§ 4 p.m.
§ Lord GORONWY-ROBERTS rose to move, That this House takes note of the White Paper Developments in the European Communities May-November 1976 (Cmnd. 6695). The noble Lord said: My Lords, The subject of our debate today is a six monthly White Paper which covers developments in the European Communities in the latter half of last year. Some water at least has flowed under the bridge since then, and while the opportunity to look back at detailed issues of interest to the House will be useful, I would not wish in these opening remarks to dwell unduly on the past. Nor do I wish to pre-empt the debate, particularly the contribution which the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie, will make. If your Lordships agree, I hope to speak again at the close of the debate so that I may address myself more helpfully to the outstanding points that arise.
§ I propose now to set out some ideas of our present tasks and future objectives in Europe. This is a perspective that comes particularly naturally to us at a time when Britain holds the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, and must reflect for the Community as a whole not only on how best to conduct immediate Community business but also on the direction we are trying to move in in the longer-term.
§ It is true that in recent times there has been some diminution of confidence in the Community. I do not accept that it has led to a shaking of its foundations. The European Communities have very substantial achievements to their credit which we must make sure not to lose. We can even go forward to build on them provided that we approach our present problems in a practical way and establish clear priorities and a good tactical, as well as strategic, plan. No one would under-estimate the great tasks that remain, particularly as regards sectoral policies. We are particularly conscious today of the difficulties that exist where fisheries and agriculture, for instance, are concerned. On fisheries, I will just say now that the Government regard a reform of the Common Fisheries Policy as a major objective. The Community is having to adapt itself to the new circumstances of 1767 extended fisheries limits; and the United Kingdom has been insisting on the importance both of effective control of third country fishing, and of strict conservation, within those limits.
§ In agriculture, we are still grappling with the obstacles that beset the way to a truly beneficial Common Agricultural Policy, which would respect the interests of both consumer and producer. These are both areas, fisheries and agriculture, in which the conflicts arise between the specific interests of individual Member States and those of the Community as a whole. Such conflicts are inevitable, but not, we hope, irreconcilable, for in the long run the two sets of interests interlock and their interaction can be positively fruitful. It will profit all Member States if the Community's common policies work well; and it will profit the Community if the deep-seated genuine interests of Member States are recognised and, so far as possible, accommodated. These are principles we bear very much in mind as we approach the areas where a common policy exists, as in the case of fisheries and agriculture, and where we feel reform is needed, and in those areas where a common policy is desired but does not yet exist; I have energy very much in mind.
§ The sectoral policies I have mentioned have also in common that they all vitally relate to the economic development of the Community as a whole. Progress in the economic and monetary field is clearly essential for any wider movement towards a Europe more united and at peace with itself; if the economic situation is not healthy, neither as a whole will the Community be. The problem we face at the moment is that, so far from drawing the largest and most important economies closer together, their performance has been drawing them further apart. We now face a dual problem. First, and most important in welfare terms, there is the intolerably high level of unemployment in Europe at large, and this is not of course confined to Europe. This looms particularly large for us, and indeed does much to obscure the benefits of our Community membership. Secondly, the nature and extent of divergence—the divergence of the largest and most important economies in Europe—has effectively reduced the progress towards economic integration.1768
§ There is no easy, and certainly no general and theoretical, solution to this problem. Decisive action on unemployment and economic recovery must come in the first instance from nation States, many of which, such as the United States and Japan, are outside the Community. What Community members can do is, first, to put their own houses in order—and we have certainly tried hard to do that—and, secondly, to consider together how Community solidarity can help to solve our economic problems in the longer term. This was the message which emerged from the European Council held in The Hague last November, and it is one we have made the keynote of our Presidency in the current six months in the economic field. The Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary drew attention to the crucial importance of these economic problems in his speech to the European Parliament on 12th January. Copies of this extremely important speech have been laid in the Libraries of both Houses of Parliament and I am sure that constant perusal of this document will both assist us to understand the principal objectives of the British Presidency and show how apposite to the problems of Europe my right honourable friend's approach is.
§ As regards the political development of the Community, the European Council at The Hague had a useful opportunity to discuss future possibilities when it considered the reflections of Foreign Ministers on Mr. Tindemans' Report on European Union. Noble Lords will have seen that the European Council generally endorsed the lines of those reflections and, in so doing, was able to clarify some of the principles on which further progress may be made. This was a constructive outcome which was made possible largely by the down-to-earth approach Mr. Tindemans himself had adopted.
§ We in Britain have always doubted whether any other approach is likely to achieve results. For the Community is a unique political institution, the creation partly of written constitutions and partly of an organic process of development. The way the Community lives and works is continually affected by the constant interplay between the national and collective interests of Member States, and between the different institutions of the Community which particularly embody and represent those interests. This being 1769 so, the future political development of Europe is at once absorbingly interesting and a minefield for the prophets.
§ However, in the medium term, I might draw attention to the approach of direct elections to the European Parliament. Let me make clear again that Her Majesty's Government intend to introduce a Bill in good time. We, like other Member-States, are committed to the target date of May/June 1978 and we will do our utmost to meet it. We believe that direct elections will play an important part in making the Community a more democratic organisation, and in countering the trend to excessive bureaucracy.
§ In all this, it is not our approach to set long-term, abstract goals—a view which is increasingly shared by our partners in the Community. We wish to concentrate on making the Community function as efficiently and effectively as possible and so that it may increasingly commend itself to Member States' Governments and to the general population of the Community in all States. It is a major objective of our Presidency to work efficiently, effectively and practically. Time will show how well we have acquitted ourselves.
§ Of course, our current preoccupations go wider than the Community's present framework and membership. The question of enlargement, in particular, will absorb much time, thought and effort in the foreseeable future. We do not underestimate the problems. Europe, we have always said, must be an outward-looking and, if at all possible, a growing fact of international life. However, with that task come problems. The accession of new members may increase the economic divergence within the Community; create substantial new demands on Community funds; and make harder the operation of the Common Agricultural Policy. However, Her Majesty's Government are convinced that the political benefits of enlargement outweigh all the practical difficulties and that it is our job to find solutions for the latter.
There are many who approached the question of Britain's membership of the Community with some reservation or other on the economic provisions but who were passionately convinced that the political and historical arguments for welding the nations of Europe together
outweighed any such reservations. That is true today. As the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary said in his Luxembourg speech,
Enlargement is an investment in the democratic future of Europe.
To my generation and indeed to all others, it is an investment in a peace which for centuries we found it impossible to maintain in Western Europe on the basis of the old nationalistic rivalries. So, when we criticise the way in which the Community is moving and make much of the inevitable tensions and disagreements that arise in this, after all, revolutionary move forward in terms of international co-operation, let us remember the priceless boon of at last resolving the age-old hostilities that bedevilled the politics of Europe for two, three or more centuries in the past.
§ If the future looks somewhat cloudy at times, my hopes are clear and so are our intentions. In the short term and under our Presidency, we must give priority to economic recovery and particularly to tackling the evil of unemployment. In the longer perspective, we must build on what has already been achieved in the way of European co-operation and integration, always seeking to reconcile what is desirable with what is acceptable and possible. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That this House takes note of the White Paper Developments in the European Communities May-November 1976 (Cmnd. 6695).—(Lord Goronwy-Roberts.)
§ 4.16 p.m.
§ The PRINCIPAL DEPUTY CHAIRMAN of COMMITTEES (Baroness Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie)
My Lords, I think we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, for bringing the Government White Paper on developments in the Community, which ended in November last year, up to date in some respects. I was glad when the noble Lord described the efforts being made regarding fisheries policy and, above all, that he referred to that outstanding speech made by the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary at the European Parliament. I feel that it is inevitable that this foreign affairs debate should be overshadowed by the tragedy that has befallen the Foreign Secretary and I can only say 1771 that those who saw him presiding over the Council of Ministers remarked on his good humour, his patience, and his real desire to do all he could to try to reach some cohesion among the Nine. That speech to the European Parliament—his first—was notable for its high intelligence and its courageous appraisal not only of the achievements of the Community but also of its problems. I should like to take this chance to wish his wife at this time strength and sustenance of that great courage which has been so marked.
Before I refer again to the Government's White Paper—and I should like to do so—my first task is to present to your Lordships the Special Report of the Select Committee on the European Communities. I am grateful to be second on the list though I understand that it is only in order that we may take the two reports together. I shall simply move the Motion formally at the end of the debate.
As chairman of a Select Committee, I wish I could convey to your Lordships the careful, cheerful way in which 78 Peers give their time without stint to work that is undoubtedly heavy. It has been said by Mr. Jack Jones that 1977 is the year of the beaver. I can only tell your Lordships that the Members of the Select Committee and their staff have worked like beavers since the inception of the Select Committee, which was in May 1974. I try to visit each of our seven Sub-Committees in turn, and I am always surprised by the way noble Lords bring to the scrutiny of European draft legislation not only their specialised knowledge but a freshness of insight which is extraordinarily stimulating; for we are all sharing a new experience.
We are moulding our methods of scruitiny to cope with documents that vary markedly in substance and in quality of thought. We strive to ensure that our combined judgment will place before this House only those matters that are of real importance, on which at this pre-legislative stage your Lordships' opinions may influence the Government or reinforce them in what they seek to do. We are grateful for the high quality of the evidence and help given us, too, by the Government Departments and many outside this House, including our official representation in Brussels under Sir 1772 Donald Maitland. Of course we are also indebted to the usual channels for allowing us time for debate, because it is early scrutiny and early debate which is the point of the whole exercise.
We have considered over the past year that our work can be most effective if we are more selective in the documents that we study, not least because of our rather limited resources. What is called the sifting of these documents falls to me, and if my judgment goes awry there is however a method by which members of our Sub-Committees can retrieve such documents that I may have missed. But when sifting I take into account those matters which another place feels are important to them, and as we exchange all documents we try not to duplicate each other's work. Inevitably, there are some matters which are of great interest to both Houses, such as the Farm Prices Review, or a common energy policy, or "green" money. At times we work concurrently with the Commons, notably on value added tax, and at present on regional development policy.
We hope very much that this work will develop. It has its problems. The Commons terms of reference of their Select Committee do not allow for the addition to their number by co-option. So their Committee of 16 only divides itself into two for special needs, but it lays, as the House will understand, a very heavy burden on only 16 Members of Parliament who have many other duties in another place. But we shall persevere because I think that the majority of us in the Select Committee believe that Parliament will be the stronger if we can work together.
Since the debate on the Select Committee's last report, I am very glad to say that nearly all the recommendations we made then have been accepted, and I should like to thank the Government, the Offices Committee and their Sub-Committees who made some of these changes possible; also the Procedure Committee who have enlarged our numbers in the Select Committee, and who only this week have given us the right to have automatic retirals a third at a time like other Committees of this House. But of course there will always be an opportunity for a Peer to return to the main Committee after a year's 1773 absence if he so wishes. The only exception will be for Sub-Committee chairmen—and I am glad to see that many are present today.
