HL Deb 12 May 1976 vol 370 cc948-78

2.42 p.m.

Lord BEAUMONT of WHITLEY rose to call attention to the work of the Council of Europe and the Western European Union; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I was under the illusion that the previous problem had been settled once and for all by Punch with the statement: "Dogs is dogs, cats is dogs, but tortoises is insects and must be classified accordingly." But I rise to turn to another subject and one which I think has not had sufficient airing in Parliament in the past. I rise to call attention to the work of the Council of Europe and of the Western European Union and to move the Papers.

It is possibly a mark of the need for this debate—at least I hope your Lordships will agree—that the speakers' list, although admittedly it is only a short debate, consists of the Front Bench speakers for the Parties and three of my valued and respected colleagues on the Parliamentary delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the Western European Union. I am grateful to them for speaking in this debate, and I think it is very true that these bodies—which I hope to show your Lordships are of considerable interest, not to say of vital importance to this country—should receive more of an airing in Parliament.

One of the problems is the European Economic Community. I am a strong and fervent pro-European in the sense that I was delighted that this country went into the EEC and I hope that it becomes stronger and more combined.

But it is not Europe; and its habit of calling itself "Europe" to the exclusion of a great many other democratic countries in the West, not to mention the countries in Eastern Europe, is, I think, a great pity. In particular, I would draw attention to the fact that the Council of Ministers now calls itself the European Council. The muddle between this and the Council of Europe is quite obvious and it does not merely extend to people who are not in politics but to Members of both Houses of Parliament. It also extends to Ministers. There was one glorious situation in one European country where a Minister of the country concerned spoke to a committee of the Council of Europe for a solid hour under the misapprehension that he was addressing a committee of the EEC. These things happen but I do not think they should happen because more should be known particularly of the work of the Council of Europe, although I do not underrate the effects and the effort of the Western European Union. We have the same delegation to each of these bodies, which possibly tends to confuse them in the eyes of some people.

The Council of Europe was set up for the purposes of peaceful co-operation between democratic European countries on most matters affecting the citizen except defence. The Council of Europe consists of 18 democratic countries, which is about three-quarters of the democratic countries of the world. It represents 320 million people. The Western European Union, which I shall be discussing in detail later, discusses defence. It was set up for wider purposes, but it fills this gap which is not covered by the Council of Europe. It consists of seven countries, the original six of the EEC and the United Kingdom. In cultural matters, the work of the Council of Europe extends even further. The 18 is extended to 21 by the co-operation of Finland, which is in a difficult position apart from that of its nearness to Russia, Spain which has been allowed culturally to co-operate in the past although to date, because of its undemocratic nature, it has not qualified for membership of the Council—and we hope that that will come in the future with the coming of democracy—and the Holy See. That makes 21 countries which co-operate on the cultural side.

My Lords, even a brief review of the work of the Council of Europe would take too long, so I will not submit it to your Lordships or your Lordships to it. I want to underline three points which I think are of great importance in its work. Those are human rights, the preservation of European cultural heritage and the voice of democratic Europe; and, to a certain extent, they are combined and interwoven.

In human rights, the Western European countries in the Council of Europe are the one body to take the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and, in its substance, turn it into something which has teeth and can be administered. It is greatly to the credit of the countries concerned, including our own, which have submitted themselves to the European Court of Human Rights and, in particular, to the optional right of allowing individual petitions. At least two petitions against this country by individuals have been allowed by the Court. Even if sometimes we may disagree with the judgment (as anyone may disagree with any judgment, even that of the highest judge in the land), it is important that we should submit ourselves to this administration of justice with all the rest of the European democratic countries.

Secondly, there is the preservation of our cultural heritage. I do not propose to say much about this because the great name in this field is that of the noble Lord, Lord Duncan-Sandys. He is going to speak in this debate today and we are all looking forward to hearing him. There is absolutely no doubt that one of the immense triumphs of the Council of Europe has been the European Architectural Heritage Year. The fact that this was largely the work of the noble Lord, Lord Duncan-Sandys, the effect it had during the Year, and the ongoing effect that he is doing his best to see it has now, is something very great and valuable for those of us who deplore the rate at which some of our heritage appears to be going down the drain.

The third major point in the work of the Council of Europe which I want to mention is the voice of democratic Europe. In a way, this ties in with human rights; but it also provides a forum in which democratic countries which have disputes or differences can talk to each other openly and frankly. It has been a saving grace in past years that Greece and Turkey have both been able to speak to and discuss foreign affairs and their own problems in the forum of the Council of Europe. While they have not always done so amicably, it has been a place where dialogue continued and where other people were able to put in their views and therefore bring the influence of democratic Europe to bear on the problem.

In the matter of Ireland it has been a forum where the Republic of Ireland and ourselves could talk in public with other democratic countries. It is my belief that possibly the future of Northern Ireland will be found somewhere in the framework of the European Economic Community. The fact that all the democratic European countries have been able to contribute to the discussion has been useful. A recent debate we had on this matter was marked by the sobriety, fairness and, in the end, almost unanimity of the Irish and English delegations. Our dialogue with nonmember countries is also important, particularly with the other non-democratic Western European countries. With Spain and Portugal and changes in the regime, I think that the Council of Europe, more than any other body, is able to keep in touch and represent what the whole of Western Europe wants to encourage and expects to see in such a development.

The other side of the coin was that the Council of Europe was the one body which had the courage to stand up and say to Greece, when it was under the dictators, "You are not observing human rights; you are not observing the Charter. You cannot remain in this body". As normally happens in these matters, Greece actually withdrew before it was suspended; but the point was made that this was a body that was able to put this very considerable pressure on Greece, a pressure which in the end must have been one of the factors which worked to the restoration of democracy in Greece. It was one of the most moving moments in the whole of my political life when the Greek democratic delegates came back to the Council of Europe. They were overjoyed to be back and we were very pleased to see them.

