HL Deb 28 July 1965 vol 268 cc1317-25

3.39 p.m.

Debate resumed.


My Lords, I need hardly say that with much, if not with everything, that the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, has said in his excellent speech I find myself in complete agreement. Indeed, I was very happy to recognise in his arguments many of those which I myself have had the honour to deploy in this House during the last three or four years. But this afternoon, with your Lordships' permission, I should like, on behalf of my noble friends on these Benches, to examine in even greater detail, two of the subjects with which the noble Lord dealt—namely, Vietnam and Europe and, in addition to that, to add just a few words on the subject of NATO reform. With regard to disarmament, which perhaps I might also be expected to deal with, I should like to make the same disclaimer as the noble Lord.

On Vietnam I am sure your Lordships will agree that they had an extraordinarily good debate on this subject in another place the other day. I think I am right in saying that most of us do read the debates in another place, at any rate on our own special subjects. Certainly I read them, and with great profit. Besides associating ourselves on these Benches with the excellent speech of the Leader of the Liberal Party on that occasion, I should like, on behalf of my noble friends, also to take this opportunity of associating ourselves with the general line taken on Vietnam by that wise and good man the Foreign Secretary. This I thought was quite in harmony with the views expressed by our own Leader on that occasion.

I myself was particularly struck with what Mr. Stewart said on the subject of "peaceful change" in general, and we must all hope, of course, that the Foreign Secretary's patient efforts to encourage the possibility of negotiations to end this terrible war will be crowned with success. Unfortunately, as the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, indicated, the hard facts of the situation are that there is practically no possibility of this happening at the moment. Therefore, once again I suggest, as I did the other day, that it would be a mistake for the Government for the time being to send any more peace doves to Hanoi, and indeed for the time being to go on talking about the important role of the Commonwealth Peace Mission.

I saw mention the other day in one of the organs of the Press of the possibility of yet another mission being conferred on no less a person than Mr. Malcolm MacDonald. I do not know whether there is any truth in that or not. Nobody could be better qualified for this undertaking, it is true, but even Mr. MacDonald is not a magician, and if anything emerged from the debate in another place it was the conclusion that as things are at the moment the North Vietnamese think they are winning this war and in any efforts to get them to negotiate they will simply see a trick to deprive them of what they think are the fruits of victory.

I hold no particular brief for Mrs. Verdun Perl, Liberal candidate, I understand, for Abingdon, but in her interview which was published in the Liberal News on July 23 last, recounting her talk with Ho Chi Minh—and apparently she is the only English person to have seen Ho Chi Minh for a long time—she said one thing which struck me as being profoundly true, as follows: Whatever we do now, it is taken as further proof that President Johnson knows he is losing the war and all such moves are having exactly the opposite effect to what is intended. In other words, the despatch of envoys by us is assumed to be an indirect expression of an American desire to "call it a day" and to arrange for some truce which will halt the Viet Cong during the monsoon period, in which they see their best chance of getting the better of the Americans. So I suggest that we and our Commonwealth colleagues would be well advised to go slow, at any rate during the next few months, and in the meantime we must clearly, for the reasons given by the Foreign Secretary, continue to back up the Americans in a general way. But should we not at the same time say, confidentially but quite clearly, that we hope they will not bomb open towns in North Vietnam but confine the bombing, pending negotiations, to strategic objectives? I see no reason why we should not volunteer that advice.

Of course, if the Russians would agree to summon the Geneva Conference, that would be splendid, but one would have to be pretty optimistic to believe that there was any likelihood of that at the present time. Indeed, all the present indications seem to show that, for one reason or another, Her Majesty's Government are not at the moment in the very good books of the Soviet Government. All this sounds depressing, but I do not see why we should lose our heads, even if we cannot make much progress for the time being. As I said when I last addressed your Lordships on this subject, I myself believe that the dangers of this war "escalating" (as the awful phrase has it) are very small, for reasons which I have already given and which I will not repeat. Area bombing of Hanoi or other districts would be the one thing which might conceivably result in an extension of the war, and I devoutly hope the Americans will not proceed to that extremity.