They can serve three years as chairmen, even if they have been members of the Select Committee since its inception. As these new rules are not retrospective and they will not apply until the next Session, this will mean, I hope, that some Sub-Committee chairmen will have served this House a full lustrum. I do not know whether any noble Lords here have, as I had, never heard the word "lustrum" before. It was written in a letter recently to my husband by a forner Prime Minister who was a master of the English language. I am happy to say that my husband did not know what it meant, either. So both of us repaired at once to the Oxford Dictionary, and we learnt that a "lustrum" means,a purificatory sacrifice for a period of five years.I wish my Sub-Committee chairmen well!
There is one very important suggestion made in our last report that has not been carried out. I say this with great regret because it bears on the central question as to how much influence your Lordships' Scrutiny Committee and Parliament have, or have not, on European legislation; also, it bears on those documents which are concerned with broad questions of policy, and which will affect the future political and legislative action by the Community. In paragraph 4 of our Special Report we explain the problem once again. When proposals from the Community have been studied by the Select Committee and laid before your Lordships' House for information or debate, what happens then? The subject simply disappears.
But the Council of Ministers may instruct their own Working Groups to alter draft legislation quite substantially. In a way this is equivalent to a Committee and a Report stage of a Bill in your Lordships' House. But the meetings are held in private, and it is after this work has been done that the Council of Ministers then reaches a decision on a document which may vary very substantially from that studied by your Select Committee. So neither Parliament nor those members of the public who have taken a special interest know whether or not their views were taken into account.
1774 However, I am glad to say that I think there is a little improvement in what the Government are trying to do, because occasionally we have had issued to us supplementary memoranda to both Houses explaining various changes, and I should like to say that this is very much appreciated. I have a document here which I thought I would quote briefly to your Lordships because it is an explanatory memoranda on something that was amended in the Council Working Group. The kind of thing which we have to study is a draft directive like this:…to co-ordinate between Member States the information to be disclosed to the public by companies applying for a Stock Exchange listing for their shares…But what it says, after pointing out the amendments, is:…the Council Working Party will provide a further opportunity to seek the adoption of the recommendations made by the Select Committee of the House of Lords on the European Communities in their 31st Report dated 30 July 1975.So occasionally we feel that maybe we achieve something.
I also submit— and perhaps the noble Lord could take note of this—that it would be of very great assistance to Parliament, if as well as being told how the documents have been amended, we might also be told why those amendments were made. I welcome very much the last sentence in paragraph 88 in the Government White Paper, which is before us now, I quote:Arrangements are being made for the House to be informed of changes in the substance of proposals involving major policy developments so that the Scrutiny Committee may have the opportunity to examine them further.I think that that will help us a great deal. I should also like to ask the noble Lord whether he will consider in the next Government White Paper on the six months development in the Community if it would not be a suitable place to list, for the benefit of Parliament, the progress and changes made on matters which have been debated in this House. I believe that it would be a real help and of real interest.
My Lords, there is one other reform which your Select Committee believe would be helpful to Parliament and which is referred to in paragraphs 9 to 13 of our own report. It suggests that the Government should start a regular procedure whereby Parliament can be in formed when Community legislation 1775 agreed by the Council is brought into effect in our domestic law. This week I had a meeting with Mr. Graham Page, who is chairman of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, and we agreed that our learned counsel, Sir Charles Sopwith, to whom we are all enormously indebted, and his colleague in the Commons should assist in the task of scrutiny of those Statutory Instruments which are derived from EEC enactments.
As the House knows, regulations coming from the Community take automatic place within our law, but sometimes they will need enforcement. This could be made by Statutory Instrument; and decisions are often made cither by primary legislation or by Statutory Instrument. That is why we quote something which was said a long time ago in the Maybray-King Report, to this effect:That those portions of ordinary departmental Bills that propose to translate Community law into United Kingdom law, and the corresponding portions of the resulting Acts, should be printed in such a way that they are easily recognisable".I think this is important; otherwise, we I lose track of what is happening to us.
This Parliamentary Session should prove of profound importance concerning our relations within the Community. I refer to the Government's pledge, reiterated just now by the noble Lord, to introduce legislation in this Session to provide for direct elections to the European Parliament. Mr. Roy Jenkins, as the first British President of the Commission, said of this matter in his first speech:I attach the highest importance to the prospect of direct elections…For the target date to be missed would be a major setback. The responsibility of any country which impeded this development would be heavy and damaging".Let us be sure, then, that Britain can never be accused of holding our partners back through publishing our Bill too late for the Boundary Commission to do its work in time for elections in 1978, because I believe that disillusionment among our partners would be profound and that our influence in other spheres of the Community would undoubtedly wane. After all, Ireland, Holland, the Federal Republic of Germany and Luxembourg have published their Bills; Italy's will be ready by the end of this month, and Denmark's by Easter. Only Belgium and France still debate the issue, but have accepted the principle of direct elections.
1776 Despite what the noble Lord the Minister said, namely: "We will do our utmost to meet the target of 1978", it appears that there is some doubt in the minds of our partners, because in an article in Le Monde on the 10th of this month, which went on to describe the difficulties of the British Government and Parliament at this time, it was stated at the end:… it will therefore mean a spectacular reversal of the official attitude for the preparations for the European elections to become well advanced ".This was said by one of our major partners, and I hope they will be proved wrong.
My Lords, some people ask what difference direct elections will make when the new European M.P.s are not likely to be granted greater powers for some considerable time—for, as the House knows, this can come about only by a unanimous decision of the Council of Ministers. But I would submit that no one should doubt that their influence is bound to grow. Already the European Assembly is consulted by the Commission on proposals at the avant project stage, and the committees of the Assembly often suggest amendments before the documents become public property and come to us. I should like to acknowledge the help so willingly given by members of our delegation to the Assembly, who attend our meetings whenever they can; and, in particular, the help they gave to a sub-committee which we created on direct elections and on the Tindemans Report—and we all know the hard work done by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, on that dreadful question, the budget.
My Lords, I feel that direct elections will give members of the European Parliament greater authority and more time to watch over the work of the Commission and the Council of Ministers, so that their power will lie in their influence within the Community—and all this at a time when the Community has already learned to live in the world through the common commercial policy, through the Lomé Convention and through its willingness to have other members accede to it. I feel that if the Community can get the prioriities right in domestic matters and the strategic objectives clear in external affairs, political co-operation will steadily evolve.
1777 We always knew that many British problems would arise through our late entry into the Community, and we knew that adjustment would be hard. We knew that the great decision of membership was more for the next generation than for our own. As Mr. Crosland said:The development of the Community is a long-term historical process, in which progress towards greater unity is in the nature of things bound to be uneven ".Lastly, I would just say that the next four years of the British presidency of the Commission, held by a convinced believer in European unity, is our chance to dispel for ever any doubts that may remain on our genuine commitment to Europe, and it gives us the power to share in the shaping of the nature and of the authority of this unique political conception.
§ 4.37 p.m.
§ Baroness ELLES
My Lords, with two reports before your Lordships' House, Developments in the European Communities May-November 1976 and the Select Committee's Special Report, we have an opportunity to discuss a very wide range of subjects which affect this country in a great variety of ways. We welcome this opportunity very much, and we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Goromvy-Roberts, for the account that he gave in his opening speech and for the way in which he approached the subject. I think many of us on this side of the House would agree with a great deal of what the noble Lord said, and I know that he will not take it amiss if the matters which I touch on this afternoon will be the more controversial ones; but that does not mean to say that we do not agree basically on the fundamental issues as to where we want to see ourselves in Europe, and the direction in which we hope Europe will go. I should also like to thank my noble friend Lady Tweedsmuir for the cogent and helpful presentation of her very important Special Report, and for the major contribution she has made already to this debate on the subject of Britain in Europe.
Many of the matters considered in Cmnd. 6695 are of what might be called ongoing concern and interest. There is consideration of the enlargement of the Community; and already a passage has been quoted from Mr. Crosland's undoubtedly remarkable speech at the European Parliament in Luxembourg on 1778 January 12th. In this connection, I know that it would be the wish of my noble friends on this side of the House to join with my noble friend Lady Tweedsmuir in the very feeling way in which she moved an expression of sympathy and encouragement to Mrs.Crosland. I hope the Minister will convey this message on behalf of my noble friends, together with the wishes of my noble friend Lady Tweedsmuir.
In connection with the enlargement of the Community, I should like to ask the noble Lord this question. Quite a lot of words have been said about the rather vague principle that we all accept: that it is a good idea in theory that Europe should be enlarged and that it should become a democratic centre of the world. I wonder whether, when the noble Lord comes to reply at the end of the debate, he could perhaps give us in a little more detail the Government's attitude to the application of Greece, as opposed to the future applications of Portugal and Spain. There has been some rumour that there is going to be consideration of taking these applications en bloc and therefore possibly delaying the application of one country in order to consider the other two. I wonder whether the Government would give an assurance that this is not the case and that the Greek application will go forward in the normal way as an associated country already in agreement with the EEC.
The progress in the implementation of the terms of the Lomeé Convention and the increase in the number of countries adhering to the Convention on attaining their own independence, is an encouraging sign in uniting Europe to other parts of the world. We must say how illusory is independence in the modern world and how necessary all these countries find it to adhere to a wider grouping in order to survive economically and politically.
It is worth while when looking at this, I must confess, somewhat sketchy document in which a great deal is left to the imagination or to background reading, to note all the actions taken in the fields of agriculture and fisheries and the North-South dialogue. One wonders, if we were not in the Community and an active member taking part in these proceedings, how we would have survived over this 1779 last year. How many major decisions were taken in the Community which affect the lives of the people of this country whether we would have wished it or not? How would a 200-mile zone around Community waters, excluding ourselves, have affected us? How could we have negotiated a loan with other Third Countries to protect our fishermen?
We did not have much success with Iceland, yet the Community is this week able to negotiate through the British Presidency with the Soviet Union and to control the fishing activities of the Russian fishing fleets which have been to the detriment of our fishing stocks. If we were not a member of EEC and benefiting from these negotiations, our fishermen, their livelihood and the fishing grounds would have been severely at risk. Anyone who still contemplates that we should not be part of the Community cannot be concerned with the protection of the interests of the British people.
Over the last year, largely due to the appalling economic performance of this Government, the pound has devalued by over 30 per cent., and sometimes up to 40 per cent.; but this devaluation has not affected the price of food being imported from other Community countries—thanks to the mechanism of MCAs. If ever there has been an abuse of procedure which was certainly not intended to cost the Community about £500 million to support our incompetent and destructive economic policies, there has never been a similar abuse; and it seems a great admission of defeat and lack of political will for the Government to refuse to devalue the Green Pound when Denmark and Ireland have managed to do so. Ireland now has devalued up to 12 per cent. following the recent decision but we, apparently, have refused. As we know, it costs the Community as a whole about £1 million a day; it reduces the incentive to farmers to continue in production despite the heavy and rising costs; and it forces us to break the rules and grant subsidies to pig farmers costing this Government about £1 million a week.
This refusal to devalue is merely surely for short-term Party political gains and reasons which were completely at variance with long-term benefit and, particularly, 1780 in our relations with other members of the Community. Even taking into account the proposed 3 per cent. increase in farm prices for the whole of the European Community and devaluation of the Green Pound by the proposed 6.3 per cent., it is estimated, in fact, that the rise in the cost of living in this country would be only 0.7 per cent. Of course, I know that statistics can be altered and manipulated to prove anything you wish to put over as a policy; but it is surely true to say that even if we devalued to that extent the rise in the cost of living, because of that particular devaluation, would be minimal; and it would mean that large sums in CAP would be made available for the urgent and necessary expenditure of restructuring of farming and other aspects of the agricultural industry.