One of the jobs that we are able to do under this same heading of the voice of democratic Europe is to combine very effectively to look at the results of the Helsinki pact. This is one of the jobs to which the Council of Europe and the WEU are both paying considerable attention at the moment. Other subjects which are important are migrant workers, where we represent not only the host countries but also exporting countries like Turkey. There are the efforts of people like Mr. John Cordle who has been working hard on an international health card for motorists. That will be most valuable in terms not only of saving life but also in other fields, and in ease of paying for medical treatment and things like that.

Regarding education, a complete review of the higher education of all the Western democracies is going on. We have had recently an extremely important and very good symposium on the performing arts at which the rapporteur was Mr. Faulds who did a magnificent job, even though I was forced to make some amendments in the full debate afterwards. There was another symposium on domestic institutions. There is continuing work—and this is very important—on environmental matters which cannot be settled by one country at a time when one person's environment is infected by the pollution of another. Continuing work is done on this. That far from exhausts the list, but I know other speakers will have more to say.

I now turn to the work of the Western European Union, the Seven. This was an instrument originally for drawing Germany into the defence of the West in a way whereby its arms could be controlled. I suspect that some experts will think that that is an over-simplification; but there is no doubt that that was one of the main objects and that is what many people still think of as its original purpose. It laid down that it was for economic, social, cultural and defence co-operation; but with the growth of the Council of Europe the first three items have fallen away and the Western European Union deals mainly with defence. It may be a talking shop, and it is true that in possibly the most important field in which it could work, the standardisation of armaments, it has had very little success, but no more has anyone else and it is at least still trying.

There are some moves at the moment to get rid of the Western European Union on the basis that it really has no powers and does not do very much. This is a tendency which should be greatly resisted. I shall be interested to hear what the Government have to say about this because it is the one purely European Parliamentary defence forum. If Parliamentarians want to talk about European defence, this is the one place in which they can do it. They can talk about it in NATO with America and Canada—but, incidentally, without France—but they can do it with France in the WEU. I think it is important for this purpose. I look forward to a time when the Western European Union will not be needed because the EEC will have its own foreign and defence policy. I hope that that time will not be far off. It is obviously not immediate, because, for instance, of the presence of Ireland which is not a member of NATO. In the meantime, the WEU must go on.

But it is not just its existence as such which is important; it in fact does some very important work in the way of reports which are available to your Lordships. No doubt noble Lords who are interested in defence and foreign affairs make use of those reports. Mr. Critchley, when he became chairman of the Defence and Armaments Committee, stimulated an enormous amount of valuable work, particularly in this field. This is appreciated by all the Members of whatever Party and nationality. It is in this area that we find a surprising toughness of attitude on behalf of Parliamentarians of all Parties as to what are the necessities for defence, and it is a valuable training ground for those of us who possibly did not know very much about these matters before we went in.

Finally, I should like to raise a small personal point of which I have not given notice to the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts. I apologise for that. I do not expect an answer today; in fact, it is something to which an answer could not be given today even if I had given notice. I have not given notice partly because I was at Strasbourg at the Council of Europe meeting all last week, at a Committee meeting of the Western European Union in Paris on Monday, and certain other things have been taking up my attention since then. But the attention of the Leader of the House should be brought to the burden of the financial sacrifice which is placed upon noble Lords who are concerned in these delegations. Members of another place are paid their Parliamentary salaries and, on top of that, they are paid a living allowance and their travelling expenses. This is enough, if you are careful, to cover expenses; there is no doubt about that. But we in this House receive expenses when we attend here. Quite rightly, we do not draw our expenses when we are at these other bodies. We have our living expenses here, but nothing else. I speak humbly, as a relative newcomer to this body who does not claim any great attendance compared with my colleagues, so I hope I speak on behalf of us all. Throughout the year we put in quite a lot of time on these bodies. I know the difficult problems that have to be faced involving the whole question of expense and salaries for Members of your Lordships' House, and also how much more difficult they may be being made by the tax collector. Nevertheless, I think this is something which ought to be considered either by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office or by the noble Lord the Leader of the House; and I will leave it at that.

I hope I have given a short survey of the work being done and why I think it is valuable. I know that the present Prime Minister very much values the work of the Council of Europe, and I hope this is a matter which will continue to be made plain, because we are often accused by our colleagues in Europe of slightly dragging our feet. I think everyone in every country complains that the Council of Europe is not as well known as it should be, but one gets the impression that in this country it is even less well known than it is elsewhere. If its work is to continue and indeed to flourish, it needs the full-hearted support of the Government. I have the feeling that it has this, but one of the purposes of this debate is to ask the Government to give this assurance and to allow it to be broadcast to all our allies and friends in these bodies. My Lords, I beg to move the Motion for Papers standing in my name on the Order Paper.

3.2 p.m.

Baroness ELLES

My Lords, before discussing the two establishments which the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, has so ably described, I should like heartily to endorse his impassioned plea for a consideration of emoluments and allowances to be given to Members of this House who serve on them and also serve in the European Parliament, that other body where many of your Lordships spent a lot of time and do enormous amount of work. Those noble Lords, like the others who serve in the Council of Europe, lose their daily allowance here and at the end of the year have the added indignity of an income tax demand on what has always been understood to be an allowance and apparently can be perfectly justified if one spends it on asparagus but not justified if one lives off a packet of biscuits. The present position is positively absurd, and I hope that the noble Lord will look with his usual sympathy at this matter to see whether some fair treatment can be given to those who serve on these bodies and do so much for the honour of the United Kingdom abroad.

We have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, a very graphic description of the work of two institutions. Institutions which have been established for a particular purpose sometimes outlive both their usefulness and their reason for existing. That has sometimes been said both of the Council of Europe and of the WEU. However, the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, has already proved more than adequately that those bodies fulfil a useful role. I should like to endorse everything he has said and to add that the existence of these two earliest institutions in Europe means that they play a vital role in the development of European affairs.

