe generally, including ourselves.
§ 6.13 p.m.
§ Mr. William Blyton (Houghton-le-Spring)
I am glad to have the privilege of closing the debate on this Agreement for this side of the House. Under the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton), I played a small part in this matter during the early stages of the Schuman Plan at Strasbourg, and I shall try to answer some of the questions which have been raised in this debate.' I shall leave the Minister to answer the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke).
This Agreement is one of great importance and significance to this country, and I do not think that we can let it pass without looking at some of the history that has brought us to the point where we are today. On 9th May, 1950, M. Schuman, who was then the French Foreign Secretary, announced that it was intended to set up a supranational authority to take over the control of the coal and steel industries to which the Governments concerned would delegate their powers, and to set up a common market.
Three basic principles underlay the Schuman Plan. The first was that this was considered a way in which the feuds and fights between France and Germany could be brought to an end. The second 933 was that the supranational authority would take away the sovereign rights of Governments, and that all the powers would be vested in the High Authority. The third and very important factor was, as stated by M. Schuman in 1950, that the Plan should be regarded as the first step towards a federalist Europe.
It was after talks which took place between 14th and 19th May, 1950—I wish that the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) were here, so that he could have his history corrected—that France made it clear to us that the acceptance of the supranational authority with powers to over-ride Governments must precede the working out of the practical application of the Schuman proposals. That was a fundamental condition laid down by the French, and one which we could not accept.
At that time, there was a great upsurge on the Continent in support of a federalist Europe, and the Schuman Plan was regarded by all the Continental Powers as a first step towards that goal. There was never any disagreement about the economic aims of the Plan; it was the political approach underlying the Plan which caused the difference between us and which prevented us from entering into the discussions regarding the initial stages of the Plan.
What happened? The Conservative Party said at that time that we should have entered into those discussions in the same way as did the Netherlands Government, which was to accept the basis of a supranational authority on the understanding that, if we did not like it, we could withdraw from it. The Conservative Party realised the impracticability of that issue at the time. Indeed, it would have been very wrong to have entered into negotiations on the basis of the acceptance of a supranational authority in the knowledge that we disagreed with it, and then, after long discussions, to have withdrawn from it.
Throughout 1950 and 1951, members of the Tory Party, when in Europe, argued on these lines. There is no doubt that, while they were in opposition, they led the Europeans to believe that if only they had been in power, this country would have been with them all the way. In one speech on the subject, I heard the present Minister of Defence say that he had dashed in where 934 Mr. Bevin had feared to tread. At that time he was speaking about what was known as the Macmillan-Eccles Plan which, in the end, was rejected by the Committee on Economic and Social Questions of the Council of Europe, at Strasbourg.
The fact is that the Europeans would not look at that Plan because they thought it would either destroy or tamper with the supranational powers of the Authority. Indeed, when this Plan came before the Committee on Economic and Social Questions there was no one from the Tory benches to defend it. The Prime Minister was present at that time, but he did not sign the Plan for the best of all reasons that, as he determines the policy of the Conservative Party, he did not want to be embarrassed by the Plan.
The Tories, too, have rejected the idea of full membership of the European Coal and Steel Community. On 26th August, 1950, the present Minister of Education said that the Labour Party's intention was to prevent Britain from becoming a full member of the Community. The hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire (Sir R. Boothby), whom I have not seen here today, has always advocated this country being a full partner in the Plan, with its supranational authority. He must be a disappointed man today, because, on 10th May, 1951, he stated that the Conservative Party would accept the supranational authority.
Time has proved him wrong. If he were here today, he would probably argue that this Agreement was a step towards the goal which he desires to reach. He is a long way from that, as far as this Agreement is concerned. Even the Minister of Housing and Local Government was playing the same tune, and all the time the impression was being created that if only they, instead of the Labour Party, had had the power, they would have been in full membership of this Community.
About this time, while there were quite honest differences about it, we did all we could to help the European Community to set up their plan. As an example, at the time of the Schuman negotiations with the six countries, one of the obstacles to agreement between France and Germany was the nature of the post-war allied controls over German industry.