In fact, one wonders why there has not been more development in food from our own resources, which was in a Government White Paper; but we see very little about that. That would help if we were to devalue and were able to produce more of our own food. Finally on this point, it would mean either that the money we pay into the Community could be used for other purposes or that it would reduce our own contribution; because the £1 million a day which it costs comes out of the money that we are ourselves paying into the Community in some form or another. It comes under levies and so on. I see the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, shaking his head; but this money does not come from out of the air. We are contributors to the Community Budget. I am not saying that it goes into the British purse. It goes into the pockets of farmers on the Continent. Neverthelesss, the source of the money is the Community taxpayer.
What I consider to be an unco-operative approach is, unfortunately, not only confined to agriculture. There are many examples where we have taken an individual line, particularly in State aid, contrary to the basic aims of the Community; and this report lists them in paragraph 63. I will not go into details, but I think I should draw attention to the fact that the Government in several areas, and not only the ones which are well-known and given considerable publicity, are actually giving State aid which is not the policy of the Community.
1781 But the worst example of non-co-operation-and a shaming one for a so-called democratic country—is one which my noble friend Lady Tweedsmuir has already touched upon; and that is concerning direct elections to the European Parliament. The report refers to the adoption of a decision which contains in the preamble the words:Intending to give effect to the conclusions of the European Council in Rome on 1 and 2 December 1975, that the election of the Assembly should be held on a single date within the period May-June 1978.
My noble friend also quoted the words which come from the Minister on this matter. We appreciate that he and many others of his colleagues are anxious that we should reach a form of legislation by which direct elections can be held next year. But J think it must be clear from these Benches that it cannot be legislation which disregards the necessary work to be done by the Boundaries Commission; and that it will not be at the expense of going through the proper processes that we shall wish to arrive at direct elections in order that there should be gerrymandering with constituency boundaries or any other legislation which will not fit in a proper timetable to see that all the procedures necessary for fair elections are enabled to be carried out. I realise that there may be consideration of other forms of election, in which case possibly the Boundaries Commission work will not be needed in the same way; but if we are to continue to have "first past the post" there must be proper consultation with the Boundaries Commission.
This matter has been raised in both Houses several times, but the Government continue to say nothing about their intentions. They have mentioned, I understand, in today's paper that there will be a White Paper, but in this report, the six months May to November, it is said that the Government are considering the recommendations—and these are the recommendations of the Select Committee. But that was last November. I must ask these questions. Are they really considering these recommendations? If so, why has it taken more than three months for them to make up their minds? If they have made up their minds, why are we not told? Is it, in fact, for the Government to consider? Is it not for Parliament to consider and discuss? Where is this famous open Government
1782 about which we hear so much? We have heard nothing about direct elections except the assurance today of an undoubtedly honourable Minister—and nobody doubts the word of the Minister—that the Government will do their utmost; but we have had no details to back up that statement.
We should like to know more about an envisaged date for the introduction of draft legislation and the kind of proposals the Government are going to put to the people. Above all, it is not only this Parliament which wants to be told about the proposals—eight other national Parliaments are now looking to Britain for some form of statement as to what their intentions are, intentions backed up with some visible sign that they are taking steps.
Do we really know that the Government are going to be ready? As it stands, the countries cannot go to direct elections unless all nine Member States go, unless there is some "fudging" of the document at the end of the day. As the document stands, from the decision of 20th September, all Member States have to take part in direct elections in order for any country to take part. This country therefore will surely lose all credibility, not only in the economic sector relying on loans, grants, and subsidies from other countries, but also—and more important—in the development of our democratic institutions. The mess the Government appear to be making over devolution is no reason for making a mess over European elections affecting not only the lives of the people in this country but of the lives of the other 200 million citizens of the Community.
Will the Government, in the light of paragraph 81, say to what conclusions they have come? We are told by at least one member of the Cabinet that they do not believe in collective responsibility. I understand that it may be difficult to come to an overall conclusion, but could the Government at least tell us the consideration of some of the Cabinet? Certainly Mr. Crosland in his much quoted and remarkable speech, said:A directly-elected Parliament will be in a better position to strengthen the democratic voice in the Community. It will be better able to fulfil its role in relation to the Commission, and it will, I have no doubt, wish to influence the Council of Ministers.1783 There appears to be no doubt at all what the views of the Foreign and Common- wealth Secretary were, and we were very happy to be able to read his statement in that speech. We hope very much that the Government will follow the policy of the Foreign Secretary and see that these direct elections are carried out on the agreed date.
I should like to turn to the Select Committee's Special Report and say from these Benches how much we recognise and appreciate the enormous and valuable work undertaken both by my noble friend and her Committee of 78. There can be no greater accolade for her work, and the work of her Committee, than the increasing number of Joint Committees with the Scrutiny Committee in another place. Both the political acumen and the techno- logical and specialist knowledge from this House combine very effectively in the scrutiny of draft legislation. The joint report that was produced on VAT was a good example of this co-operation.
It is because of the dedication and deep interest shown by the members of the Sub-Committees that the logical extension of their work is proposed in paragraphs 14 and 16 of the Special Report. Paragraph 15 makes some practical and positive proposals which we consider with great interest. This is a matter which must be looked at, taking into account, however, the demands on the time of the members concerned and their availability, but certainly the idea is a good one.
My noble friend has already drawn the attention of the House to the enormous amount of work that noble Lords on these Sub-Committees already do. I have a horrible feeling that it is rather like piling Pelion upon Ossa, and that they will not be spending eight hours a day, but 24 hours a day dealing with not only draft legislation but post draft legislation and post legislation drafts. Next time when my noble friend comes to speak to this House on the work of the Committee, it will not be 78 but 178 that she will have gathered round her to help her in her great task.
The flow of legislation from Brussels may make it difficult for the Government to keep Parliament informed of the progress on all major EEC draft instruments after debate. But if the Government were more active in this area of 1784 information, the value of the work of the Select Committee and the debates, and their excellent reports, could be better assessed. Everybody will agree with this. We shall look forward to the Committee's proposals at the end of paragraph 5, which says:The Committee intend in selected cases to request the Government to give further information on progress made on points selected for attention in the Committee Reports and on the final outcome after negotiation with the Council on particular proposals.We certainly warmly endorse that recommendation.
My Lords, we look forward in the next six monthly debate when we shall review again the advances made in the Community and the position of Britain in the Community. With the position that Britain holds in two major offices we shall see a realisation of what the overwhelming majority of the British people want: growing prosperity at home and increasing democracy both at home and in the Community in active co-operation with our European colleagues in eight other Member States.
§ 4.56 p.m.
§ Lord BANKS
My Lords, like the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, I too am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, for his introduction this afternoon of the White Paper, and to the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie, for her presentation of the Special Report from the Select Committee. I should like to associate my noble friends with all that she said about the tragic illness of the Foreign Secretary.
I want to refer first to the Special Report from the Select Committee. I am very glad that the Select Committee have raised this important question of follow-up. The Select Committee are vigilant to discover proposals for EEC legislation which should be drawn to your Lordships' attention. I believe that the debates which we have are valuable, and that in itself is useful. We give these questions a public airing. But what influence does it have in the long run on the eventual shape of the legislation? As the report indicates, it is not always possible to answer that question with any certainty. I am glad that the Select Committee is to take the initiative in seeking information 1785 as to the progress of proposals discussed in this House as they move afterwards towards final form. I also support the proposal to monitor the EEC legislation after it has been finally enacted, and the suggestion that the Government should publish a return of all legislation that has been carried out in pursuance of Community enactments.
Also, we should be considering very carefully the impact on our scrutiny procedure of direct elections to the European Parliament. I do not raise this question of direct elections today in order to speak of the need for early legislation or to promote the case for the use of proportional representation, although I feel strongly on both those issues. These are certainly urgent matters, but we shall have a chance to debate them when the Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill has its Second Reading debate. That Bill offers the Government a simple, effective and fair way out of their difficulties in this matter.
I raise the question of direct elections because I think it is generally agreed by informed observers, if not by the Government, that direct elections will lead eventually to increased powers for the Parliament. The noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie, pointed out that this might not be immediate because it would require a unanimous vote of the Council of Ministers. Nevertheless, I am sure that in the long run that is what will happen; after direct elections there will eventually be increased powers for the Parliament as a consequence. M. Tindemans spoke of "a growing exercise of the legislative function" by Parliament. The Vedel Committee in 1972 recommended to the Parliament a power of co-decision with the Council, a share in the legislative process. Another institutional reform, and one also recommended by M. Tindemans and many others as well, is that the Council of Ministers should move to weighted majority voting in all cases where this is provided for by the Treaties.
If we had these reforms of sharing in the legislative process of the Parliament and of majority voting in the Council of Ministers there would no longer be, except on certain matters, a national veto in the Council, but there would be a veto in the hands of Parliament as a 1786 whole. Will it then be more important to lobby the European Parliament rather than to lobby the national Government? Will it be the 81 British European M.P.s who will be the target rather than British Cabinet Ministers? If so, what will then be the role of the United Kingdom Parliament and its scrutinising committees in relation to EEC legislation?
Sir Christopher Soames, lately retired as one of our Commissioners in Brussels, spoke interestingly about this in a speech on the 18th September last. He said this:The European Parliament in its present form…makes valiant efforts to scrutinise Commission proposals and Council decisions. But its part-time character and the limitations which grow from it being only indirectly elected inevitably put it at a serious disadvantage. At the same time, the national Parliaments…also do their best to ' keep tabs ' on what their Ministers do in the Council. But they are finding that there is not as much scope for this as they would like—since Ministers quite reasonably believe that their national interests for which they are held responsible are best served by keeping their hands free to negotiate and bargain at Council meetings.Sir Christopher went on to say:Either way it is plain that there is a serious gap in the process of parliamentary scrutiny in the Community structure—and it is a gap which can only be filled by the development of a European Parliament confident and strong enough to make its weight felt, and with the time available to do its job.Sir Christopher clearly sees a considerable development in the scrutiny work done by the European Parliament. If he is right, as I am sure he is, we shall have to make sure that we avoid any unnecessary duplication. We shall have to redefine the role of this Parliament and its scrutiny committees. We shall have to decide, too, what link would be necessary between the European Parliament and the national Parliaments. I would say at once that I am against the dual mandate, because I believe it places a quite intolerable burden on those we ask to assume it.
I do not think we should be rushed into a solution on this matter. I think the solution is part of the overall constitutional review which we ought to be carrying out at the present time, when so many different constitutional reforms are being either implemented or discussed. My noble friend Lord Gladwyn will develop the possibilities that suggest themselves in this particular field when he comes to 1787 speak a little later. But the post-legislative check suggested by the Select Committee would clearly still be necessary in the new conditions. It is the degree of involvement at the United Kingdom level in the formulation of legislation which would need to be redetermined.