The Report on the activities of the Council of Europe for the last year, from 1974 to September 1975, gives a very fair indication of the subjects of common interest to all the 18 Member-States, whether in the field of social, cultural, educational, scientific or legal policies. They have, also, a great role to play in the future, as one can see from the inter-Governmental programme for 1976–80, which covers a vast number of important matters which are to be discussed in the Council of Europe. I would say at this point that none of those matters could conceivably be discussed fruitfully in the arena of the European Parliament, because, whereas the Treaty of Rome is based almost entirely on economic con- siderations, the Council of Europe devotes its attention to almost every other sphere which is of interest to the European citizen.

In 1975 the outstanding contribution to the Council's programme has already been generously referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley. I should like, also, to add my congratulations and thanks to my noble friend Lord Duncan-Sandys for the initiative he took in establishing 1975 as the European Architectural Heritage Year. The citizens and, above all, the Governments of Europe have at last been reminded of the priceless inheritance we have in terms of historic buildings and of the urgent necessity not only to ensure that the best are kept in a good state of repair but that they are not destroyed, or their surroundings violated, by energetic but often misguided urban planners.

Under the Statute of the Council—may I say how delighted I am that this has never become abbreviated to "C of E" and is probably one of the few institutions in Europe which has not been turned into initials—one of its chief aims is to protect and develop the human rights of individuals by ensuring the application of the European Convention. The number of individual applications—I think this is very relevant to the importance which is attached to the Council's work—was over 400 last year. That is evidence of the importance attached to the institution by individuals throughout the Member-States. Equally important is another sphere to which the noble Lord did not refer, because he had many other aspects of the Council's work to cover; that is, the studies by the Committee of Experts, particularly in relation to the responsibilities and functions of Press councils, which should ensure an unrestricted supply of information to the public as well as protecting individuals against any abuses on the part of the Press. I mention this to show that the discussions which go on in the Council of Europe and through the Committee of Experts are by no means mere intellectual exercises, but are very relevant to the needs and demands of European citizens.

The work undertaken by the Council naturally includes a variety of subjects concerning the environment, legal and judicial matters. For example, the subject of the legal status of migrant workers is one which is covered to some extent by the European Community. It may result in action by means of some form of Directive or Regulations. Here, again, it was the Council of Europe which took the initiative and has done all the groundwork and the homework in order to present the very real human problems that arise.

The work of the Council of Europe has been shown over and over again to have been extremely thorough. What is very rewarding in strictly humanitarian matters has been the non-Party way in which such matters have been approached. In the search for suitable draft conventions or instruments which could be accepted by Member-States, they arrive at a consensus in an effort to reach a humanitarian solution to today's very difficult problems.

Further, the Council is an organisation which can be joined by States who have not yet gained the economic strength or structure to join the European Community. It gives an opportunity to those States who are returning to or initiating democratic systems to look towards European co-operation and thus contribute to the maintenance of peace in Europe by aspiring to the democratic standards and ideals set by the Council of Europe.

I should like to turn to a subject which has been referred to in the Annual Report. It is of great concern to this country and, again, could not conceivably come up in any other European body. This is the Conference on Criminal Policy, which has provided a forum for the need to adapt the criminal justice system and the role of penal law in contemporary European society. One aspect common to most Member-States is the overburdening of the criminal courts with minor road traffic offences and infringements of regulations and so on. Alternatives to imprisonment and the treatment of the long-term prisoners raise many human issues which need discussion. The Council of Europe, with a very wide membership and deep experience of these kinds of problems based on similar traditions, customs and social structures, provides the ideal forum not only for discussion but for finding partial solutions to the problems of our society of today.

The continued implementation and extension of the provisions of the European Social Charter, and improvements in social security systems throughout the 18 States, are important elements in the contribution of the Council to European wellbeing. Similarly, in the field of education, application and furtherance of the effects of the Conventions on academic qualifications and entry to universities are more than ever necessary to encourage the exchange of students and university teachers between the various European States.

The Council, of course, provides not only a forum for debate, but, by its contribution to the development of international law with over 80 Conventions or agreements and more to come, fills a role which cannot be undertaken by any other body. It further provides a possibility for countries such as Spain and Portugal to join, once their democratising processes have been achieved, so that they can take part in matters of European interest and concern. Again, I emphasise that none of these elements is fulfilled, or could be provided for, by the European Parliament or any of the institutions of the European Communities. Of course, the Treaty of Rome provides under Article 230 for close co-operation with the Council of Europe, and I very much hope that this co-operation will continue, and bear fruit, between the structures and the institutions in Europe. But they need each other, they are complementary to each other and one does not exclude the work of the other.

Before concluding the few words I have to say on the Council of Europe, I should just like to pay tribute to the very splendid work done by the 700 civil servants who work in Strasbourg at the Council of Europe. I know that all of us who have had anything to do with them—and I add in parentheses that I have not had the honour of serving on the Council of Europe, but I have had dealings with them through my work in the European Parliament—know how extraordinarily dedicated they are and what wonderful work they do for the European cause.

Turning to Western European Union, the other body which is the subject for debate, as the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, has rightly pointed out it provides the only forum for the time being where European defence can be debated by Parliamentarians of the seven States which have ratified the Treaty of Brussels and its modified 1954 Paris Agreement. But it should be emphasised that, even though defence is from time to time debated in the North Atlantic Assembly, that is not an organisation which has been set up or established by Treaty, whereas the WEU Assembly is established by treaty and it has not only the possibility but the duty to discuss defence matters. So that at the moment the WEU Assembly is the only body that is legally obligated to discuss these aspects of European security. The advantages, therefore, to Western States of the continued existence and effective working of the WEU are points which I should just like to enumerate briefly, because I know that there are other speakers on this matter.

I think it is important to underline one or two aspects of the work of the WEU. These appear to be, first, the important role it can play in the standardisation of equipment, which is essential both on economic and military grounds. Secondly, the treaty contains provision for the mutual defence of its adherents; indeed, it is the only treaty in Western Europe which strictly provides for this mutual defence. It has often been considered that if Greece and Turkey were to join the WEU they would be bound to assist each other in the event of attack, and thereby avert the possibility of one or other attacking. This is a subject for the Greek and Turkish Governments to consider, but it would be well worth while offering to them the possibility of membership of this very important organisation. Of course, it should be added that before we joined the Community the WEU was the only European body through which we had a direct link with the original Six of the EEC. Finally, the application of the treaty ensures democratic control by the Parliamentary Assembly over the collective security and defence of Western Europe.