935 Although the Labour Government at that time had very strong views on the relevant controls, we declared ourselves ready to accept whatever agreement France and Germany could reach with each other. It was that fundamental step that helped to clear the way for the building up of the Schuman Plan on the Continent. There was no dragging our feet in those days, nor were we "dancing a diplomatic minuet," as the Minister of Defence said we were.
For over 12 months the Conservative Party had given this impression. They obtained power in 1951, and playing politics on these big issues ceased. The Home Secretary of that time, now Viscount Kilmuir, was sent to Strasbourg to apply the cold douche to this attitude of 1950 and 1951. His prestige was high, for he had done great work in relation to the Convention on Human Rights, and that day was a very sorry one for him.
M. Spaak resigned from the Chairmanship of the Council of Europe. He came to the floor of the Assembly and made a bitter attack on the Tory Government for their attitude to the Coal and Steel Community. There were many heartaches among the Europeans over what appeared to them to be the acceptance of Labour's approach to the question, after all they had said.
What was our attitude in 1950 and 1951? We always said that Britain must be associated with the Plan, not as a full member, but in a status which would ensure a relationship based upon consent. We differed from the political approach of the Plan, but we could not agree that the fate of Britain's coal and steel industries should be decided by a body outside Britain, and, maybe, against the will of the British people. We always maintained that the internal economic structure should be determined by the Government of the day, and that the Government should be publicly responsible to the British people.
At the same time, while we could not agree on these great principles of the Plan, it would have been entirely wrong for us to have forced our views on the Europeans, who believed that the federal structure, with the Schuman Plan as a stepping stone to that ideal, was the solution of their troubles. It was in these circumstances that we said that the only honest way out of this dilemma was to 936 differ. On the other hand—and I wish the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery had been here—we did not take up an isolationist position. We said that, when the Community was set up, we would seek the greatest collaboration with the Authority which was consistent with the maintenance of the principles which I have stated.
What did we offer, not today, but in 1950 and 1951? We said that when the Authority was set up, we would seek agreement on capital development. We said we would balance our programmes in relation to theirs, so as not to waste European resources. We said that we would look at the price structure in order that workers in the industries should receive the highest possible wages. We offered to get some agreement on marketing, especially to protect our traditional markets and prevent us going back again to the insane scramble for markets which was a feature of the inter-war years and which brought the wages of the steel workers and the miners down to miserable levels.
We offered an agreement in relation to restrictive practices, because we recognised then that in a time of slump these practices could be used against us by the High Authority in our markets on the Continent. We also declared our readiness to seek an accommodation in relation to wages in the coal and steel industries, the intention being in accordance with our international aim to lift the wages of the continental worker up to the British level. We also offered agreement on the promotion of health and safety measures for the workers in the industries, because I have always regarded safety conditions in the British coal and steel industries as higher than those operating on the Continent.
These offers were made in 1950. They were difficult ones, but we then believed that these difficulties were not insurmountable. Everyone must now be aware that the Tory Party has accepted Labour's policy which we laid down in 1950. There is no acceptance, in this Agreement, of a supranational authority, nor any approach to federalism—because many hon. Members opposite played with the idea of federalism at this time. It is an Agreement based on consent on many of the matters which we put forward four years ago.
937 The Agreement is one which we can wholeheartedly support, as I believe it is an instrument which in the economic sphere can bring a closer relationship with the Continent than has ever existed before. It can be used to prevent the shambles of the inter-war years in these great industries, and bring about sane international economic planning.
I noticed that in every speech made today, and notably that by the Minister himself, no mention was made of the part which the trade unions are to play in this important issue of this Agreement. Article 2 of the Agreement lays down the composition of the United Kingdom membership as four persons. The Minister has stated that the National Coal Board and the steel employers are to be represented in those four. There is to be no representation for the trade unions, and no mention is even made as to what their relationship is to be to the coal and steel trade unions which will be concerned in this Association.
If there is to be common action on matters in Article 6—and these are very important—and in Articles 7, 8 and 9, we cannot expect to get far if the trade unions are ignored. Decisions made, especially under Articles 6, 7 and 8, can affect the livelihood of the men in the two great industries for better or worse. It is important, therefore, that the Minister should let us know what standing the trade unions are to have in this matter. It will not be easy to resolve many of the matters arising in Article 6, which are of common interest. I do not want to deal with all of them, but with the price structure, which will be very difficult. The wages of the men in these two industries are bound up with the price structure.