Turning to the White Paper, Developments in the European Community, dated November 1976, I was interested to note that the White Paper tells us of the discussions about the proposals put forward by the Netherlands Finance Minister, designed to promote what is described as "economic and monetary co-operation"—that is the phrase that is used—and certain of his ideas are to be worked on further. The noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, spoke of difficulties in this field, but he said that progress was essential—progress in what he described as "the economic and monetary field". However, President Giscard d'Estaing and Chancellor Schmidt, following their most recent meeting, have said that they hope the EEC can review its progress towards economic and monetary union—that is the phrase used here—in 1978. They also say that plans to that end should be drawn up during this year, 1977. I wonder whether the noble Lord, when he comes to reply, would tell us whether the British Government endorse that view.
The White Paper does give an indication of the breadth of activity going on in so many fields under the auspices of the EEC. Some of the items are encouraging, such as the statement that the Nine have voted together on over 80 per cent. of all occasions at the 30th General Assembly of the United Nations. However, we are still far from the "one voice to the outside world" which was recommended by M. Tindemans. We still have nine voices, but at least they speak together for 80 per cent. of the time.
Despite all this activity, despite what the noble Lord described as the "considerable achievements of the Community", and despite some encouragement in recent months to which I have referred, the six months under review ended in an unsuccessful Summit Meeting. "A depressing European meeting", commented The Times. "Much gloom in the Market", said the Guardian. Doubt has also been cast on the value of the European 1788 Council, and there is a feeling that it tends to paralyse action rather than promote it. Matters are postponed to await its decision but they do not always receive it, and the conduct of its meetings has been criticised by the French President.
I think there has been a feeling in recent months that the Community had ground to a halt in the face of the considerable economic problems of its Member States, such as inflation, unemployment and differing economic performances. Indeed, it is that which has provoked the Franco-German initiative on economic and monetary union to which I referred a minute ago. The right honourable gentleman the Prime Minister, in commenting on the Summit Meeting, said:We were stronger on analysis of the problems than on finding remedies.He also said in another place that the Summit showed that the institutions of the Community are not sufficiently developed to provide common solutions to these problems. That is a piece of analysis with which I would not disagree.
But what is the Government's remedy? Do they support the modest proposals for institutional reform put forward, for example, by M. Tindemans? The French President said last month that Europe needed institutions to complete its economic and monetary union and to advance to confederation. If he and the Prime Minister are right to highlight the need for institutional reform, then that needs to be carried out quickly. I believe it is vital that these reforms should be effected before the Community is enlarged, and I am alarmed by the sentiments attributed in The Times to Mr. Biffen, a member of the Conservative Shadow Cabinet. These were to the effect that he would welcome the proposed EEC membership of Greece and, eventually, of Spain, Turkey and Portugal because such an extension would necessitate changes in the institutions of Common Market government which would make it become a Europe of nation States.
I fear that view is shared by some members of the Government, and it explains the reluctance to talk about the future shape of the Community. There is talk about particular projects and the need to deal with them. The noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, was talking earlier today, but there is a reluctance to 1789 talk about the future shape of the Community, and Government spokesmen appear to take as their motto the lines from the familiar hymn:I do not ask to see the distant scene: One step enough for me.My Lords, I prefer to take as my motto the first line of that hymn:Lead, kindly light, amid the encircling gloom.For me, in this context, that light is the vision, however distant, of a European political and economic union.
§ 5.10 p.m.
Lord BRUCE of DONINGTON
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Banks, seemed to think that the role of the Committees and Sub-Committees, which are so ably led by the noble Baroness, Lady Tweeds-muir of Belhelvie, will lessen in the future. I am bound to say that I do not see the future in that way at all. The noble Lord indicated that he regarded the future directly elected European Parliament as a body that would, within a reasonable space of time, have far more significant power than it at present possesses; a degree of power which would, at any rate, impel the electorate in this country and in the other countries of the Nine to look to their directly elected representatives, rather than to their own Members of Parliament. I believe that that loosely summarises what he had to say.
It is therefore necessary to remind ourselves that the prospects of a directly elected European Parliament having any significant increase in power over the next quarter of a century are extremely remote. Even M. Tindemans' report, which was hailed as an extremely progressive and forthright document, did not dare to go beyond the hope—and he expressed it only as a hope—that in due course Parliament would be allowed to initiate proposals of its own. That was the limit of the power proposed by M. Tindemans. Furthermore, our Prime Minister, Mr. Callaghan, when speaking in another place in October 1975, was good enough to be frank and say that he did not envisage any significant increase in the power of the European Parliament over the next 25 years.
That brings me to one of the principal points that I wish to make to your Lordships. There is a temptation, when we are discussing the affairs of the European Economic Community, to which we are 1790 committed under the Treaty of 1972 and the legislation for which when passed becomes binding in our own country, always to cast our eyes on new horizons, rather than deal with the problems that exist from day to day and the actions that are taken from day to day, which are having a growing impact on the people of our own country as well as on the people of the Nine.
Instead of applying ourselves to the immediate problems, there is a tendency to look at distant vistas—the distant vista of the effect on the Community of direct elections, the marvels that are supposed to flow in terms of practicality from the establishment of that principle. As if that were not enough, much time is now being devoted not to discussing the ordinary problems of our day, but to discussing the principle once again; the distant vista of whether or not we should enlarge the Community even further, of whether it is a good thing that we should have Greece that we should have Spain, that we should have Portugal.
I want to put it very straight indeed to your Lordships, as one who has had the honour to be this House's delegate to the European Parliament over the last 18 months. I want to say that if as much time had been spent in dealing with the problems of our day, as is spent in dealing with theoretical concepts and concepts of form, the Community might be working very much better than it is today. I might also say that, far from seeing any diminution in the mass of work of the Committees and Sub-Committees of the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir, I think they are going to be of crucial importance.
I very often wonder as, together with my noble friend Lord Castle and others, I go through the mass of material that is produced by the European Economic Community, why it is that not only in the other place but also here we have so little opportunity to review, and bring into the public gaze, those proposals that are being made in Europe which, sooner or later, will have a very significant impact upon our lives. I very often think that this House might well do worse than sit on Mondays and Fridays to discuss full-time the things that are happening in Europe at present, and the plans that are being made. So I do not envisage any diminution in the work of the noble Baroness, and I should like to add my 1791 tribute, and that of my colleagues in the European Parliament, to the excellence of the reports that are produced by her Committees and Sub-Committees and staff. We have found them of very considerable assistance to us indeed, and we wish her and her Committees well.
I listened with some interest to the words that fell from the lips of the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, who, not unusually in an EEC debate, introduced what I thought was a slightly sourer note of controversy. She referred to the monetary compensation amounts within their general context of the Common Agricultural Policy. It is unfortunate that an impression has been allowed to get around in this country, and to some extent in Europe, that we are receiving a subsidy to the extent of £1½ million a day, in order to support our own food prices in this country. This has been largely mooted by the former Commissioner for Agriculture, M. Lardinois in, if I may say so, somewhat bombastic fashion and it seems rather to have been lapped up by the Conservative Party in this country—if we must introduce a note of Party controversy by suggesting that Europe is supporting poor Britain, that Britain is a beggar in these matters and is being subsidised to the tune of £1½ million a day. It is true that this has also been broadcast about by certain sections of the British Press, which hardly report other aspects of European affairs. This suggestion is, of course, quite untrue. Monetary compensation amounts are amounts that are paid out of Community funds to food exporters with appreciated currencies. But since Britain has a weaker currency and is not a net food exporter, this country does not receive net one penny of MCAs. Therefore, the story is entirely untrue.
§ Baroness ELLES
My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord will read very carefully the report of what I said, because I did not of course imply that the British people received that amount. But would he agree that if the pound was at two dollars thirty, £l1½ million a day would not be paid out of Community funds to farmers elsewhere in the Community?
Lord BRUCE of DONINGTON
Yes, my Lords; I entirely accept the noble Baroness's further explanation and clarification. I am very glad indeed that 1792 the noble Baroness does not associate herself with those who say that out of Community funds Britain is receiving money to the tune of £1.5 million, and that she agrees with me that in fact Britain is not receiving any money at all from Community funds for this purpose. It is quite true that the price which the consumer pays for food in Britain is, by the operation of the MCAs, lower than it would otherwise have been, to the tune of £1.5 million.
Lord BRUCE of DONINGTON
My Lords, I sincerely trust that the noble Baroness does not want the British housewife to pay any more for her food than is necessary. The noble Baroness should therefore welcome the fact that Britain's participation in the European Economic Community means that the British food consumer is saved that amount of money. After all—I will give way to the noble Baroness in a moment—she ought to be aware, as I am quite sure she is aware, that Britain has paid a far greater price for entry into Europe than was ever anticipated at the time of entry.
§ Baroness ELLES
My Lords, I could not agree with what the noble Lord has said. If one looks at the estimates in 1972 of the cost of entry, it was going to be something like £270 million a year. I cannot give the noble Lord the exact figure. However, I believe that last year we were net receivers, not net payers. I must question the remarks which the noble Lord has made. With regard to the question of consumers, I do not think that anybody in this country is proud of the fact that vast sums are being paid from Community funds to other people in order that consumers in this country should not pay more for their food. We want to be self-sufficient and able to hold up our heads, with a pound which is worth a pound and which can buy something in the Community.
Lord BRUCE of DONINGTON
My Lords, the noble Baroness says that she does not have the figures. I will refresh her memory. In 1976 we were net contributors to Community funds to the tune of £176 million. If I may refresh her memory further, the estimate for 1977 1793 is £210 million. Perhaps that point will be borne in mind. When I refer to the cost in Britain, I am not speaking in money terms. It was not thought at the time of entry that our trade deficit with Europe would be running at £2,000 million per annum in visible trade. On the basis of the January 1977 figures, our trade deficit is now running at £3,000 million per annum.
§ Baroness ELLES
My Lords, I apologise for interrupting again, but would the noble Lord also quote our trade deficit with other parts of the world outside the Community?
Lord BRUCE of DONINGTON
No, my Lords; it is not necessary for me to do so. However, I know that when we joined the Community the most far-seeing estimates of the likely dislocation in terms of trade were that we would be £175 million in deficit. That was the highest estimate. I am not trying to re-fight the referendum battle all over again, nor am I pursuing the argument that we ought not to have entered the Community. We are in the Community now and we must make the best possible job that we can of it. But we cannot make the best job of it if we delude ourselves that the cost has not been far higher than we originally anticipated. A refusal to acknowledge that fact and to do something about it means that we are burying our heads in the sand and making ourselves less effective.
This brings me back to the point made by the noble Baroness. I repeat that in terms of our market here the advantages to Europe have been very considerable. The consequences of switching our imports of food from other parts of the world to imports from the Continent of Europe have been adverse to us. Some commentators have said that the extra cost amounts to as much as £600miliion to £800million a year. Nobody is going to argue about this; it has been done. But do not let us say that having suffered these slight disabilities—and they are rather more than slight—we are not entitled to take advantage of the Common Agricultural Policy, which we ourselves did not devise and which means that in part return for the disabilities we have suffered we get some measure of relief. The MCA amounts paid out of the European budget do, by and large, go into 1794 German funds; they go across the German exchanges and affect the German balance of payments. Indeed, since Germany pays 30 per cent. of the MCAs it may not be considered unreasonable that she should get back some part of the cost. I will tell the noble Baroness, furthermore, that in terms of cash we pay 20 per cent. of them, anyway; so I hope we can dispose of the MCA question.