Both of these institutions which we are discussing have played, and continue to play, a vital role in the co-operation of Western European nations for the development of a better and more secure society. The Tindemans Report on European Union clearly stated that it could not be achieved without a common defence policy. The WEU already provides a basis for a common defence policy, but it cannot overlook the importance of the fact that the European Union should eventually be extended not only from seven countries to nine but from nine to all the Western European countries; and also of the fact that co-operation with the United States should be maintained and not excluded. So that hopes for the future of a European Union may lie in the eventual development of the European Communities, possibly as outlined in the Tindemans Report but it will certainly be a long time before the Nine reach agreement on defence matters or give undertakings on mutual assistance. It is still essentially an economic community confined to nine nations. The Council of Europe, with its wider cultural, scientific and legal fields, with 18 nations and the WEU under the Treaty of Brussels, are still needed to play their constructive role in a future Western European Union. My Lords, I beg to support the Motion.

3.16 p.m.


My Lords, I wish to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, on his success in the ballot and on choosing this subject, with which I personally am very much involved. But I think he will agree that this is far too important a subject to be left to the fortuitous chance of a name being drawn out of a hat. I am quite sure that we should be regularly examining the work of the various European institutions of which we are members and, in the case of the Council of Europe and the Western European Union, to which we send Parliamentary representatives. In both Houses, we have been compelled to examine on an ad hoc basis the regulations and the Directives that come from the European Economic Community, but we seldom discuss the wider political aspects of European affairs, and in both Houses we completely ignore the European institutions that we are discussing today.

Yet, in my view at any rate, this is an extremely important aspect of our Parliamentary activities—at least, it should be—because the Council of Europe, if I may take that first, has produced, and will go on producing as we have heard, valuable proposals for Government action over a very wide field. In concert with the other democratic countries of Western Europe it is acting as a stimulus to the executives of the various countries to produce policies that have a European context, that are common policies in Western Europe, and is also putting a check on their executives—at least, I hope that that is the case— when they wrongfully produce insular policies that are unacceptable to some of our European friends. Therefore, I think that in both Houses we should receive and debate regularly reports from our representatives in these European Assemblies. So the first plea that I wish to make to the Government is that they arrange through the usual channels, here and in the other place—if the support that is given to today's Motion means anything—for regular debates on these matters.

The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, has given us a useful account, as has the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, of the work of the Council of Europe and the Western European Union. He has explained some of the achievements that have been gained so far, and given an indication of the very important projects that are now being considered and that will emerge as recommendations to member Governments, or as conventions to be signed and legislatively accepted. Reference has been made to human rights, which I think is one of the most important and great achievements of the Council of Europe. Of course, I am too modest to mention the European Consumer Protection Charter, but I hope that somebody else will do that for me. The list of achievements is impressive, but it is by no means complete. Nevertheless, I do not wish to take the matter further or to cover ground that has already been described. I want to address, as briefly as I can, some observations to my noble friend and to offer some proposals for what I believe are necessary and improving changes in the administration both of the Council of Europe and the Western European Union. Any improving changes that are made will have to come from the initiative of the Committee of Ministers and not from the Assemblies. This is a rather difficult point and I do not want to elaborate it now, but this is the reason why I am addressing my observations to the Minister.

I think that my noble friend will agree that with the publication of the Tindemans Report, to which the noble Baroness referred, and the enlargement of the Economic Community, both the Council of Europe and the Western European Union have reached a crucial stage in their development—perhaps a turning point at which some changes are essential. The enlargement of the EEC has caused some problems for the Council of Europe and whatever may come from the Tindemans Report has to be taken into consideration. I shall have to be brief and put forward views without the full measure of supporting argument that I should have liked to produce.

First of all, because of the importance that we attach now to the European Parliament, to the work of the Economic Community and to the reports that come from the Commission, we face the danger of isolating the Economic Community from the rest of Western Europe, or at least of diminishing the part that has to be played, if we want the Council of Europe to be effective, by the Council of Europe itself. I think that this danger is to some extent implicit in the Tindemans Report, for to carry out parts of it logically we would see the Council of Europe Assembly reduced to an appendage of the European Parliament. There are proposals that the Council of Europe Assembly should not meet so often as it does, which is three times a year—that perhaps once would be enough when, in effect, the European Parliament would graciously allow the other nine members of the Council of Europe to attend one of their sessions. If that were to happen, then the value of this wider association of democratic countries would be lost.

Moreover, to give such a prominent and dominating position to the institutions of the EEC seems to me to run counter to European geography. For example, we are moving towards an integrated European transport system and, of course, we cannot contain that system within the Nine. Railways, roads, rivers and canals do not stop at the frontiers of the Nine; they go beyond. For example, the waterway link that is now being developed as an active proposition that will eventually link the Rhine and the Danube is a most imaginative development, but obviously it cannot be contained within the Nine or within the Western European countries themselves. The Danube goes off to the East.

There are many other examples which could be taken where it would be quite impossible to contain the active projects that are now coming along within the Economic Community—on pollution, especially river pollution, on energy policy, on common health services, on rules for migrant workers, on cultural co-operation and so on. It is a very long and impressive list. I do not want to see any of the developments in these wider fields being assigned from the Council of Europe to the European Parliament. The idea that all of these developments, now successfully pursued by the Council of Europe, could be handed over to the EEC, with only some kind of loose consultation with the Nine countries outside the EEC, is to me totally unacceptable and would be a grave rejection of our concept of European unity. Nevertheless, as the noble Baroness mentioned, but not quite in the same context, the Tindemans Report gives to us the opportunity to reappraise our Western European institutions.

