HL Deb 17 June 1981 vol 421 cc637-42

3.20 p.m.

Lord O'Hagan rose to call attention to the advantages which the United Kingdom derives from its membership of the European Economic Community; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, your Lordships may be familiar with the lines which should have been written by Stevenson: Here he speaks where he longs to be; Home comes the Euro MP, home from the airport lounge And the hunter home from the hill". I am delighted to be back in your Lordships' House, if only to hear the particularly scintillating Question Time that we have all just enjoyed.

I am introducing the Motion on the Order Paper at a particularly appropriate moment—just before Her Majesty's Government take up the presidency, on 1st July, of the European Economic Community. It is right that once again your Lordships should have the opportunity to assess the merits of the Community and its membership for Britain. I am particularly delighted that my noble friend the Foreign Secretary is to speak in today's debate and I also warmly welcome the maiden speakers who are to grace today's proceedings; both the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs and the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie (yes, I have got both names just right). I am sure that they will make distinctive contributions to today's events.

I should also like to note that there are no fewer than seven past and/or present members of the European Parliament speaking in today's debate, thus stressing the essential nature of the links between this Chamber and that other place over the water. I am particularly glad that my old sparring partner on budgetary matters, the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, will be speaking from the Opposition Front Bench, no doubt, re-affirming once again his fundamental commitment to the Community and to the European Parliament. I am sure that he would join with me in welcoming the news on this morning's ticker-tape that: The European Parliament has formally endorsed first real attempt to reform common agricultural policy". Although I am sad not to be present in Strasbourg for that historic vote on the report initiated by Sir Henry Plumb, chairman of the Agriculture Committee, I am glad in another way to be able to bring it to the attention of this House today.

It is never much use telling people to be grateful. They are either grateful or they are not. The expectation of gratitude is one of the most fruitless sentiments in either private or public life. I do not come here to preach to your Lordships, or to a wider audience to whom I hope that we are also talking—to Alf Garnett, to the population of Coronation Street, in fact, to every citizen of the whole of the United Kingdom—that we should wake up in the morning and thank whichever god we worship for the existence of the European Community and our presence in it.

My task is simpler and less ambitious. I am merely the trumpeter setting the scene for more distinguished speakers who follow me, although I should like to draw attention to particular benefits during the course of my introductory remarks, and should noble Lords forget anything in particular, I shall take the opportunity of my right to make a second speech at the end of the debate to add what has been omitted.

I want to try to concentrate on some of the deeper, underlying themes, but before doing so I must remind this House—as I have constantly to remind myself when in danger of too much Euro-euphoria—that this is the only member state of the Community in which a debate of this sort at this time about the benefits and advantages of membership would be thought to be worthwhile, with the possible exception of Greece and Denmark. There are many reasons why this should be so, and the noble Lord to my immediate right in front of me and others would be much better qualified to give a historical analysis as to the causes of our peculiar attitude in these matters.

However, I would make my view on one matter clear. If there was another referendum, the same would happen as happened last time, which is that the antis would make the pros' case and the pros would win. So whatever the doubts we may have about membership of the Community, when the case was re-presented to the public and the facts behind the myths and the smokescreens were revealed, I am sure that once again the nation would re-affirm the decision that it and its representatives have taken time and time again.

Let me look just for an instant at one or two of the alternative futures which those who wish to take us out would want to take us to. Mostly they are not very well expressed; of course, vagueness is a great asset in these matters. But in so far as one can discern what is planned, some people would like us to sail off in some historic square-rigger into the distant past where we would resubordinate the Empire, re-instruct the people, both of the black and white Commonwealths to supply us with cheap raw materials and cheap foods so that we could return to where we were some decades ago. This, of course, is an illusion, and a dangerous one.

Others, more subtly, wish to hide beneath a rather frenetic waving of the Union Jack; their plan is to turn this country into a state trading, centralised, undemocratic nation. This is a much more realistic possibility. But I believe that there is no future for this country, either as a Tristan da Cunha of the North Sea or, still less, as a European Cuba, which our people would never tolerate if they were allowed to express a view on something that had already occurred and could get away with it.