However—and it is necessary to remind ourselves of this—there is a price review that is currently before both the European Parliament and also the Council of Ministers which will eventually give rise to a supplementary budget in the European Parliament. It will be the first supplementary budget for 1977, and if it is passed in its present form it will mean an increase of not 0.7 per cent. so far as the British cost of living is concerned but, rather, 1.7 per cent. These are statistics and they are subject to variation, but my guess is that the increase will be nearer 1.7 per cent.
We have to bear in mind another factor. By 1st January 1978 we are required to make a further upward adjustment of our food prices in the United Kingdom in order to bring them into conformity with those obtaining on the Continent of Europe. That increase may be anything of the order of 2 to 3 per cent. Unless we are very careful, within the next year we are going to put anything between 4 and 5 per cent. extra into the inflationary spiral, which we are already trying desperately to reduce. The general public do not know about this and it will come as a very great shock to them. If it is possible for the national Press of our country and the broadcasting media to give prominence to EEC affairs and to the dangers which lurk ahead, I sincerely hope that it will enable these matters to be ventilated, not only in this House but in the other place, with a far greater sense of urgency than has been obvious in the past.
I come back to the noble Baroness. As an ordinary rank and file member of the European Parliament, what posture does she wish me to adopt over the proposed Farm Price Review? On her own say-so, she wishes me either to support it or to suggest that the MCA devaluation ought to be even greater than that proposed. Is the noble Baroness saying that, as an ordinary rank and file member of the European Parliament, I should deliberately acquiesce in something which I know in advance is 1795 going to increase the price of food in our country, or is she saying that I ought to resist it? These are the practical questions which Parliament and its Members have to answer, because undoubtedly they have a profound effect on the whole economy of our country.
I have been a little discursive on this aspect of the subject because I was provoked by the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, but there are other matters regarding which I should like to be a little less astringent. Lest it be thought that my own purposes in the European Parliament have been in any way diminished by the considerable setbacks that have taken place and which have been referred to not only by the Commission and Mr. Jenkins but also by the Foreign Secretary, I might say that there have been some very positive achievements indeed and these have been due largely to the efforts of members of the British delegation to the European Parliament, and they go far across Party lines. I might mention the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, in connection with aerospace, data processing and so on, where he has had a marked effect not only upon the Commission but upon the Council. Also I feel I must mention my friend Mr. John Prescott, whose efforts in the European Parliament, reflected as they have been through all the national delegations back to their own Governments, in fact have been to a large extent responsible for the final agreement that has been reached in connection with the fisheries policy, perhaps with only one or two points that have been left in abeyance. The whole country should be grateful to Mr. John Prescott for that, as I am sure Members of this House are grateful.
I am convinced that the European Community will continue to grow in importance and effectiveness, but the degree of its importance and its effectiveness will depend not so much on the reciters of old nostalgias, not so much on the propounders of the new forms and the new vistas, as on the day-to-day practical application of members of the European Parliament and Members of both Houses of our Parliament to the problems which arise in the European Parliament and are being enacted into European law without intervention by 1796 this House or another place and which increasingly have an impact on the lives of the British people. If, therefore, we were to concentrate more on practicality and a little less on distant horizons I believe we could look forward to a much more encouraging future.
§ Baroness GAITSKELL
My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, I should like to ask him about something which he said in his robust speech. He said that we had switched our pattern of trading and that it had cost us a certain amount; but in fact is it not true that we have not switched? There were changes in our pattern of trading even at the time of Mr. Heath's Bill and that was one of the reasons why we lost a good deal of our Commonwealth trade. Our Commonwealth partners began to trade with other people. It was not a complete switch; it was because it served us well to act as we did.
Lord BRUCE of DONINGTON
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend but I still adhere to the word "switch". There was an endeavour deliberately to take away the old Commonwealth Preference and to switch into Europe and that was part of the price of entry. It is not quite true to say that we should have had to do it, anyway.
Lord BRUCE of DONINGTON
It is not true to say that we were literally forced into buying our food from Europe instead of from the Commonwealth.
§ Baroness GAITSKELL
My Lords, perhaps I may just explain my point. We were not forced but we did not really have to switch and we lost a good deal of Commonwealth trade.
Lord BRUCE of DONINGTON
My Lords, I am obliged to my noble friend. If we are going to look at the situation completely outside its European context and disregard all the benefits that undoubtedly will flow from our joining Europe, it is beyond doubt, dealing with the question of food on an entirely narrow 1797 basis, outside all the other aspects of joining the European Economic Community, that it would have paid us in 1972, and it would pay us even better now, to import our food from the world market instead or from the Commonwealth—apart from sugar.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ Lord O'HAGAN
My Lords, I do not intend to take up your Lordships' time by mounting a sweeping attack on the Government's conduct of our affairs in the European Community. It would not be appropriate to do so, partly because of the tragic illness of the Foreign Secretary, which we all regret, but also because the Government are only halfway through their presidency of the Council: of Ministers and if I have any astringent comments to make I will reserve them for the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, in the later part of my speech.
I think today has shown once again the usefulness of having these six-monthly debates on our membership of the Community. The document on which the debate is based is not itself very useful. It is a modest, unambitious, rather uninformative catalogue of events that are now, for most practical or political purposes, part of history. Nevertheless, the production of this document gives us an opportunity to stand back and review developments in the Community and what I should like to do is to follow the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, when he said that he intended to talk of the present tasks and the future objectives of the Community.
There is a danger of these debates turning into a woolly general survey of what the Community is doing and what Britain is or is not doing inside the Community. The debate today has not followed down that tempting woolly path; but I hope my noble friend the Chairman of the EEC Scrutiny Committee will keep an eye on these debates. If there seems to be a danger that we are either fighting the referendum again month after month or going over a whole lot of matters which are not relevant one to the other, she might consider, with the usual channels, whether it is possible to steer the six-monthly debate in a particular direction—say on one occasion industrial policy and on another occasion 1798 external economic relations—so that we do not have the general and woolly discussion that I fear.
What the White Paper does not do is to give us an indication of what the Government expect of the EEC. It would help if we were clearer in our minds as to what we expected from the Community and what we expected to give to it, because at the moment I feel there is ambiguity in our thinking. We expect it to do more—and sometimes we expect it do less—than it can do. In some frames of mind we expect it to protect it from ourselves—or rather to protect ourselves from ourselves. We expect the Community to fly over the Channel and deal with our problems, while at other times we feel that the Community is interfering too much and if we were left to deal with our own problems by ourselves we could cope with them better. We must distinguish clearly and it would be helpful if the Government could guide public opinion as to what the Community can do and can be expected to do.
The Community cannot solve our economic problems. They are our own fault to a large extent; we must cure them. It is useless to talk of a greater convergence of European economies if because of our own mistakes we are preventing that convergence from taking place by lagging behind. European discussions and the consideration of European proposals should be based on a firm appreciation of what the Community can do and cannot do. So much of our failure is our own fault, and we cannot expect the Community to cure problems which are still our own.
In Mr. Crosland's remarkable speech to the European Parliament on 12th January in Luxembourg he asked for greater realism of this kind. He did not discard everything that the Community has come to see as its conventional wisdom. He was not completely iconoclastic, but he asked for unrealistic conceptual patterns to be put aside, so that we examined the development of the Community, particularly its institutions, without plucking from the pigeonholes of years ago ideas which may not be wholly relevant to today's circumstances. So, in so far ar the Government are asking for greates realism and understanding of what the Community is and can do, I go along with them.
1799 But it is no use just asking questions. It is no use just saying we must chuck away those parts of the Community mythology, if you like, which are unrealistic conceptual patterns. It is no use just taking to pieces some of the fossilised dreams of the past, if this is what the Government see as wrong with the Community and inhibiting it from moving forward more constructively. At the same time, the Government, particularly when thinking of the Community's foreign policy and external economic relations, praise the habit of co-operation that has developed. I, too, should like to say how much I wish that more was known of what this habit of co-operation has achieved for the advancement of democracy, let us say, in Portugal. This habit of co-operation has brought real achievements that we do not know much about. But you cannot expect others to believe that we wish to increase and strengthen this habit of co-operation if all the time there is the doubt that the British Government are questioning the fundamental bases on which the Treaty and the Community are built. There is room for having a look at some of the unrealistic conceptual patterns; but if you take your scepticism too far you destroy the habit of co-operation, because the habit of co-operation depends on trust and a belief from others that we wish to make it work.
There is something of a dilemma, and this came out very clearly in the conflicting parts of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Bruce. On the one hand, he was asking for realism and discarding of fanciful vistas that he saw ahead, and, on the other hand, he seemed to be looking at the Community as something from which Britain should take but to which Britain could not contribute in any very constructive way; at least, he did not mention anything constructive. And this is what is felt about the British contribution to the Community in other Member States; that the Britons want to take, they want to ask awkward questions, hold out their hands, but they are not going to contribute either to the development of the Community institutionally or in making those sectoral policies, about which the Foreign Secretary talked, really work. There is this feeling.
I know the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, will want to have a go at me in a minute, but perhaps he will hold his fire. There is an inherent contradiction in this, in that surely 1800 socialism is a scheme of ideas and objectives, which I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, finds comfortable, yet when it comes to having a scheme of ideas and objectives for Europe he does not want any.
Lord BRUCE of DONINGTON
My Lords, if the noble Lord will allow me to intervene, I think he is misinformed. Is he aware, for example, that one of the biggest contributions to the improvement of the European institutions was a document which the Leader of the Conservative Party put forward in February 1975 which most other Member States have so far resisted discussing. Indeed, there are many contributions that the British delegation have made, regardless of Party, for the improvement of the institutions and for the advancement of their operations, which have so far been most strenuously resisted by those whom the noble Lord says are accusing us of showing no initiative and showing no enthusiasm. Is the noble Lord further aware that the attendance of the British delegation at the European Parliament is the highest and the most enthusiastic of any of the Member States, and I will produce figures if the noble Lord wishes to have them.
§ Lord O'HAGAN
My Lords, I am very well aware of the noble Lord's own remarkable contribution to making the European Parliament work better, through the way he discharged his responsibilities as rapporteur for the Budget. It is generally recognised that he did this difficult job extraordinarily well. I am making no personal criticism of him or of his colleagues. What I am trying to describe to your Lordships is the doubt about the willingness of Britain as a nation to contribute to the construction of the Community. This doubt is reinforced when one sees, for example, the present Minister of Agriculture apparently prepared to declare UDI from the Community, if one may put it in a joking way. There is something in the scepticism of the British which may be very constructive but which constantly undercuts our position within the Community, and especially at the present moment.
My Lords, how is the Community going to evolve, and what is the Government's view about its evolution? I think the contribution of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Diplock, in the debate we 1801 had the other day on Fundamental Rights in the Community should reassure those who feel that the Treaty of Rome is a juggernaut of a written constitution that will roll irrevocably over us all and destroy our freedoms. The Community is evolving on the basis of its written constitution and taking into account the various national traditions which enshrine the liberties of the subject; it is able to graft those traditions on its own original Treaty, and, therefore, constantly up-date it in a British or quasi-British way. So I think that there is plenty to look forward to in the development of the Community without getting into the danger of being lost in unrealistic vistas.