It is at this point that, as I say, I wish to address some observations to the Minister. I think we must decide now, in a review or reappraisal of the institutions, perhaps following from the Tindemans Report, on the proper role for each of them and do some streamlining, because there is considerable duplication of their work, considerable overlapping and considerable wastage of staff who are going over the same fields and producing not complementary but rival reports. As a result of all this there is, too, a great deal of wasteful expenditure that we should look at very carefully. It is a big subject but, much as I should like to do so, I feel that I cannot take up your Lordships' time by going into the details.

May I therefore ask the Minister to consider seriously two proposals for initiative. As I have said, I believe that the initiative for any changes must come from the Committee of Ministers. To deal first with the common economic policies for Western Europe, there is a danger of the European Economic Community becoming too inward-looking, too insular. If the Council of Europe's concern about economic policies is weakened or diminished in any way, merely to assign preparatory work—the reports which have to be discussed in the Council of Europe Assembly—to, say, the EEC Commission, would be going backwards.

But this is implicit in the Tindemans Report and I think that it should be challenged.

I believe that we have to challenge it by putting forward a far better proposal, which is to widen the scheme of the Council of Europe's work on economic affairs. I hope it will be possible to have a one-part session—that is, one week of meetings a year—devoted solely or mainly to economic policy, but to do so on a wide basis and for that purpose to give to the OECD—I am sorry that I have to talk in initials, but I think that noble Lords will understand them—the task of preparing the reports that could be discussed on a political basis at that session. At the moment, OECD reports are directed at Governments, not to Parliamentarians for Parliamentary debate.

If we could enlarge the OECD's approach to its member countries by providing for a large-scale debate on economic affairs which would not be concentrated on Europe, although it would be mainly about Europe, this would he extremely valuable. It is not a far-fetched idea because I think noble Lords will know that the United States of America, Canada, Australia, Japan and New Zealand send representatives to meetings of the Council of Europe from time to time, but because there is no agenda to discuss in which they have a place they bring along goodwill messages and we get together. It is a valuable meeting place hut very little that is useful comes out of it. We need positive agendas for meetings of this kind, well prepared and considered in advance before we meet, and I believe the only body that can prepare them for meetings of this description, dealing with development aid as well as our own economic problems, is OECD.

My other proposal concerns Western European Union—and I shall be brief. I disagreed with the noble Baroness when she hinted—no more than hinted; and I think the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, did likewise, although I hope I am not doing him an injustice—that the defence of Western Europe might be handed over to EEC and that the European Parliament should discuss defence questions. I am utterly opposed to that idea. Because we built up Western European Union and it is the body where defence policies and armaments are discussed and where Parliamentarians can meet to discuss collectively what their various Governments are doing in the defence field, it is too valuable an institution to be abolished.

However, I think that WEU should be restricted to this very important task. The reference in the original Brussels Treaty to collaboration in economic, social and cultural matters should now be removed. That was Ernest Bevin's dream of uniting Europe in a comprehensive series of pragmatical developments without any basic constitution to begin with—that would grow out later. But that has been overtaken by events. We now have to give WEU its modern function and I think the section of the Paris agreements to which the noble Baroness referred should also be modified. The section referring to the Assembly representatives of WEU being the same representatives who go to the Council of Europe, I think should be changed. One main reason why the WEU Assembly sometimes does not have a quorum is that so few of us who go there are really interested in defence, and I think it would not be difficult to change the Paris agreements in that way.

I apologise to your Lordships for having spoken for so long, but I think that with all the experience I have had in the Council of Europe and Western European Union this is the first opportunity in 25 years that I have had of discussing Western European Union and the Council of Europe in either House. I hope therefore that I may be forgiven for taking some time in making certain proposals which I think now are absolutely necessary for the effective development of both institutions.

3.34 p.m.


My Lords. I am intervening not to make any very definite proposals but merely to add a few comments to the remarks which have already been made. I think all of us who care about Europe are indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, for raising the subject of the Council of Europe and the Western European Union. It is important that their work should be referred to and should be reviewed from time to time in our Parliament and I support the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Darling of Hillsborough, that there should be a regular review of these activities.

The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, defined the functions of the Council of Europe as in the main dealing with three matters—human rights, cultural affairs, and providing a forum for democratic Europe. It was The Hague Congress, which I had the task of organising in 1948—a long time ago—which first launched the idea of the creation of a European consultative Assembly which was given the name of the Council of Europe. But I should like to make it clear that at that time we never envisaged that this purely consultative Assembly was to be an end in itself. It was essentially to be the first step towards the achievement of a much larger and wider objective. I go further than many noble Lords: in my view the objective should be nothing less than the eventual creation of a United States of Europe.

The Council of Europe has already proved to be the starting point of a process which has led to the creation of the Coal and Steel Community, Euratom, the Treaty of Rome and the European Community. While the Community in Brussels has much more power, none the less the Council of Europe— and I am glad this has been recognised in the speeches that have already been made—has a most useful role to play as a meeting place for the representatives of the countries of the wider community of the 18. I think also one must emphasise (this has been referred to already) that it provides a focus for co-operation and interchange of ideas with countries outside the 18—countries of Eastern Europe and of the Iberian Peninsula.

The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, and the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, mentioned the European Architectural Heritage Year and I am most grateful to them for the all too generous remarks they made about my efforts in that respect. There is no doubt that this European Architectural Heritage Year, certainly from my point of view, has achieved a great deal more than I had dared to hope. It has made a big impact; it has aroused an enormous amount of interest; and what was particularly satisfying to me was that it really was a European Architectural Heritage Year. It was not the Six or the Nine or the Eighteen, it was the whole of Europe. We had active support from Portugal, Spain, Yugoslavia, Poland, Romania, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union. In fact the Soviet Government provided material for the film which was produced for our Amsterdam Congress, and I think that was a contribution not only to culture but also to understanding in the spirit of Helsinki.