Larger than either of those groups—and I have caricatured them for the sake of brevity—is the great majority who do not know much at all about the Community; what it does do, what it does not do; what it can do, what it cannot do; whether it is good or whether it is bad. When there is something that is definitely bad, it is the easiest thing in the world to blame it on our membership of the European Economic Community. Last Saturday in Torquay, when carrying out my constituency duties, I was assailed—verbally, I hasten to add—by a very determined lady who was convinced that the fact that there were no home-grown strawberries this year was a result of our membership of the European Economic Community; but when questioned, she was prepared to concede that the fact that there had been very bad weather recently, a great deal of rain and no sun might provide a more likely explanation. A great many sins are laid at the door of the Community which belong neither with it nor with any of its policies.

We must consider what the nature of our future outside the Community would be. Once again, we must retread these overtrodden paths. We are not a country like Switzerland or Austria economically, geographically or politically. Our paths could not be the same as theirs. Even small Norway—which is virtually self-sufficient in agricultural products, not fully dependent on trade to pay its way in the world, and with plenty of oil, proportionately—is now beginning to regret its peculiar position. Indeed, in Denmark the week before last it became quite obvious to us that the other two Nordic states which are not within the Community very much regard Denmark as their ambassador within the portals of the EEC to protect them, to advise them and to help them. I do not believe that any of these other statutes which are advocated for Britain as a sort of adjunct, an appendix or a colony of the European Community are either realistic or capable of achievement without great suffering and great losses in our standard of living within the Community.

However, there is a wider point. It is madness to think that the United Kingdom can opt out of the world trading system, as some of these calls for an inwards looking organisation propose—whether it is 'Socialism in one country ', or whatever else it is in one country. The drawbridge mentality is death for a country which depends for its livelihood on exporting round the world. Therefore, I particularly deplore what I consider to be the damaging results of a certain minority of Cambridge theoretical economists who have not assessed either the difficulties or the consequences of imposing an elaborate system of permanent import controls. The consequences are incalculable for a country such as ours, which would suffer so much from the retribution of other member states. If we pull up the drawbridge on the world, we go back to the dark ages.

Let me return more specifically to the terms of my Motion. Anyone who argues that Britain should leave the Community is arguing for more unemployment; let us be quite clear about that. The year before we joined the Community our exports to the other member states were £3 billion a year in value. In 1980 our exports had increased to £20 billion a year in value. What would those people who would have us come out of the Community do to compensate for the diminution in exports and all the consequent job losses which a reimposition of some of the tariff barriers against us would inevitably bring with it? Our trade has started to turn; long have the arguments been made, and now we have responded to the challenge.

Today 43 per cent. of our exports go to other countries in the Community, and, if one also takes into account the associate nations, the figure is very nearly 60 per cent. Of those who wish to take us out of the Community I would ask only the simple question: how much further do you want the dole queues to lengthen? Our exports to the Community have grown twice as fast as our exports to the rest of the world—that is, since we joined. Think also of all those people, whom we know either personally or from reading the newspapers, who relied on the wonderful opportunities presented by Iran before the revolution there, or who invested vast sums in other less secure parts of the world. The massive markets of the Community are secure, near, are protected by political links and the powers in the treaty, and are ours to take advantage of. That is why Germany has replaced the United States as our top export market in each of the past two years.

I do not wish to dwell for too long on a detailed series of statistics which more expert noble Lords may produce with greater authority later in the debate, but in the climate of recession which dominates all our thoughts it is worth remembering the benefits we obtain from inward investment and from such things as the fact that Britain receives nearly half of the non-oil investments made by America in the Community. I do not believe that would be the case were we to leave the Community. It is the time to say a word about the common agricultural policy. I should like to say a great deal about fish, but I have nothing positive to say on that subject, and perhaps either of my noble friends on the Front Bench will be able to reassure me later that we are persisting in our quest for a common fisheries policy.