One of the things we should recognise, if we are looking at the future objectives of the Community, is what the new Commission is going to do, because it is certainly going to be quite unlike many of its predecessors. I think we are going to see a qualitative difference in the nature of the proposals. I do not simply mean in organisational terms. The consequences of the new Commission will present my noble friend and her 78 willing supporters with a new type of work. For example, the other day Mr. Jenkins said:Together with the Council, we have to forge practical links between the predominantly national economic policies…He continued:The work of analysis and co-ordination is only a beginning. It must be supported by the selective intervention of the Community in the European economy as a whole. One of the first steps the new Commission took was to re-organise its portfolios so as to assure a proper policy co-ordination and budgetary control of our existing funds.That is a new type of approach to the use of the funds that the Community has at its disposal. They will be disposed on a coherent basis as part of a strategy, and we should recognise that.
My Lords, I have almost completed my remarks, but I want to mention the matter of direct elections in answer to the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington. I find it difficult to understand that the noble Lord does not want greater democratic control over the Community. I accept that this House and the other place will need to continue scrutiny of Community proposals and improve their procedures. I believe that Back-Bench Peers and Back-Bench Members in another place should be informed about the working 1802 of Government—whether it is Bills that come from the Community or Bills which are introduced by our Government. For that purpose alone, scrutiny will be necessary, even after the direct elections to the European Parliament. However, I find it difficult to understand, if the noble Lord does not have a blueprint and does not want a blueprint or a vista, how he can turn away from greater democratic control over the Community. That is very difficult for me to accept without feeling that we can predict exactly how the Community will go. To me it is something that is self-evident. I find it hard to accept how it can be otherwise, especially now that direct elections are on their way.
My Lords, I wish to make two quick practical points about the consequences of direct elections. I hope that when the Government consider the Bill and the difficulties of introducing direct elections, they will consider the question of salaries. We pay our own Parliamentarians very badly in contrast to many Continental Parliaments. However, I—and I declare an interest—very much hope that the attendance allowance system, as practised in the European Parliament and in your Lordships' House, could be continued so that one has to attend the Parliament to receive one's pay. The Government might find that the passage of the Bill will be assisted if they were to examine this matter of salaries, and ensure that there was no question of inflated salaries and that at least a considerable element of the pay for these directly elected people is handed over only when Members actually attend and, therefore, deserve it.
I have a suggestion to make about the matter of the presidency. At present, I do not believe that we need a political secretariat for the Council of Ministers. However, the chopping and changing of national Governments imposes extraordinary burdens on the Ministers who have to pick up the threads and then pass quickly on to other duties. In order partly to discover whether a political secretariat is really necessary, I would hope that we could consider keeping a country in the presidency for a year, so that Ministers have time to settle down to the job and achieve results. That is a more sensible proposal to examine now than the one for a political secretariat.
My Lords, I am about to sit down because I never speak for longer than 1803 21 minutes. The Elizabethan simile or metaphor for the nation was that it was a ship of State. The Community is not a ship; it is more like a convoy. It is dependent for the speed and safety with which it moves on its slowest member. At present we are the slowest member; we are holding up the other members. For all our sakes, we need to move ahead faster. Only if we remember that can we ensure that within a few years it will not be possible to make some of the criticisms which I have made. I hope that our direct elections and their achievement in this country will be a token of our loyalty as a member of the convoy.
§ 5.57 p.m.
§ Lord GLADWYN
My Lords, this has been an interesting debate and I should like to ask the Government one or two questions. The first is addressed to the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, who I think will reply to the debate. I do not know whether he heard the observations of his noble friend Lord Bruce of Donington on the appalling economic consequences of our entry into the European Economic Community. However, no doubt his noble friend Lord Winterbottom has told him what the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, said. Does the noble Lord agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, that it would be better for us not to be Members of the Community, but that we should be now in a kind of directed economy—heavily protected—and, in the absence of Imperial Preferences of any kind, perhaps in some difficulty in importing cheap food—indeed, any food in any quantities at all?
I was very interested in the noble Lord's remarks. We all realise that enthusiasm for the European cause characterises, above all, the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts. There is no doubt that he shares the feelings of many of us on the general subject of Europe. However, he passed rather quickly over the decisions of the last meeting of the European Council on the Tindemans Report. My noble friend Lord Banks pointed out that the European Council did not accept one of the principal recommendations of M. Tindemans who, after all, is not a dreamy politician but a practical man—he is the Prime Minister of Belgium—which was that in certain 1804 spheres there should be a certain amount of qualified majority voting. This is surely not an ideal that is impossible to realise now; it is quite practical politics. However, that possibility was disregarded by the Ministers who, equally, passed over in silence—and apparently will not follow it up—the proposal of M. Tindemans on the subject of the Defence of the European Community within the general framework of the Atlantic Alliance. Apparently that was not even mentioned. Therefore, I continue to believe that on the whole matter of Tindemans, the attitude of the European Council has so far been deplorable. Perhaps that attitude will change in the future—let us hope so.
I now wish to raise the matter of enlargement. As we all know, it is an extremely important question. What will be the effect of enlargement of the Community to include not only Greece but now quite possibly Portugal—and if, as we hope, there is some kind of democracy fairly soon in Spain—Spain and even Turkey? What will be the effect of bringing in these countries which, on the economic side, no doubt will give rise to very grave disadvantages—which were indeed mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, himself? Will they be compensated for by the undoubted political advantage of having in at any rate Greece, possibly Portugal, and no doubt fairly soon Spain? It is of course arguable, but I am not sure that I can agree with what I think the noble Lord said—and indeed what the Foreign Secretary effectively said in his powerful and excellent speech in Luxembourg the other day—that the political advantage must outweigh everything else.
What is the political advantage exactly? The political advantage is apparently that if a country is a democracy it must come into the Community whatever its economic situation is, however backward it may be in other respects. If there is reason to suppose that its Government is in some way directly elected, then it must come in, irrespective of any other consequence at all. I suggest that that is an exaggerated way of looking at things, and possibly a dangerous way. Of course, we must recognise that if we enlarge the Community so as to bring in these in some ways rather backward States in the Mediterranean area, there is less chance 1805 of bringing in what, I suppose, are the more up-to-date and modern States, genuine and absolute democracies, in the North of Europe such as Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, and indeed perhaps one day Finland? Would it not in fact eventually result—perhaps it is inevitable—in a totally different kind of Community from what it would be if we had those Northern States? I am only asking that question.
I think we really must look at this thing closely. The Ministers really must examine it fairly soon. They have looked at it much too superficially up to now. This question should be raised in the European Council, not to take a decision but in order to discuss what is an immensely important matter when you come to think of it—and in the fairly near future.
Personally I agree with what I thought was the very good article in The Times called "The Enlargement of the EEC" the other day. The conclusion of it was:It is hard to see how the price of enlargement can fail to be in practice, if not in theory, either the creation of a two-tier Europe or the abandonment of the goal of closer integration. One or other price may well be felt worth while paying but perhaps we should be clearer in our own mind which it is to be.I do not believe that the Ministers have yet cleared their own minds, nor have the Government; nor have we in this House cleared our minds as to which of these inevitable choices would be the better. This is an extremely important point, and I hope that the Government will consider it, and some day perhaps give us the benefit of their reflections in another White Paper.
I pass on to direct elections. I do not want to say much more on that than has been said so eloquently by my noble friend Lord Banks. The question is not whether the Government have the will (because I think that I believe them when they say they have the will) to carry out the decisions of the Ministers and to get through the necessary legislation in time for direct elections to be held on the appointed date next year. I think we can at least admit that we think they have the will. But have they the ability? That is the question. We all know that the Labour Party itself has voted by a majority against the whole idea of direct elections. We all know that a very large number of 1806 Labour Members of Parliament—and some Tory Members of Parliament, to be just—in the House of Commons are against the whole idea, too. That is a very real obstacle in the way of their proceeding to their apparently desired goal.
We shall discuss this question when we come to discuss Lord Banks' draft Bill in a few days' time. But I can say here and now that I believe that, in view of the grave difficulties, the only way in practice to get the thing through, if they want to get it through, is to adopt some form of PR. I do not say what kind of PR. There are all kinds: the French way; STV, or whatever it may be. But unless they can plump for something like that, then all the chances are, I am afraid, that they will not meet the deadline, in which case there is every reason to suppose that the whole idea of direct elections may be put off to the Greek Kalends; in other words, that they would be dead. I hope not, but it is possible.
I must again congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir, on her report, which is excellent, and on the work which she and her Committee are doing, which is admirable in every way. She, of course, is in favour of direct elections, and so was the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, my noble friend Lord Banks, and the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, and so of course am I myself. The only dissident voice that we heard—and a very eloquent voice—was that of the noble Lord, Lord Bruce. I am not quite certain why it is that the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, does not say that we ought to abandon the whole idea of direct elections. What is the point of having them in his view? Does he really think that they ought to have direct elections, and thereby inevitably arouse all kinds of hopes, if, as he said, it is quite impossible that this directly elected Parliament should be given any powers even within the next 25 years? If he really believes that, why does he say he wants any direct elections? There are members of his own Party who say, "This is all nonsense. Do not let us have direct elections. Let us bury the whole idea". I suggest that he might reflect on that.
Then he told us a great deal about not concentrating on distant vistas, and all that. I myself do not like concentrating 1807 on distant vistas. I have never been what is called a technical Federalist. I do not think I am really. I am in favour of building up on the existing institutions. But I think we ought to have some concept of what, if we do build up on existing institutions, is likely to happen in the next five years. It may I be that eventually there will be a completely federal Europe, but I think we ought to have an idea if we do develop the existing institutions what is likely to happen, in a few years' time, and what kind of workable system can we contemplate in that period. That seems reasonable to me.
One of the points I should like to raise—and I shall go on for only another two or three minutes—is the question of what is called in technical jargon the "organic link" between the European Parliament and the various national Parliaments; that is to say, the relationship between these elected members—who personally I think inevitably will have some kind of power in the next few years, for reasons I shall proceed to give—and the various national Parliaments.
All kinds of schemes have been put forward as to how this can be effected; but that it should be effected I think is highly desirable, if not inevitable. For you have no link between these directly elected people sitting over there saying they represent the people and passing resolutions and so on, and if there is no way of getting in touch with them directly, inevitably there will be a great rivalry between the directly elected members of the people and the directly elected members of the national Parliaments. The directly elected members of the national Parliaments will think that these people are potential rivals and will say, "We must try to do them in, and use Lady Tweedsmuir's committee for seeing that they shall not be able to pass anything at all". The whole thing would not then work.