Of course it is no good having an activity and a campaign of that kind and then saying, "Well, that was very nice. Now we can think of something else." We now have to maintain and develop further the interest which was aroused during that campaign and there is no doubt that the method by which it has to be done is the exchange of information and ideas and persons, all the time maintaining contact with one another. There are two forces which we have to mobilise: one is pride and the other is shame. The more different towns and peoples can see what others are doing in other towns in other countries, the more they say, "That's fine! Why don't we do the same in our town? "Or else they say," Why are we doing so little in our town? "All this has a stimulating effect.

There is no doubt that the central force in the whole of this activity is the local authorities. They are the people who take most of the decisions, for better or for worse, which determine the fate of our architectural heritage. That is why we have, by independent initiative, created a new organisation, the Historic Towns Forum under the auspices of the Council of Europe. We have as patrons all the mayors of all the capital cities of Western Europe, and 500 or 600 towns exchange publications. There are tours. A party of German mayors is coming to Britain shortly and British mayors are going to Germany. There is another tour in France. In this way, we are trying to stimulate people, to get them to feel European, to recognise that our culture is a common European culture for which we have a common responsibility, and that we must work together to preserve it.

The other force is the independent citizen. There is no doubt that local authorities are elected bodies, and strangely enough, they like to be re-elected. So, if they are criticised for having spent the ratepayers' money restoring the town hall, they do not do it any more. On the other hand, if they are praised for it, they do more. That is why the local conservation society is immensely important at local and national levels, and also at international level. There is room for closer coordination between the activities in this sphere of the Community and the Council of Europe. There is a good deal of duplication and of waste of effort and money. I think we could achieve more if the two bodies, not only in the cultural field but in other spheres as well, were to discuss matters more closely, and try to co-ordinate their activities. I raised the matter with M. Ortoli, the President of the Community, when he came to the Strasbourg Assembly about a week ago. Money and effort could be saved by closer co-ordination.

With regard to Western European Union, which is concerned primarily with defence, this is a much more specialised sphere of action, but, none the less, an extremely useful one. There are those who say it ought to be done away with, that we ought to concentrate entirely on a North Atlantic Council. But while we are part of the NATO Alliance, the basis of the whole of our Western defence, the European members of NATO have a separate and special responsibility which cannot be entirely merged with the American contribution. Essentially, we have a European defence problem; the Americans have a much more widely spread world responsibility, and consequently some of the problems are different.

As has been already mentioned, we must make a much bigger effort to make progress on standardisation of armaments. It is a crying shame and a disgrace that over all these years we have talked and talked, and paid lip service to standardisation, but have made so little headway. We see the growing power of the Soviet Union and the Soviet bloc. I cannot help saying that I feel very much as I felt in 1938, seeing the rising power of the other bloc and everybody pretending it did not exist. On the other hand, we have an economic problem, there is no doubt about that. We do not have an unlimited amount of money to spend. The only way in which we can increase our military strength without spending a vast amount of extra money is by organising our production in a more sensible way, which means standardisation of equipment and integration of our forces. It is not necessary for every country. If we ever have to fight a war, which we all hope we shall not have to do, we shall fight it together, so it is not necessary for every country to have every kind of unit. We should think in terms of a European defence. That is one of the main tasks of Western European Union. I believe that both the Council of Europe and the Western European Union are performing really valuable roles. I am glad that in this debate this has been duly recognised by this House, and I beg to support the Motion.

3.46 p.m.


My Lords, I speak with some diffidence in a short contribution to this debate, not only as a new boy but in following some very prominent members of the Council of Europe who have rendered service over a period of years. Therefore, my humble contribution will be based on the experience of a few months, because I first became a British delegate last September. I must admit that these few months have not only attracted my interest but, indeed, my enthusiasm.

Some of my colleagues in the House, who shall be nameless, and some other colleagues in another place, involved as they are in the activities of the EEC and the European Parliament, have suggested to me, and indeed to other people, with a somewhat superior air that the Council of Europe is a somewhat minor body, hardly worth retaining. Some of these people were active opponents of the EEC, but now seem to he enthusiastic members of the European Parliament. In this attitude, I feel they are completely and utterly wrong. The Council embraces a much larger number of European nations, giving it a wider scope in sounding national opinions and hammering out a constructive approach on many social and humanitarian issues, with human rights as a keystone. Also, there is the value of personal contact during sessions and afterwards, when one can contact colleagues from other countries and discover their personal points of view, and discuss problems informally. All this also adds to experience. There are still some nations in Europe which have emerged, or are only slowly emerging, from the press of dictatorship. Greece is now a member of the Council and, before long, Portugal will be accepted. Let us hope that Spain, in the not too distant future, will be approaching membership status.

In the recent session just over a week ago there was an historic moment during a debate on Portugal when, on the last day of the Assembly, the democratically and newly-elected Portuguese representatives were present and were invited to address the Assembly. That debate was important. As one of our colleagues in another place said, it was historic. But it was also a vitally important debate, because these Portuguese representatives, as they were new and democratically elected representatives, were given a cordial and sympathetic welcome and, what is more important, left in no doubt whatever of the desire of the Assembly to extend practical help to a newly emerging democracy. To me, that underlined the value of the Council of Europe, because these democratically elected representatives could go hack to their own country fortified with feelings of support from their colleagues in many other countries. It is indeed rightly described as an historic moment.

Although it is true that political groups exist and meet at unearthly hours, sometimes at eight o'clock in the morning, essentially the Council is an assembly of Parliamentarians. As with other Parliamentary assemblies the basic work of the Council lies in the subject committees. In those committees a great deal of hard work is carried out beforehand, not only from the point of view of meeting in Strasbourg—where they tend to meet at eight o'clock or at 8.30 in the morning after a heavy day, and sometimes night—but in many other directions, too, because the discussion is intense and detailed on many vital and interesting subjects.