Meanwhile, we have a common agricultural policy which does not suit us. We do not like it, because we joined too late. We therefore have to complain constructively and make suggestions as to how the policy should be altered. Here again things are starting to move. It is interesting and heartening to note that the sort of remarks we in this country have made for so long are now being echoed—not by wicked Tories, but by Social Democrats in the Federal Republic of Germany, and that the countries are now proceeding to align themselves on the same basis of an analysis of both the budget and of the common agricultural policy. I believe that is the start of something good—at least it could be, and perhaps we shall hear more about that later in the debate.

It is most important to stress to your Lordships that many of the wilder defects of the common agricultural policy are exaggerated. For example, on 30th April, at the last general stocktaking of surpluses, there were 38,000 tonnes of butter in intervention, which amount to eight days supply for the Community, on average consumption. I would not consider eight days supply to be an unreasonable figure. It is never going to be possible to programme agricultural production unless there is a computer in Brussels or in Heaven which can take charge of the weather, fertility, pests and the like. We must certainly reduce surpluses and we must certainly introduce more discipline in the production of commodities which are likely to remain in structural surplus—but I would prefer to be part of the community which is self-sufficient in food production when it seems likely that we shall never be able to feed ourselves. There is no cheap food any more. Above all, there is no cheap food in a world where at least half the population are starving and when only 3 to 5 per cent. of agricultural output in any particular sector is traded on the world market. To be inside the Community, with all its surpluses, is a good idea for a country that does not produce enough food of its own.

I should like to say more about aid, but I have little time in which to do so. I should just like to draw to your Lordships' attention the fact that the statistics speak for themselves. The Soviet Union provides under 1½ per cent. of the total amount of aid; the USA, 25 per cent.; and the countries of the European Community, 39 per cent. Next time somebody tells a Member of your Lordships' House that the European Community is an inward-looking white man's club, I would beg your Lordships to remember the 61 nations belonging to the Lomé Convention and that figure of 39 per cent. in aid which the Community has chosen to give. The figure could be better, but it is good. There are other detailed benefits which I could touch on. The range of assistance provided through the regional development fund and the social fund has assisted scores of different local infrastructure projects and other organisations throughout the Community. Even the noble Lord, Lord Young of Dartington, has recently received, in his capacity with Dartington Glass, a subscription from the European Community, and I am delighted that Dartington has been recognised as being qualified by Brussels. There are many organisations to which this applies and to repeat them all would be tedious.

In conclusion, I wish only to add that our present problems do not provide us with a reason for leaving the Community; they provide us with the urge, the impetus and impulse to improve and extend it. It is the most powerful trading bloc in the world. We should be using that power when talking to the Japanese or anybody else. We should be using and developing that power as a force for stability, sanity and moderation within the turbulent world order. There is a difference between nationalism and patriotism. Patriotism is the finest flower of our loyalty to the place of our origin and the places from which we come; but nationalism is its sub-human half-cousin—rapacious, crude, destructive, intolerant. It is a force that has led to the wars of this century and of preceding centuries.

The European Community is the enemy of nationalism but it is the friend of patriotism. It seeks to bring out the best in all the different loyalties that we have. Our loyalties to this House and to the Palace of Westminster, as the source of all systems of parliamentary democracy, is not diminished or debased merely because we have extended at Community level a bold experiment in democracy, by having a European Parliament. Remaining in the European Community does not take away from what we are, from what we wish to be, or what we wish our children to be. It substantiates the best of what we have. It seeks to blunt the crudest forces which have turned Europe in on itself and have nearly destroyed it twice this century. That is why I believe that it is in this country's interests to remain within the Community, to develop it, improve it, expand it, and, above all, make it work better, but to stay there proudly and determined to drive it forward. My Lords, I beg to move the Motion which stands in my name on the Order Paper.