The only way of making it work is to have some kind of machinery whereby it could work. One of the projects—I think it is a rather starry-eyed project—has been put forward by no less a person than M. Edgar Faure, the President of the French National Assembly, a highly intelligent man, and a friend of mine. 1808 His idea may be very logical, and it is that there should be some kind of organisation in the centre where the Parliament is—that is to say presumably in Luxembourg—complete with a secretariat, and also, he said, a computer. This would be a centre for delegations from all the national Parliaments who would come and use the computer, in order to try to get some kind of consensus as to what kind of measures should be put through the European Parliament. In addition to that, there should be frequent meetings of what is called the Presidents of all the national Parliaments, who would also get together and try to further this great cause by talking among themselves. The problem for us is that we have not got a President in this Parliament. I do not think that the noble and learned Lord sitting on the Woolsack could attend, and I do not think that the Speaker could either, because they could not in any circumstances speak for either this House or the other place, so that would be a difficulty in itself.
But just imagine this great machine if it were ever erected there; the expense of it and the difficulty of getting it organised. Imagine, too, the real danger that, if it were set up, it could become a sort of rival Parliament, with all the presidents breathing down the necks of the directly elected people sitting over the way or in Brussels. That seems to me a very dangerous conception, so let us discard that. And if we discard it, how are we to have the necessary relationship? In my view, it seems that the only way to have any sort of relationship is to welcome the directly elected members of the European Parliament—the British ones, that is—into this Parliament by some means or other. It has been suggested that they should be honorary Members of the House of Commons or Members of a House of Commons committee, but I cannot see that suggestion being adopted because I do not think the other place would admit them. They would say there was no space for them, that it would go against all tradition and so on.
The other major possibility is that they should be honorary Members of your Lordships' House, with no right to vote but a right to come and speak here. There is perhaps a very good case for that, because in many ways it is possible, indeed quite likely, that Members of this House will be 1809 elected as directly elected members of the European Parliament. If, therefore, they are members of the European Parliament and at the same time Members of this House, then unless they are precluded from doing so by some sort of ordinance, there will be nothing to prevent them coming to your Lordships' House and speaking. Indeed, there might be half a dozen, a dozen or more coming here and wanting to speak. That cannot be denied and it is more than a possibility.
If that is to be the case, why not make a virtue of necessity and say to all these people that they can come here to speak? Not all of them would want to do that and, as I say, it would be making a virtue of necessity. We must remember of course that a lot will depend on the relationship between the various Parties. The members of the Socialist group will come back here and want to confer with their Socialist colleagues, possibly in a committee here, and the Tories will want to do likewise; and let us hope there might be some Liberals, which there will be if there is any kind of PR.
Even if they will not be allowed to come into this Chamber, they should at least be members or co-opted members or allowed to appear before the noble Baroness's Committee. In that event, we shall at least be given some account of what they are doing. We shall know what is happening because they will come back to give evidence to show what the actual position is, how they have been negotiating with the Commission and details of the latest documents. When they come back here they can argue it all out, preferably in a Joint Committee with the other place.
In my view, that is the way to get the present institutions working. I agree at any rate with the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington is this: that we must work on the basis of the existing institutions. If, when these representatives come back, they have that sort of influence, you can bet your bottom dollar that they will have considerable influence on the Government. After all, they will be representing East Anglia or other regions of the country and they might be able to wield very considerable influence with whichever Party they belong to. By that means they might be able in practice, even if no direct powers are given to them, to exercise considerable behind-the-scenes influence 1810 and power. That at any rate is how I see the thing building up and how the Parliament, directly elected, will be able to influence Ministers.
In the Foreign Secretary's great speech—for I thought it was a great one—he spoke about "unrealistic conceptual theories" (I think that was the phrase he used), by which I think he meant the theory of 20 years ago that quite soon we should have a federation like the United States, no doubt with a congress and even a president, the actual nation States becoming the equivalent of Connecticut, Wyoming and so on. Although that might be desirable, I do not think it will happen, at any rate not before the end of the century. I think he was right to call it star-gazing. But not to have any conception of where one is going and not to be able to say what the situation is likely to be in four or five years' time is a different matter. We should indeed have some concrete idea of where we are going with a directly elected Parliament and we should have an objective now. I have spoken long enough, but I was anxious to put my point of view as fully as I could to your Lordships.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Lord GORONWY-ROBERTS
My Lords, we have, as always on these occasions, had an informative and interesting debate, largely because the second speech on these occasions has been distinguished by knowledge, experience and a style of delivery which always commends the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie, to your Lordships' House. She appropriately enough expressed our thoughts about the tragedy which has befallen my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. I am grateful to her for her kind words and for the expressions of sympathy and support for Mrs. Crosland and the family, which were made by other speakers in the debate, and I most surely will especially convey the feeling of the House to Mrs. Crosland and the family.
The noble Baroness also appropriately paid her ritual but heartfelt tribute to her "bevy of beavers"—a most engaging picture of your Lordships in the appearance and activity of beavers—and I 1811 heartily join in her encomia for those 78 redoubtable, devoted and very effective Committee members. The work they do on the Scrutiny Committee is invaluable and I am sure we all agree that it should be strengthened and facilitated. I shall come to the suggestions which the noble Baroness made and to the Special Report; I shall not dwell on it, but I think the tone as much as the content of what I say will commend itself to her.
Tributes have also been paid, and rightly, to the officials who work extremely hard in Whitehall and in Brussels to maintain the momentum of Community business by putting forward, responsibly and constructively, the British view. I was glad to hear Sir Donald Maitland and his assistants in Brussels, and their counterparts in Whitehall, being paid a very well-merited tribute. Finally, tribute is due to the members of the European Assembly. We have from this House as well as from another place been able to persuade some from among our best Members to engage in this very heavy and demanding work, notably, if I may say so, my noble friend Lord Bruce of Donington, whose expertise and contribution to the European Assembly we are delighted to see has been marked by his appointment as a rapporteur in the last few days. Whether we entirely agree with everything he says about Europe and the European Assembly, we are delighted with his contribution to that Assembly and, when he finds time to come to this House, his contributions here as well.
As to the suggestions relative to the Special Report, the noble Baroness was good enough to express her appreciation of the extent to which her Majesty's Government have found it possible to meet certain suggestions which we regarded as being sensible and constructive. There are a number of others—I will not go through the whole list; it is quite an extended report—about which we feel a certain difficulty, possibly reservations. But I do not regard the Special Report or indeed the points which the noble Baroness raised this afternoon as being points on which one should give an instant Yes or No. We know that the point on which she and her Committee have been met resulted from a continuing exchange of view, very much on a procedural level, and I would hope that 1812 most, if not all, of the outstanding points that remain to be settled may be susceptible of arrangement in that practical way. If it will help the noble Baroness, I will separately memorialise her with the points of reservation and difficulty that we find relative to specific points which the Special Report raises. The point I want to make now is that Barkis is perfectly willing to consider all these matters and see what can be done, but that he does not think he can be as forthcoming on every point as the noble Baroness would wish nor that he can do this as soon as she would like.
This brings me to a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Banks, about the function of scrutiny. I had to leave the Chamber for a moment on official business and I was very sorry to miss the speech of the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan. However, I was given an excellent resume of what was clearly a very substantial contribution to the debate. I relate what I gather he said to what the noble Lord, Lord Banks, said about the process of scrutiny. I think I agree that the European Assembly will probably find itself engaging in a scrutinising function. Part of the organic relationship between the elected Assembly and other institutions and national Parliaments will inevitably and, as he probably thinks, rightly, be scrutiny. This will need to be puzzled out and systematised. It is part of the organic relationship as it develops, as the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, reminded us, but I would expect—indeed, I am certain—that such a development of the scrutinising function of the elected Assembly in Europe would not in any way militate against a persistence of the Parliamentary Commission we already have in the two Houses of Parliament in Britain for this purpose. I do not think that they are at all in hostility to each other, but I want to make the point that, whatever the development of the functions of the European Assembly in this field, the proven value of the scrutiny arrangements which we have instituted over the past few years—especially in this House—should not be discarded. I say that just in case a very useful and interesting suggestion might cause others to feel that we may lose what is known to be a very valuable practice.
There were other aspects of the very thoughtful speech of the noble Lord, Lord Banks, upon which I should like to dwell, 1813 but I shall select one because other speakers referred to this subject. It is the question of monetary and economic union and the pace at which Europe can attain this. Here I should like to be as precise as possible as to the way in which we see this. We believe that it is now fully accepted that the old aim of economic and monetary union on the basis of fixed exchange rates by 1980 is unrealisable. What the French President and others had in mind when they raised the possibility of looking at this and setting an earlier date, I must confess I am not absolutely clear. I do not think that, on further examination, it will be found to be precisely what we were discussing two or three years ago.
The Government—and I repeat that we are not alone in this in Europe—feel that progress on the economic front is essential to progress on the unification of the Community and EMU. Indeed, a specific measure of economic convergence must be achieved. We really must be very careful that we do not rush in regardless on a basis of a fixed rate of exchange when there are clearly not only different levels of economic attainment within the economic region we are dealing with—and that is what the Community means for this purpose—but as I said when opening the debate, an increasing divergence at the moment. The Secretary of State emphasised the need for a more sober, pragmatic look at EMU issues, among others, in his much praised speech of 12th January at Luxembourg. As he suggested, the Community needs to identify clearly and focus its efforts on specific problems of general concern, such as unemployment. This is the keynote of our Presidency approach.
This brings me to the not quite private war that developed between the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, and my noble friend Lord Bruce of Donington and in which the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, intervened on the flank with all the enthusiasm of a Prince Rupert. This is a fascinating subject. Can we perhaps bring our thoughts together on this? It is essential, and I am sure that we all agree that this country in particular should place its counter-inflationary policy at the heart and centre of what it is trying to do. Anything which even marginally imperils the success of the counter-inflationary part of our policy should be avoided.
A devaluation of the Green Pound of even the order of 4.7 per cent. would be 1814 a quite hefty devaluation. More than one Member of this House skips rather lightly over such important questions. Indeed, I am sometimes accused of doing this, but I think that the noble Baroness perhaps underestimates the impact on our counter-inflationary policy of the rise in the cost of living which might be the result of a devaluation of the Green Pound by 4.7 per cent. A devaluation of that amount would be the least of it, especially if—and here the noble Lord was absolutely right to remind us—we are obliged to move to the higher levels of food prices in a comparatively short period; that is, by 1978. I believe that he is probably right in thinking that the impact of devaluation of the Green Pound plus satisfying the obligation to move to Community price levels would increase the cost of living by between 2 and 3 per cent., which is certainly not marginal. Even if it were and it in turn impacted upon another, I hope, generally accepted aspect of our policy of keeping wage demands within certain bounds, nothing imperils a policy of voluntary restraint more than an obvious increase in the prices of necessities such as foodstuffs, even when such increases are marginal. Two or 3 per cent., which I think the noble Lord was quite right in assessing as the total effect of these policies, would certainly have that impact.
So, while an argument can be made for that devaluation, a greater argument, in the circumstances of our condition and in relation to our policy (which I think is broadly supported by most people in this country), can be made for being very careful about proposals for devaluation, because other obligations are so inescapable. I withdraw immediately from what I call the somewhat private war, having expressed, I hope, the Government's attitude——
Lord BRUCE of DONINGTON
My Lords, will my noble friend give way for a moment before he leaves that point? I said that my estimate of the increase to the cost of living was between 4 and 5 per cent. My noble friend quoted me as having said between 2 and 3 per cent., and I should like to correct that because my view still is that the two steps taken together would mean an increase of between 4 and 5 per cent.