I can speak from only a few months of membership of the Committee on social and health questions. In January we had a magnificent and interesting and pointed debate on the findings of the Committee on the rights of the sick. It was a good debate, and eventually the approval of the Council was given. The problem of large-scale unemployment—strangely enough, a problem not only in Britain but in the whole of Europe—is now under review. There is also the question, which has been referred to already, of the need for medical treatment to be easily and freely available, without complicated formalities and irrespective of national frontiers. From personal or other experience, many of your Lordships will know that frequently people have been taken sick on the Continent, or there has been some accident, and there has been tremendous bureaucracy to overcome and financial difficulties, and what-have-you. Here an attempt is to be made to try to iron out the frontiers; the right to have medical attention, irrespective of nationality, is to be debated and discussed, and we hope a solution found. It is not going to be an easy problem to solve but it is a problem that is vitally important. These and many other things are vital human issues with which this Assembly deals with compassion in intense discussion and debate.

My Lords, I am convinced that the Council of Europe is a forward and outward-looking body, with increasing importance as more and more nations qualify for membership through emerging democracy. One complaint I have, and I think it is a general complaint of the British delegation. It is indeed regrettable that the media in Britain tend to overlook almost completely the work and achievements of the Council, due to the general obsession, it would appear, with the affairs of the EEC. It is, I feel, time that this vitally important body of democratic opinion was given the rightful attention and support it deserves. Indeed, I go further. I would say that it is important for democracy in Europe that this attention is given.

I support my colleagues in all quarters of the House who have asked for more frequent debates on the findings and the work of the Council of Europe. We have a series of sub-committees, of which I have apparently suddenly, to my surprise, been made a member, going into great detail on the EEC findings. But we do not debate or consider the very vital and human issues which are decided and discussed at Strasbourg. I can assure the doubting Thomases and colleagues who think that those of us who are on the delegation go abroad on a wonderful jaunt with expenses paid, that they are under a complete delusion, because there is plenty of work involved. Even when, from time to time, we have our occasional social evenings, frequently "shop" is again discussed. I am confident that this debate will serve a vital, useful purpose, and I trust that my noble friend on the Front Bench will give us his full support. Ministers have come out to Strasbourg and given lip support, but we need at this time more practical support than we have received up till now.

3.54 p.m.


My Lords, I am very glad the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, has enabled the House to discuss the work of these two very important international Parliamentary Assemblies. They are not often in the public eye, but the contribution they make towards greater unity and collaboration in Europe is none the less for that. The Consultative Assembly—I noticed that with his expertise the noble Lord, Lord Duncan-Sandys, referred to it as such; it has since, of course, been increasingly referred to as the Parliamentary Assembly—of the Council of Europe is the oldest of the international Parliamentary Assemblies. It owes its origin to the burst of enthusiasm for European unity which followed immediately after the last World War, and I am glad to say that from the very first Britain played a leading part in its formation. Since then I think successive British delegations have addressed themselves to the work of the Council of Europe according to the merits and without undue regard for nationalistic or partisan or ideological preoccupations, a point which the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, brought out so well. In fact, we have brought to the Assembly the same tradition of free and frank debate that has been the mainstay of our own Parliament in this country.

The process of European unification, which began with the Council of Europe, has of course spread into various channels. There was one feature of this short but extremely useful debate which led us inevitably to consider whether there are not means of making more coherent, more related, more clearly interdependent, the various media and milieu of European co-operation. It is a fact that stemming primarily from the efforts of 1948–49 the channel of co-operation in defence has tended to be Western European Union, and indeed WEU has played a vital role in this way. Then the channel of economic co-operation, beginning with Marshall Aid, developed into the present Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the OECD. The channel of economic integration began with the Treaty of Rome; and the channel of voluntary political co-operation, tending towards, so far as possible, progressively a common foreign policy, is to be found in the increasing activities of the nine Member-States of the European Community in this regard. All of these developments owe their origin—I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord DuncanSandys—to what was begun in 1948 and became enshrined in the Statute of 1949 which founded the Council of Europe.

We are now faced with a number of institutions, activities, all of them representative and tied to the democratic requirements, but which from time to time as European unity grows—there is a price of growth—tend to bring up new questions of coherence. I welcome this short debate as a precursor of more regular and possibly more comprehensive debates about the corpus of European institutions to which this country and others subscribe, so that the search for this coherence, this increasing correlation can be carried forward. Here I think my noble friend Lord Darling made an extremely important contribution, and, although I will not follow up the suggestions he has made this afternoon, I can assure him that what he has had to say will be very carefully considered by the Government and, indeed, I am quite sure in due course, subject to the usual channels, by this House.

The second point that has come out of this debate is a query—not a hostile query but a query of concern—as to whether the emergence and the development of the EEC, which is an increasingly large fact of life for nine Members of the Western Europe area, has not made the Council of Europe, as such, somewhat redundant. More than one speaker referred to the undoubted possibility of duplication and waste. Her Majesty's Government's view is that the development of the EEC certainly does not make the work of the Council of Europe, or of Western European Union, redundant. The Council is not a substitute for any other organisation; or (shall I put it like this?) the Community is not, at least so far—and I do not think in the foreseeable future it will become—a substitute for any other existing European institution.

Our attachment to membership of these two institutions—and they are not the only ones doing very important work in Europe—is undimmed, unqualified. We propose to play our full part in the future both in the Council of Europe and in WEU, as we have in the past. More than one speaker has adduced the reasons for this, and I need not retread the quite conclusive arguments for continuing in this way. The principal ones are, first, that the area, the membership, and the purposes of the various bodies do not coincide. A simple instance is that the Community itself comprises at the moment nine Member States from Western Europe, while the Council of Europe at the moment comprises 18. The Community, therefore, cannot subsume within itself either the membership or the purposes of the Council of Europe. One might almost say that if the Council of Europe did not exist it would, in a Voltairean sense, have to be invented because it has other purposes and therefore has to draw from a wider membership. It may well be that in due course the two purposes and the two areas of membership may coincide, but we are far from realising that—and here again I defer to what my noble friend Lord Darling of Hillsborough had to say—even if it were to be the most desirable development.