I turn to Europe. I suggest there is no doubt that more and more people in this country, for some odd reason which is not altogether explicable, are coming to the conclusion that we ought to say that, as soon as it is possible, we still want to sign the Treaty of Rome and work for what Mr. Duncan Sandys calls "the progressive political union of Europe". I hope your Lordships will think I am not in any way immodest when I say that this is what the organisation known as Britain in Europe—which of course contains many Conservative and Labour members as well as Liberals—has been fruitlessly urging, first on a Tory, and subsequently on a Labour, Administration ever since the General's veto. I think the Liberal Party can also take a certain satisfaction in observing that the idea of a Declaration of Intent—that is to say that the Government should say they want to sign the Treaty of Rome, if possible before a certain date—is also catching on. All this seems to me to be very satisfactory, and I can only hope that there will soon be some indication that Mr. Duncan Sandys's policy is the official policy of the Tory Party.

I did not gather from what the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, said to-day that such is the case, but I hope it is so, and perhaps the dramatic event of yesterday will make this much more likely than it was before. Who knows, my Lords, perhaps before the Election—and goodness knows when that will be !—it may even turn out to be the official policy of Her Majesty's Government, too. You never know!

There is one point which I think should be brought out now. It is that what we stand for, on these Benches at any rate, is not, as some people try to suggest when they talk about Liberal policy, a federal solution to the European problem, but rather a Community solution. The difference between these two conceptions—and even if I am boring you I should like to continue on this theme for two minutes—really must be understood. As I see it, it is this. Under a federal solution the first thing to do would be for all the Powers concerned in the Common Market to arrange at once for direct elections to the so-called "Parliament of Europe", which under the Treaty of Rome they are perfectly entitled to do if all agree. This would involve creating huge new constituencies of, I imagine, about half a million people each, regardless, I suppose, of nationalities and, presumably, the formation of European Parties, in which, naturally, the Communists would figure very largely, and more particularly in Italy and in France.

Such a Parliament, when elected, would thus deem itself to be, and in fact it would be to a large extent, a kind of sovereign power, and in due course it might be expected that the Council of Ministers would be drawn from its ranks and therefore subjected to its collective will. This really would be a Federal State, and even if the Ministers were not actually drawn from the Assembly but continued to represent their countries, as they do now in the Council of Ministers, acting by a qualified majority vote, they would still tend to develop into a kind of senate—in fact, that is the idea—whereas Professor Hall-stein's Brussels Commission would become a kind of Governmental machine —a kind of Washington—dependent chiefly on the popular assembly. All that would be necessary under such a system, if it is to work at all, would be to elect, again presumably by direct suffrage, a President of Europe who would take charge of the whole executive machine, including, of course, the famous nuclear button.

I do not know what your Lordships think, but personally I have always thought that such ideas as those were, to say the least, impracticable, not to say positively futuristic. Anything may happen one day, but it is impossible to think that there would be, at any rate for many years, enough common European patriotism—because that is what would be wanted—still less any common desire to reduce our ancient European nations to the status of California or Wyoming. And if, when people say that they agree with General de Gaulle's European thesis they simply mean that such a solution as this is out, I myself am unhesitatingly in agreement with them.

But what we stand for here in the Liberal Party, I think, and certainly what Britain in Europe has always stood for is something totally different. It is the so-called "Community" solution; that is to say, a system whereby important decisions in certain defined sectors of the economic and social sphere, are taken by a European Council of Ministers by what is called a "qualified" majority vote—that is to say, a vote in which it is very difficult for a Great Power to be put in a minority, though not impossible—on the advice of what is, after all, a new invention in foreign affairs, the impartial and independent Commission. This is the system laid down in the Treaty of Rome, and it will come into force—that is to say, majority voting—on January 1 next, unless by one means or another its application is prevented by the action of the French Government. If we are to have a community of any kind, as opposed to a mere alliance under the management of one Power only, or even a Free Trade Area, this is the only possible way short of the federal solution I have described in which provision could be made for certain decisions to be taken in common. And as I see it—and this is what we have been suggesting for a very long time; and I think the idea is catching on a good deal—we in this country ought willingly to agree to this system operating in the economic sphere, as we should legally be bound to do if we signed the Treaty of Rome. But more than that, we should agree that it should operate to an increasing extent, but gradually, in the political and defence spheres, also.