§ Baroness ELLES
My Lords, before the noble Lord replies I should be grateful if 1815 he would allow me to comment upon this. I said that I thought that statistics represented a lot of variations in this figure, and therefore I should not myself be prepared to accept the figure of 4 to 5 per cent. The figures I have seen are 0.7 per cent. on the cost of living and from 1–9 to 3 per cent. on food. But I do not want to argue on this because I do not think anyone actually knows what it would come to.
§ Lord GORONWY-ROBERTS
My Lords, I accept what my noble friend says regarding the figure he gave, and the calculation that I thought he had arrived at was as I put it, but of course he knows the answer to his own sum. I have listened once more to what the noble Baroness thinks would be, I take it, the effect of devaluation upon prices——
§ Baroness ELLES
No, my Lords; I am referring to the effect of the devaluation and the 3 per cent rise in the Farm Price Review, coupled together.
§ Lord GORONWY-ROBERTS
My Lords, if I may say so, that is as much an opinion as a statistic, and as such it is as respectable, no more, no less, than my noble friend's view, and indeed what view I might advance. What I think we can all agree upon is that if we accept that the counter-inflation part of our policy is absolutely vital to our success as a country within the Community, then it is reasonable to avoid agreeing to—well, we are free to disagree—adjustments which would even marginally imperil that part of our policy.
I immediately go on to the other major point that emerged from the debate; that is, the question of the enlargement of the Community. Here the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, had a good deal to say, and so had the noble Baroness, among others. She asked in particular whether we were somehow abstracting the case of Greece, or were we dealing with Greece separately, or were we joining it with that of Portugal and Spain. I can give an absolute assurance that we are not regarding the three as part of ore package. The Greek case was relatively simple. The Greek economy is comparable with that of some Member States, and Greece has already moved much closer to the Community, as she said, under its association agreement. 1816 Consequently, the Community and Greece agreed that accession under the traditional pattern of entry upon the completion of negotiation, followed by a transitional period, very much as in our case, would meet the needs of Greece and the Community.
Both Portugal and Spain, for different reasons, are in a different category. But in giving the assurance that we shall not in any way retard the case of Greece by necessarily joining it to the other two applications when they are made, I should like to say that of course we are as firm as ever—firmer, if possible—in our support for the accession to full membership, of both the other countries mentioned, in the Community. Of course this is not to say that such enlargement will not create difficulty; it will. The noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, dealt with this point. I can only say that I think that the Government are absolutely right on this. The purpose of the Community is not to create a tight little zollverein. Unless it is outward-looking, both commercially and politically, it is not really the right concept for us to support, and indeed I do not think that anybody of any account in Europe regards it in this way.
Therefore, having regard for the undoubted adjustments that will have to be made case by case, primarily economically, we are completely in favour of these new applications. We see the Greek application as capable of being tailored fairly easily and quickly. There are clear reservations for the moment as regards Spain. Portugal again would seem perhaps to be in an intermediate situation between Spain and Greece. But the intention is that all three shall, at appropriate times, and with appropriate provisions, become full members of the Community.
We need not look any further. I must confess that personally in my private moments I do look further. I personally should like to see Europe expand properly by negotiation, by adjustment, at the right pace relative to each country, beyond a Europe of the twelve. That is the fate and fortune of Europe, of its culture, its commerce, and its politics; and it is a task to which the next generation may well devote itself: the peaceful expansion of a democratic family of nations. I am carefully avoiding the 1817 word "federation", or even "confederation", or even the French variations on those phrases——
§ Lord GLADWYN
My Lords, is the concept of the noble Lord and the Government a fairly loose association of European States, or is it on the other hand in the long run some kind of a union?
§ Lord GORONWY-ROBERTS
My Lords, it is not for us to say; it is for the concert of Europe to say. We are one of nine now. We take a very prominent part in the discussions as to arrangements, as well as to economic provisions. This is a continuing discussion as to the shape of things to come. I think that it was the former Leader of the Conservative Party who put the point very well. I cannot say that I can quote him exactly, but he warned against tying ourselves prospectively to certain patterns and then finding, as we approached them, that they were not the same, that they would not work.
I think that there is a very strong case for a kind of pragmatism, of examining the possibilities all the time, of not setting too rigid an ideal pattern at any time. The way in which the various Communities have emerged have proved the efficacy of this approach. I do not think that we would have got Euratom going years ago when the noble Lord, Lord Thorneycroft, and others worked very hard to achieve that. It was a very large and very great achievement, but not done by placing before very different nations in Europe, full of traditional suspicions and differences of interest, a pattern which they might find, individually or collectively, unsuitable, but rather by working towards, in a practical way, what was an organisation, an institution, which responded to continuing need.
I know that the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, and certainly the noble Lord, Lord Banks, will say that this is not to give us a distant vista which will inspire us all. It is, you know. I find that the young people today are less ready to indulge in a federalist speculation. They are not interested in blue-prints for the future when they speak of Europe. They are interested in what my noble friend described as tackling immediate practical problems and difficulties and, on the 1818 basis of the success in doing so, creating, engendering, the spirit of co-operation, which in turn frames the right kind of institution. I think the younger view is right. I confess that I, too, have perhaps spent too much time examining schemes of federal and confederal arrangements in various parts of the world. We must be a little more resilient—more adventurous, in fact. Once more I pay tribute to the former Leader of the Conservative Party, who very early on saw that Europe would have to be sui generis in its political arrangements.
On direct elections, which is the final point I want to deal with (there are very many others, I know, but these are the outstanding points, I hope, that I am dealing with), I confess that I am somewhat taken aback by the attitude after the precise and definite assurances that I and other members of the Government have given on this; namely, that it is our intention to do our utmost to achieve direct elections in Britain, as regards Europe, by the due date, May-June 1978.
§ Baroness SEEAR
My Lords, it is this phrase, "do our utmost", that gives us so much suspicion. If the Government really mean to do it, why do they not say that they are going to do it instead of saying that they will "do their utmost"? That phrase leads us to believe that, to put it in rather colloquial language, they have got something up their sleeve. Either you are going to do it or you are not going to do it. It is not something that you can do only under certain unknown circumstances. If you want to do it, you can do it; so why this talk about doing your utmost?
§ Lord GORONWY-ROBERTS
Really, my Lords, no Government of any complexion can promise more than that about anything unless, of course, they get so fixated about some one thing that everything else must fall. This is not the reality of political or any kind of life. We have perhaps stated our commitment to this with exaggerated precision when there are pressures upon this Government, as there always are on every Government—"What about this?", "What about the other thing?". "Are you prepared to sacrifice everything to this?" Here we are: we have accepted the commitment to arrange direct elections of the British 1819 delegation to the European Assembly by the European date, which is May-June 1978. Moreover—and I have taken special advice on this; the noble Baroness is not the only suspicious Member of this House, although she does it so much more charmingly than I do—we can legitimately claim that we in Britain are as well advanced on the preparation for direct elections as any other Member State.
§ Baroness ELLES
My Lords, would the Minister allow me to intervene? Could he kindly tell us whether there is draft legislation available, and when it has been printed?
§ Lord GORONWY-ROBERTS
My Lords, we could produce draft legislation very quickly, and perhaps satisfy the noble Baroness, but it would then be necessary to arrange the procedures, including what she rightly mentioned—Boundary Commissions, and the question of public hearings. These take time. We shall table the legislation when, as every Minister knows, we are able to publish not only the Bill but the Schedules indicating the times, the dates, for the procedures. The noble Baroness herself, in this debate, made a condition of which I took very careful note. I shall be informing members of the Government of the intensity with which the noble Baroness, speaking from the Conservative Front Bench, insisted that the full procedures of the Boundary Commission, and all that attaches to it, must be observed.
§ Baroness ELLES
My Lords, would the noble Lord give way again? I think I used the phrase "proper procedures", because I understand that in the Select Committee recommendation there was a question of one representation as opposed to two. The full procedure, I understand, always had two representations, and I think I took great care to say "proper procedures", which would be in accordance with the recommendation of the Select Committee.
§ Lord GORONWY-ROBERTS
My Lords, I shall import the official Conservative view on to the copy of Hansard, so that the word "proper" (though I cannot imagine the Boundary Commission behaving improperly) is properly 1820 borne in mind. What I am saying—and the noble Baroness knows the real difficulty, the practical difficulty—is that we in this country, of course, have a higher requirement of constitutional process when we start rearranging constituency boundaries, or indeed when we start amending electoral rolls. It is a matter for pride. It is also a matter for concern if you are in a hurry, as so many Members of this House appear to be about direct elections. So I was interested to know exactly what the noble Baroness meant when she said that we must not do this unless we fulfil the "proper" requirements of the Boundary Commission. I trust I have it right now. My Lords, the genuine intention remains. We shall do our very best. We have worked very hard on this, as I told the House before. It is not an easy one, given the requirements of this country, which are not always matched in other countries. I make no invidious comparison; this is that sort of country in regard to this kind of question.
My Lords, I close by paying my tribute to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, which unfortunately I could not myself hear but of which my colleagues have given me a full account. He made a number of extremely useful and thoughtful suggestions. I accept that it is the duty of the Government to guide public opinion, but the Government are not omnipotent in guiding opinion or in anything else. The Government can, with the media and other agencies, do a great deal to inform people, to educate people, about the purpose of Europe—its political as well as its economic purpose. We must, as the noble Lord said, solve our economic problems. We are no use to ourselves or to Europe unless we solve the problem of inflation, to which the problem of unemployment and, ultimately, the problem of a rational price structure are related. There were other remarks of the noble Lord which I am sure the whole House, like me, will feel ought to be given close attention.
In particular, there was something in which he was joined by my noble friend Lord Bruce of Donington. The Community has made substantial steps forward. As I said at the beginning, people from time to time criticise the fact that it faces problems. But this institution, a truly 1821 revolutionary institution if ever there was one, attempting to turn the fact of ageless nationalism on its head—and it is an immense undertaking—obviously must meet with difficulties from time to time. When those difficulties arise, clearly we must fortify ourselves by reminding our- selves of its undoubted achievements. I mentioned some at the beginning and the noble Lord mentioned others. There is, for instance, the strengthening, as he put it, of democracy in Portugal or, as I would put it, the salvation of democracy in Portugal. The role of the Community in practical, financial terms, and in relation to this country and this Government at times last year (when the fate of democracy in Portugal was very much in the balance), is a great plus in the story of the Community and of Britain within the Community.
Then he made reference to whether our contribution was adequate. He is fair-minded enough to go through the count and to measure against any criticism he has of the British contribution the great facts of what we have been able to do in regard to Portugal, now in regard to Greece and, obviously in due course, in regard to Spain—the bringing together of three countries at vital points in Europe, geographical and otherwise, into the family of Europe on the proper democratic terms.
I am sorry that he slightly criticised my right honourable friend the Minister for Agriculture. He referred, I gather, to Mr. Silkin's "UDI attitude" to the Community. I think that we would all agree that in Europe Mr. Silkin and his assistants have been able to assert the proper British interest in regard to fisheries, and have brought back home an assurance for Britain and its fishermen which will be accommodated by Europe as a whole.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.