There is the important question of dual pricing. This practice has brought a good yearly revenue to the National Coal Board, and if it is abolished that revenue will be lost. We know that the Community is dead against the practice of dual pricing. The question that would arise would be whether the trade unions are to be expected to face the depressed balance-sheet caused by the loss of double pricing. Is this loss to be used against them to offset any application for an increase in wages? These are such important matters, embodied in Article 6, that the status of the trade unions ought to be clearly de- 938 fined. We should be told by the Minister exactly what he intends to do.
Apart from these matters, will the Government consult and take advice from the trade unions on the important issues in Articles 6, 7 and 8, before the Council of Association makes any decisions? The trade unions are in favour of working in close liaison with their European friends and support this Agreement.
My own union, the N.U.M., has an open mind on all the matters contained in the Agreement, and they are free to take an independent view. I suggest that in all these matters the trade unions which cover the coal and steel industries ought to be consulted, and their points of view ought to be taken into serious consideration, before any decision is taken either by the Council of Association or by the Government of the day. In these vital issues it is essential that the Government should carry the trade unions with them, because this Agreement, according to the Articles in it, is to last for the period of the Treaty itself, which is a period of 50 years.
Article 6 deals also with markets. Although our exports to Europe are only marginal, it would not be to our advantage to find ourselves shut out of Community markets by tariffs and quotas. This may seem today a small problem to the coal industry, because we can dispose of all the coal we produce, but one cannot predict what the future may hold. We hope not, but a slump could come again, and in those circumstances we would need our markets on the Continent again.
I regard it as vital that we should retain our traditional markets in Europe on the basis of agreement, and that we should not return to the old days when the workers were exploited in the effort to capture markets. There will have to be a give-and-take policy when action is decided under the Agreement, which cannot operate on the basis of taking all and giving nothing. It is because I recognise this that I implore the Minister to take the trade unions with him as far as he can.
Another point is that no provision is made in the Agreement for any political representation in the Common Assembly of the Community. Article 10 relates to meetings on matters which arise between the two parties. Does this go far enough? 939 Should we not have a voice in the Common Assembly of this Coal and Steel Community? Matters can arise there out of decisions taken by the Council of Association. This is very important. We are seeking to get the closest co-operation with the High Authority by consent, and in the Assembly Britain's voice ought to be heard when matters affecting decisions arising from this Agreement are raised.
Article 7 is also very important. While I cannot see it being used in the predictable future, it takes us some of the way in preventing discriminatory practices against each other. It ensures that, from our point of view, an agreement can be arrived at in times of slump and that we are not discriminated against in our markets on the Continent, so preventing the shambles that we have known in the past.
In deciding whether or not we should go into this Association, the question that must be asked is, "What is the alternative if we do not?" If we do nothing, it seems possible that Britain's Iron and Steel Federation might sooner or later enter into a commercial agreement with the Community producers. The Community has said that it would prefer a Governmental agreement. Of the two, I think a Governmental agreement is preferable. Other considerations that will arise are that we must seek to maintain the broad principles of full employment, and that the Association should not prevent the balanced planning of our economy. If we did not accept this Agreement, our trade union friends on the Continent of Europe might well accuse us of not carrying out our own policy, stated in 1950.
This Association does not, in my opinion, mean that exactly the same conditions can, or should be, applied to coal and steel, which have different problems and different histories, and will require a different approach on many matters contained in this Agreement. The Minister ought to realise now that whilst the primary interests of the trade unions concerned are iron and steel, the matters contained in the Agreement affect the whole of the trade unions generally.
The problems of this Agreement can be solved as we go along. We are now to get an opportunity to ensure that Britain's coal and steel industries shall 940 work in harmony and not in conflict with the Schuman Plan. In pursuit of our common economic aims we should seek to increase the efficiency of coal and steel production in the whole of Europe, while raising the standard of living of the workers in those industries, so that competition is not based upon the exploitation of labour.
As a personal note, let me say, as a miner in the export area of Durham, that I suffered from the economies in mining in the inter-war years. I suffered great privation in those days when we were scrambling for markets—cutting each other's throats in the mad competition which took place—and when our wages were forced down, after strikes and lockouts, in order to sell cheap coal abroad to capture markets.