As for the Parliament of Europe, as it is called, we should be in favour of its having a considerable and well-defined role. Indeed, the present powers of this Parliament, and notably its powers over the Commission, might well be increased. That would be the democratic element in the whole thing. But we would not be in favour of direct elections of the kind I have described until there was general agreement, unanimity if you like, between all the Powers concerned that it should be done. Thus a nominated Parliament—it would, after all, be nominated, as they are now, but it would still be a democratic body—would have a definite though limited, rôle to play, as would the Commission. But the real power would still lie with the Ministers. In spite of the recent hullabaloo to the effect that the Brussels Commission was trying to impose a federation, this was basically the scheme for handling the budget of the Community which was recently put up to the Ministers by Professor Hallstein. It was not a federal scheme, as I see it, though it was certainly a supranational one. But what other kind of scheme could the Commission have submitted if it was to preserve the idea of a Community at all?

It is useless, I submit, to wave a European flag and say you are in favour of "Europe", unless you mean you are at least prepared to go as far as this in the direction of a supranational system. We do not want the kind of federal Europe I have described, if only because it would be quite impossible to work. But still less do we want a "Europe of States" which provides no means of arriving at decisions except by complete unanimity; which does not even admit the possibility of having an independent Commission; and which is therefore virtually a contradiction in terms. For this 19th century conception of a Europe of States, even if we joined it, could not possibly give us the benefits, economic and political, of a 20th century union responding to the necessities of our modern life. If the present French Government insist that that is all they can or will agree to and the Brussels machinery must be abolished, all we can do, I am afraid, is to wait until economic events make it absolutely clear what are the effects of such a disastrous policy, both here and on the other side of the Channel.

But in the meantime we certainly ought to make it clear what exactly our objective is, and I can only hope that the Government, after mature reflection, will pronounce themselves in favour of what I call the Community thesis, a thesis so long defended by Britain in Europe and now apparently adhered to not only by Liberals but by many Labour M.P.s and also, I have no doubt, by a very large section of the Tory Party. Of course there must be negotiations before we can actually sign the Treaty of Rome, but it is dangerous to go into negotiations unless we know what the real object of the negotiations is. Besides, if we came out in favour of some kind of supranational European system which I have described, we should be—I assure you it is true—vastly encouraging all our friends on the Continent of Europe; and, quite seriously, it might, as things are, be about the only thing which could prevent General de Gaulle from forming his famous "Europe of States" without Britain and thus ensuring our permanent exclusion from the Continent.

I should like, in conclusion, to say one word about the problem of the reform of NATO. It is going to be discussed at the Atlantic Treaty Association's General Assembly in September in Rome, over which I have the honour to preside, and is also on the agenda of the NATO Parliamentarian meeting in New York in October. It is further on the agenda of the Atlantic Institute, of which I am a Vice President. So far as is in my power, I shall try to see that these efforts are to some extent coordinated. As I see it, it is not so much the North Atlantic Treaty which needs revision—the Treaty, I think I am right in saying, can hardly be revised before 1969—but the Organisation itself which was set up after the signature of the Treaty can be revised at any time by general consent. Now, for all we know, the French Government may not agree to the continued maintenance of NATO in Paris. It would seem that they regard it as in some way a manifestation of American power and therefore in itself a not very acceptable thing. I do not think it would matter very much if NATO were established in some other capital, provided that certain communications and such matters as oil and certain infrastructure arrangements, were still continued through France.

We are not—and here I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Carrington—really thinking any more in terms of a land war in Western Europe, or indeed in terms of any war, although clearly there must be a considerable military establishment in Western Europe to guard against this lamentable possibility, and for other reasons, such as European morale. But as to the possible major reform of NATO, namely, granting more responsibility as regards decision making in the political and, indeed, in the nuclear sphere to members of the Alliance other than America, I think it is becoming clearer and clearer that this will not be a soluble problem until such time as we get agreement, if we ever do, on what is going to happen to the construction of some kind of European Defence and Political Community.

The Liberals, along with other Parties, have always maintained that if there is to be a common European scheme for defence, it must, for so long in any case as the American army is in Germany, be one which is an integral part of the Western Alliance and capable of fulfilling a role agreed with the major nuclear Powers of the West. I do not want to be pessimistic, but I personally doubt whether any schemes for an M.L.F. or an A.N.F. will materialise until some kind of European settlement has been agreed on, and therefore we should all sincerely hope that this will not be unduly delayed. In any case, I am sure that the more enthusiasm there can be in this country in favour of the European idea in general, and the Community system in particular, the more likely we are, in the long run, to be able to solve what is, after all, the outstanding political problem of our generation; and that, in this difficult period of economic stress, is something to which we should increasingly bend the thoughts and the energies of this great nation.