Equally this argument—and to the Government it is a conclusive argument—applies to WEU. That has become inevitably and necessarily an organisation whose centre of gravity, you might say, is a common interest in the defence of Western Europe among the Western European members of the Alliance. If there were not a forum for that preoccupation, for that study, for that source of suggestion, it would have to be created. Therefore, why create anything when you have in WEU, for the seven member States concerned, a very useful forum for discussion of defence which is complementary to the larger discussion which proceeds within the Alliance? I am very glad to respond to the noble Baroness's request and that of other speakers this afternoon and say that it is the firm policy of Her Majesty's Government to continue to support its membership, its participation, in these two essential European institutions.

Before I sit down may I turn to one or two particular points raised by the various speakers. The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, who introduced this debate so admirably—and I should like to join the noble Baroness in congratulating him as a reverend as well as a noble Lord in withstanding the fatal temptation to use the initials "C of E" in this connection—said in a stimulating speech that we must constantly study how things are going but not lose sight of the excellent work which is being done. In so saying he pointed to the value of the work done by members of the British delegation. I heartily agree, and I take full note of what he said about this vexed question of allowances. There is no doubt that many, if not all, members, at least from the section of the delegation provided by this House, undertake very arduous duties, often at some cost to themselves. I take full note of that point, which the noble Baroness supported, and I shall of course be drawing the attention of my noble friend the Leader of the House to what has been said.

The noble Baroness herself made what I thought was a speech full of thoughtful suggestion. She, too, has experience of membership of these European organisations. She made one or two valuable points. In particular I think it was she who stressed the need for WEU to continue to be most concerned with defence rather than to revert to its previously more comprehensive field of study. I entirely agree. I think that this is very sound indeed.

The noble Lord, Lord Duncan-Sandys, reminded us that the Consultative Assembly, as he called it, quite rightly, was only a step to something wider and bigger. The wider and bigger of course has come about but, as I suggested, through various media. There has been this quadripartite emanation from the 1948–49 idea. It is none the worse for that. I like his suggestion that, while we recognise that as an inevitable tendency, there should be closer co-ordination between the Council of Europe and the EEC. He too made the point that a good deal of time and rare and highly qualified personnel, as well as money, may be wasted, and as we constantly look to improved co-ordination this does not threaten the individual identity of purpose of either institution. Indeed, it is a new insurance that they should survive viably in terms of the proper use of resources.

Of course, the immensely important point he made was about the standardisation of arms. Yes, there has been some progress in the matter. It is not of course entirely a matter for the seven Members of WEU. The Alliance—and this is a good thing—is somewhat wider than that, and the perimeters of discussion and of disagreement, technical and other, are therefore more frequent. It is a very wide Alliance, and may become wider still—let us hope so—so that a fundamental technical, and possibly technological, change which standardisation of the nature which I think the noble Lord has in mind, and which we all have in mind, may be a matter of considerable argument and even international bargaining as to who produces what for everybody. I think we can claim as a country that we have been in the van of this, and continue to be the most willing. If there is a most willing nation position in this respect, we occupy it. We see it as in the interests of all that there should be standardisation, particularly as certain forms of defensive equipment become more and more sophisticated and duplication both of rare and highly qualified manpower and of money and material becomes thereby more serious.

My noble friend Lord Wallace of Coslany, who also has considerable experience in this field, stressed the practical achievements of the Council of Europe and in particular he stressed the reason for this, which is that it is fundamentally democratic. Of course the delegation to both the Council and the Union are based, are drawn from, Parliamentary democracies; indeed, it is a condition of membership that a country which is a member or which aspires to membership of either should conform with the proper standards of Parliamentary democracy. As the House knows, at the moment we—not just this country but other countries in Western Europe—are engaged on the question of direct elections; how to organise them, how quickly we can organise them, and there are of course respectable arguments going on about how this should be done.

It is a fact that for these purposes—which have led through the Council of Europe in particular to very far-reaching humanitarian, social, educational and cultural advances in Europe, some of them tied down to international sanction, exemplifying to the entire world how the rule of law through international courts can be implemented—all that we have heard this afternoon, in which we can take great pride as a country and as a region of Europe, has been done through representation which is not strictly elective. I leave the thought with the House that the Government's policy is to work towards an elective system for Europe as quickly as proves practicable and acceptable not only to our country but, I must repeat, to other Members of the EEC. In so doing, reports like that of M. Tindemans and other reports and certainly debates of this kind must prove useful to us, to the Government and to our friends and partners in Europe in terms of the way in which they will move ahead in the future. I join noble Lords on both sides of the House in hoping that this kind of debate will be made possible more regularly in the future.

4.15 p.m.


My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have taken part in this debate for their uniformly valuable contributions. I also thank noble Lords who came to listen and stayed to listen, because in a way this has been a debate which we hoped would inform people, and we have had for this House a high ratio of listeners to speakers. I will not delay your Lordships by taking up the various very valuable points that have been made. I must, however, mention that I was fascinated by the problem about which the noble Lord, Lord Darling of Hillsborough, spoke; namely, the possibility of dividing the Parliamentary representation of the Western European Union and the Council of Europe. I. have thought about that for some time. I see all the advantages but, on balance, I do not agree with the noble Lord, for I think that membership of the WEU is one of the few really educational experiences in the field of defence. In both Houses of Parliament there are too few who understand and have learnt about the problems of defence, and WEU's role as an educational body should not be underestimated. It is a very finely balanced argument and both sides have to be taken into account.

I should not like to withdraw the Motion without paying tribute to all my colleagues in the delegations; and several noble Lords have already paid such tribute. In particular we should mention the leader of the delegation, Mr. Urwin, his predecessor, Mr. Fletcher, and Sir John Rodgers, the leader of the Conservative delegation. In addition, we pay tribute to our advisers, whether from the Foreign Office or the Clerkship of both Houses, and from elsewhere. We are extremely well served and looked after. It was my hope that this debate and especially the Government reply would be a message to our colleagues in Europe—and to the scoffers, of whom the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Coslany, spoke —and the public, that these bodies, the Council of Europe and the Western European Union are extremely worth while and are doing an extremely worthwhile job. I feel that my hopes have been fulfilled and that the debate, and especially the Minister's reply, have made exactly those points. It is, therefore with great satisfaction that I beg your Lordships' leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.