The miners on the Continent were similarly placed. They were told that, because Britain had reduced wages, they could not compete against British coal, and their wages followed our trend. It is our ambition, on these benches, to ensure by this Agreement, if we can, that none of the people who are following us in the pits will experience the terrible times which we went through.
Whatever may have been our difference of views, it ought to be our common aim now never to go back to those days when we were scrambling for international markets. This Agreement embodies what we have always stood for since the Schuman Plan was first announced. We are pleased that the Government have accepted our approach to the problem. I hope that now we shall see a future of economic sanity brought about by close association, and that this Agreement will build a bridge of lasting friendship and peace in the Western world.
That is the spirit in which I support this Motion on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends on these benches. We shall give our utmost support to the Agreement in the knowledge that we are now embarking in the economic sphere on a method of dealing with international affairs which will ensure to the people of the Community and ourselves greater efficiency in our coal and steel industries production and, I hope, a higher standard of life for those in their employ. I offer my best wishes to those who operate this Agreement, and I hope that their future efforts will be successful.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ The Minister of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Anthony Nutting)
We have had an excellent debate. When the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) was speaking, he deplored the fact that so little is known in this country about the European Coal and Steel Community. I hope that this debate, and, if I may say with humility, particularly his own informative speech, will help to inform opinion in the United Kingdom about the working of this very remarkable and successful organisation.
I welcome the favourable reception which the House has today given to this Agreement. I am sure that the House will accept—indeed, it has shown that it does accept—that there are political and economic advantages in this Agreement. Politically speaking, it flows as a natural consequence of British policy in Europe, and provides for us in this country new and formal processes for strengthening and increasing our co-operation with the Continent of Europe in an all-important sphere.
As my right hon. Friend said in opening this debate, at the time that the Schuman Plan was launched there were differences between the two sides of the House as to the extent to which Britain should have been associated with this new initiative—although differences, I would add, not in terms which have been described to us by the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton). Whatever the conclusion he may have drawn from the speeches made from the opposite side of the House when we were there, none the less I am sure that if he consults the record he will see that neither the Prime Minister, nor my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, or any other spokesman of Her Majesty's Government of today, committed himself to accepting a supranational organisation or supranational control for the basic industry of this country.
§ Mr. Hugh Dalton (Bishop Auckland)
I think—and my right hon. Friend will correct me if I am wrong—that the references which he made were not to speeches in this House but to speeches made at Strasbourg, which may not have been quite so fully reported in the British Press.
§ Mr. Nutting
Whatever the right hon. Gentleman may say, I stick to the point 942 that if he consults the record he will find that no spokesman of Her Majesty's Government accepted, when in opposition, supranational control for Britain's basic industry.
There were also differences and, I need not add, disappointments on the Continent that Britain was not at that time more closely allied with the Continental powers in this venture. But this debate has shown that these differences in the House, and the differences with the Continent of Europe, have now been resolved. I think that goes for all of us here, and for our Continental friends as well.
I think we may fairly congratulate ourselves upon having found in these new arrangements with the Coal and Steel Community a true and proper balance of mutual co-operation and advantage. To those who still feel—and there are a few in the House—that Britain should have gone further and joined the Community as a full member, I would say this. We believe, in common with the late Government, that our special position makes it impossible for us to become full members of any supranational body.
We have taken the view, in common with the overwhelming majority of political and industrial opinion in this country, that we cannot surrender control over our coal and steel interests to any outside body or group. Although they would have rather had it the other way, the Governments of the member States of the Coal and Steel Community have now fully accepted this position. There is really nothing in this Agreement which undermines this position. I can assure my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) that his fears about any limitations arising out of Article 8, or any other Article in this Agreement, are completely unfounded.
This Agreement provides for a really close and intimate association. What is more, it provides an enduring association for, as the House is aware, the Treaty setting up the Coal and Steel Community has about 48years to run. It is only just embarking upon its course, and our agreement of association will, of course, run for the same length of time.
The hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring raised a very important point in connection with the representation of the 943 trade union movement and the unions concerned with the coal and steel industry. I can assure him, on behalf of the Government, that there is no question whatever of our ignoring the trade unions in this very important matter. I give him that pledge and that assurance. The delegation which will represent the United Kingdom on the Council of Association is a Government delegation, and for that reason it does not consist of representatives either of employers or of trade unions.
Neither the Iron and Steel Federation nor any of the unions are represented on the delegation as such. This is a Government delegation with the Minister on it and the statutory boards represented, but arrangements have been made to consult the unions and the employers through the statutory boards—the Iron and Steel Board and the Coal Board—or directly as between the Government and the unions, where this is appropriate and on issues concerning the trade unions and the employers.
My right hon. Friend has discussed these arrangements with the employers and the unions, just as we consulted them throughout the discussions which led up to the signature of this Agreement. I hope the hon. Gentleman will accept, both from our performance and from our pledge, that the trade unions have not been ignored, and will not be ignored, and are not being ignored in any shape or form.
Some fears have been expressed in the course of the debate that the creation of the common market in this Community may work to the detriment of our coal and steel industries. The hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) touched on this point, and so did my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Fylde (Colonel Lancaster). It would be a brave man indeed who would say that at no stage could this danger ever arise, and the larger the home market upon which an industry can rely the greater, of course, its powers of competition.
Surely this is an argument for and not against Britain having the closest possible association with the Coal and Steel Community, as both those hon. Gentlemen themselves said. Surely this argues the need for us, and for the Community, too, to have an observation post from which 944 we can both study developments. Surely this points to the importance of fullest consultation between the parties. If, from our observation post, and through the machinery we have set up for this consultation we feel, or we find, that the Community is contemplating action which may damage us, or vice Versa, efforts can be made to find alternative courses of action which would be more to the advantage of both sides.
The right hon. Member for Blyth, the hon. and learned Member for Kettering and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Fylde made the point that through this machinery we can probably arrive at a course of action which would obviate any steps being taken by the Community or by the United Kingdom which would operate to the disadvantage, to the detriment, or to the danger of each other's interests.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
My right hon. Friend will see that, by the Agreement, on the Council there are four representatives from the other countries and four from the United Kingdom. Will he say what happens when there is a draw?
§ Mr. Nutting
As my hon. and gallant Friend really should know, in these cases—where both parties reserve to themselves full freedom of action—there can be no question of a majority rule. All decisions which are taken will be taken, and can only be taken by full agreement, and by entire agreement between the two parties.
I suggest that the possibility of this machinery leading to agreed courses of action by the Community and by the United Kingdom industries is the answer to the hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. H. Hynd), who asked how we can have closer association while retaining our full freedom of action. I believe it is true that by the machinery which this Agreement has set up we can have that closer association yet, at the same time, retain full freedom of action.
The right hon. Member for Blyth described this Agreement as a model of association with other similar institutions which may follow the Coal and Steel Community. I entirely agree with him, just as I agree that it is better that European integration should go on with British association rather than without it. The hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd) raised the question of 945 periodical reports, and arrangements for their discussion by Parliaments. Article 11 of the Agreement provides for the publication of an annual report.
The hon. Member asked whether we could not have reports at more frequent intervals. I have a little experience of these reports which emanate from the Coal and Steel Community—and so, indeed, has the hon. Gentleman. I think that, on reflection, he will agree that an annual report is a much more informative document; that it can give to the reader a much better indication of the general trend of developments in the industries concerned than can a quarterly or monthly report which, on the whole, is dealing with too small a piece of time.
My whole point was the widest dissemination of the information to a public wider than Parliament. The Authority has an excellent information service, and I wondered whether we could not do something jointly on similar lines?
§ Mr. Nutting
We can, through our own services, give the fullest publicity to this report. So far as the House is concerned we shall gladly arrange to have the annual report placed in the Library for hon. Members to study, and if they wish to debate it opportunities may be found in the usual way.
Apart from our own arrangements for discussion within the House of Commons, there are, as the House is aware, under the plan which was brought forward in 1952 by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, joint meetings between the Parliamentarians of the Common Assembly of the Coal and Steel Community and of the Consultative Assembly of the Council of Europe. I think that that will meet, to some extent, the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring, who wished to see British Parliamentary representation in the Common Assembly. We cannot very well ask to join the Common Assembly but we can ask for—and have asked and have received—satisfaction where it is a question of discussing coal and steel with the Common Assembly. Our Parliamentarians do discuss these matters at joint meetings in Strasbourg.
My hon. Friend the Member for Heeley (Mr. P. Roberts) asked me a question about Parliamentary control over the delegation which will represent the United 946 Kingdom on the Council of Association. Once again, I would say that the delegation is a Government delegation. It will be headed by a Minister; which Minister it will be will depend on what subject is under discussion—whether it is coal or whether it is iron and steel—and any decisions which are to be taken by the Council of Association will be Government decisions, for which the Government will, of course, in the ordinary way be collectively responsible to Parliament.
§ Mr. P. Roberts
I asked, really, about Parliamentary Questions. I assume that we shall put down our Questions to the Minister concerned, whether the Minister of Fuel and Power or the Minister of Supply as the case may be?
§ Mr. Nutting
So far as I am aware that would be the correct procedure, but, as my hon. Friend is aware, that also depends upon Mr. Speaker.
§ Mr. Roberts
Is it possible that we shall be met with the suggestion that a Question does not fall within a Minister's responsibility at all and is not, therefore, one which can be accepted at the Table? Can my right hon. Friend advise us on that?
§ Mr. Nutting
Mr. Speaker, I do not know about you, but before answering that I should certainly like to see the Question first.
Diplomatic immunities and privileges were drawn into the arena of debate by my right hon. Friend, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth, if he will forgive my saying so, slightly "passed the buck" in dealing with this by saying that we must ask Sir Cecil Weir. We have anticipated his suggestion and are already consulting Sir Cecil Weir. I would say for my own part and for the Government that we would endorse the right hon. Gentleman's general feeling about the need to guard against the uncontrolled extension of diplomatic immunity and privilege in this country, but from his speech I take it that the Opposition would support the grant of such privileges and immunities as the Government decide may be necessary in the light of their consultation with Sir Cecil Weir.
§ Mr. Robens indicated assent.
§ Mr. Nutting
I should like to say a word about the working of the Community. Since the Community was estab- 947 lished the member Governments have cooperated fully and loyally with the High Authority. The Community's court has given its judgments on the operation of the Treaty without fear or favour, and these judgments have been honoured by all concerned—not least by the High Authority. The Community with which we are associated is, therefore, a going concern and, in reply to the pessimists on the other side of the House, I would stress that this has been proved more than ever by the events of last summer.
The Coal and Steel Community was originally conceived as the first step in the movement for integration, which was to be followed by the E.D.C. and the European Political Community. There were some who said that the Coal and Steel Community would never be able to survive the demise of the European Defence Community, but these prophets have been confounded.
The Coal and Steel Community did not founder, has not foundered; it has shown that it possesses a life of its own. I am sure that this is due in no small measure to the vision and to the drive of M. Jean Monnet, to whom so many tributes have been paid in the debate, in which I gladly join. I have confidence that this vigour within the Community will not be impaired in the future.
It is, therefore, fitting, I believe, that we should associate ourselves with this European industrial enterprise in respect of the two basic industries on which the modern economy depends. We are 948 already working in the closest partnership with our friends in Europe in the military, political and economic sphere. Through what I hope will be a growing industrial association, we should be able to add yet another field of co-operation to the benefit of all.
The right hon. Member for Blyth said that the consumer interest must be paramount. I agree, and I would emphasise that the Agreement, like the Community's Treaty itself, is not designed as a sort of benefit party for producers. All the parties to it have reaffirmed that full regard shall be paid to the interests of consumers as well as of producers and to the interests of third countries—and in that connection I need mention only the word "Commonwealth." The Agreement provides that due regard shall be paid to the special relationship between the United Kingdom and other members of the Commonwealth.
In conclusion, this Agreement is not an end in itself. It provides machinery within the framework of which we and our Continental partners can discuss together ways of working for our mutual benefit. It is an indication of our faith in the future in Western Europe and of our determination to associate ourselves closely with this important manifestation of European unity.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House approves the Agreement concerning the relations between the United Kingdom and the European Coal and Steel Community, signed on 21st December. 1954.