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Mr. Robertson : I am extremely glad to have your endorsement, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We are talking about the Government's report and the European Community document. The Minister rightly directed the attention of the House to the progress made on the drive towards completing the European single market. After all, the Government have spent £9 million of taxpayers' cash in hyping up the promotion of 1992. It is the centrepiece of their report on the position a year ago and of the report on the past six months. Presumably, the latter relates to last year--goodness knows when we shall see it, never mind debate it. The single European market will be the centrepiece of the three reports that will follow.
Column 1177I merely make the point that this country's future in a completed internal market--either post or pre-1992--will crucially depend on the condition of its economy. It is my contention and that of the Labour party that the Government have brought the British economy to a parlous condition. We shall find our competitiveness in that single market so poor that the regions and jobs will be in severe danger. Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher) rose --
This so-called best performing major economy in Europe has reached the point at which one in three of our beaches does not come up even to the minimum cleanliness standard laid down by the Community. We are bending sensible Community rules by delaying for six years our compliance with its purity standards for drinking water.
In this so-called best performing major economy in Europe, the Government have had to fiddle the figures to bring the jobless rate down to near the Community average. They have to include an army of part-time jobs to bolster their suspect job creation figures and ignore the disastrous years of 1979 and 1980 to do tricks with the figures for rates of growth.
The Foreign Secretary claims that the Labour party preaches doom about 1992, but he chooses to ignore the real danger signals to British industry, represented by the deregulated, big business free-for-all that the Government champion out of ideology. It was not the Labour party but the influential Henley Centre which said :
"There is a real danger that it will be Japanese companies who have the most to gain from completing the Internal Market",
"If the UK is to substantially gain from the proposals, it will be the South East rather than any other region that benefits", and :
"However the stress laid by the UK Government on competition as the prime determinant of the public interest is probably unique in Europe and increases the possibility of UK firms being the ones most susceptible to takeovers from inside and outside the European Community."
When he spoke a couple of week ago the Foreign Secretary made light of the Leader of the Opposition's forecast of the impact of 1992 on British regions, especially the midlands. However, has he read the Henley Centre report, or the Ceccini report, which forecasts significant short-term job losses--"rationalisations" it calls them--in the, only hopeful, interests of long-term growth in the Community? The industrialists are being sold this pipedream and bought off by £9 million worth of advertising hype. Do they realise how inadequate is the Government's planning compared to other nations' industrialists that they will meet in the market place before and after 1992?
Alone among our competitors, Britain has no detailed studies into the impact of the single market on industrial sectors. Alone in Europe, our Government are making no serious assessment of the impact that a barrier- free Europe will have on some of our fragile regions. All that we and business men receive are vacuous, cliche d exhortations such as those that the Foreign Secretary gave the patrons of Harborough Conservative association--it sounds like the Mafia--on 4 February. He said :
"There is a new spirit and dynamism here"--
that is, the midlands--
"of which the forecasts of doom, based on old trends and models take no account. The Midlands will have opportunities for growth and prosperity and jobs they have not seen for years."
Prospects for jobs and growth in the midlands have certainly not been seen for years. Where is the evidence for what the Foreign Secretary says? All that the patrons receive are words from a passing wordsmith.
In France, Germany, Italy and Belgium, industrialists get real backing from their Governments. There is still no real effort at Government level to establish which technical and professional standards adopted at European level might assist our industry. Instead, while the Prime Minister parades the European theatre as the demonic irritant so graphically described by Lord Jenkins of Hillhead in his memoirs in the Sunday newspapers in the last few weeks, the Germans, French and Italians are capturing the real prizes--the standards which will apply in the new single market.
Nor do the Government have any real clue about how Sir Leon Brittan will apply competition policy and how that will impact on British industry. Given the warnings of the likes of the Henley Centre about the vulnerability of British industry, what precisely is the Government's position on the takeover of British companies, or does the French takeover of our water industry mirror what will happen in many other cases? Are we in favour of giant Euro-companies competing with the Japanese and the Americans, risking monopoly along the way, or do we subscribe to trust- busting, anti-monopoly policies, which might give some protection to European consumers and to small and medium companies in this country? Do the Government know? How can we hope to gain from the single market when, as a direct result of Government mismanagement of the economy, we have such an undertrained labour force, such underfunding of research and development, an assaulted industrial consensus and a fatal north-south divide, with no coherent idea of where we are strong or vulnerable?
The Prime Minister makes much of diversity in Europe. That is admirable, and we share her antipathy to the implausibility of the concept of a united states of Europe. But uncontained diversity spells anarchy. Diversity which is unrestrained, uncontrolled and unmanaged will produce only a random, arbitrary outcome. Where market dominates Community, the people, the companies, the regions and the cities which are not at the centre will go to the wall. Japan manages her market ruthlessly and successfully. If Europe does not do the same, with the same determination and dedication, we will not compete at all, still less triumph over the forces ranged against us.
Column 1179The Government are like a rabbit caught in car headlights. They are mesmerised by the unrestrained, liberalised, uncontrolled power of the market, believing against all experience and common sense that standards will automatically be maintained, that regions will get their fair share, and that small companies will survive the onslaught of the Euro megacompany. They are peddling a deadly mixture of complacency and dogma.
The European market of today and of the 1990s, like Japan and the United States of America at the same point in history, is no place for the incurable romantics who place supreme faith in the invisible forces of the market place. The prudent can benefit from and thrive in the European single market, but that will only happen when we have a Government with the vision and the will to prepare our country for the challenges that it faces.
Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher) : The speech of the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) was the most vacuous that I have ever heard from the Opposition Front Bench. It was words, words, words, and most of them were emotional claptrap. If that is the current state of Labour party policy on the European Community, you have real troubles ahead of you internally in the next few months before the European election.
Mr. Taylor : You are quite right, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to call my attention to what I said. Of course, my remarks were not directed at you. It will probably save the hon. Member for Hamilton embarrassment if I get to the subject of my speech. I wish that he had done the same when he had the chance.
The debate is about a year too late. We are considering events which happened early in 1988, so in a sense we are reviewing history. I share the view of many hon. Members that the House must organise itself better in this respect. It is crazy to have before us a paper about events when we already know not only their effects but their consequential developments. The Commission's own report on the period up to October 1988 was issued this week and would be a far more interesting document for us to discuss and a better focus for the debate. In addition, major initiatives are being taken at the moment by the Spanish presidency which are also of more interest to the House than the subject for the current debate.
The European Parliament, too, is taking various initiatives which the House should discuss in more detail. The latest figures show that 45 per cent. of amendments tabled in the European Parliament are translated into European legislation, which means that they become part of our legislation. That is a significant proportion, and it shows that the House needs to pay more attention to the proceedings of the European Parliament.
It is also worth remembering that it is all too easy to assume that any Euro-level regulation is bad for Britain. That negative approach, which is shared by some hon. Members on both sides of the House, is dangerous--given that the Single European Act has been passed, albeit reluctantly. In many critical areas there will be majority voting. We must therefore be more positive about
Column 1180leadership within the Community and about the way in which we try to influence our 11 partners to ensure that our interests are protected.
It is difficult to argue that there should be no regulation at European level. When we are busy making regulations in the United Kingdom about food, toys, fire protection and other essential concerns we should consider the implications throughout the Community. The issue is whether there will be less bureaucracy and more consumer protection if common EC standards are agreed for such matters. That must surely be the case for food, which is a very topical concern. The only way in which one country can protect itself against less strict regulations in another is to destroy the goods at the frontier, which is hardly the most sensible way to proceed. In the dreaded area of social policy, too, we must not assume that we do not have social policies in this country and that it is therefore inappropriate for the European Community to wish to discuss social policy. Instead of carping, we should take the message to our partners that there are better ways of proceeding than those currently proposed. There was a report this week about worker participation. This country does not want a form of rigid worker participation--it does not want Mitbestimmung. The German businesses that I know do not want it either, but they do not know how to get rid of it.
Mr. Taylor : It was a slip of the tongue, Mr. Deputy Speaker. One way in which the House could take the initiative in social policy is to propose to the Council of Ministers a solution which would be very British. A European report which has just come out shows the lead that we have taken in the development of employee share ownership schemes. It is interesting that more and more firms in the rest of the Community are looking to us for advice on such schemes.
Mr. Heffer : Workers do participate. If they did not, no work would be done and no profits would be made. This country's wealth comes from the participation of workers in industry. The trouble is that they do not share in the profits. I came from the shop floor and know something about those matters. What is wanted is not so-called participation but a society in which workers enjoy a share of the profits made from the work they do.
Column 1181"Mitbestimmung". We do not want a rigid system of worker participation. I proposed employee share ownership plans which, had they been in place at the time when the hon. Gentleman was working in industry, would have given him capital interest--making him a much wealthier man than he probably is.
Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry) : Does my hon. Friend agree that a start has been made? Personal shareholders in Britain now number 9 million. That is substantially more than the number of trade unionists, some of whom are among those shareholders. Will my hon. Friend seek to build on that with his new proposals which I warmly welcome?
Mr. Taylor : My hon. Friend makes a valid point. But we should deepen and widen share ownership to bring capital sharing to the workshop floor. That is the motive behind employee share ownership plans.
Legislation on employees' rights and interests within the European Community must be decided unanimously, but we must watch out for clauses slipped into health and safety regulations--many of which are adopted by majority vote. That is one of the reasons why I said earlier that the House should give more scrutiny to what is happening on the Floor of the European Parliament and in the Council. Some regulation of the Community's economy is necessary to ensure that the free market is not distorted and that the consumer is protected. Recently, when the House debated the draft second banking directive, right hon. and hon. Members acknowledged that the Commission had made welcome progress in realising that the regulations need only represent the minimum provision required. The mutual recognition criteria and the selection of home country controls enshrined in the directive are extremely welcome. Mr. Jacques Delors, with whom I do not always agree, said :
"I don't know of any historical example of a liberal market without a minimum of regulation and, frankly, it is possible to discuss quietly this question. The question is when can a regulation at the European level work more efficiently than at the national level. Believe me, I repeat each week to my top civil servants : Please, avoid all directives, all initiatives, which are not indispensable to an efficient single market'."
I praise Mr. Delors for this insight. The pity is that he did not express it earlier and more often. I encourage him to make it clear that minimum regulation at a European level is desirable. We are really talking about competition in goods, services and regulations between companies and between member states. One must therefore question what role Brussels should have in enforcing the openness of the market and ensuring compliance by national authorities. A major future incentive and development will be the removal of restrictions on the movement of capital. If capital can be moved freely, no member state could afford to impose tax levels which drive away capital, create unemployment or erode the tax base. Competition through the movement of capital is much better than harmonisation, but there remains a need for common guidelines.
The hon. Member for Hamilton mentioned the key area of takeovers, mergers and acquisitions. There is a role for the Commission, particularly in respect of consumer protection, but it should not extend to protecting companies or monopolistic practices, nor to imposing
Column 1182some form of Community-wide industrial policy. Without competition policy, 1992 will not be viable. It is no use allowing free movement of goods if nation states subsidise their industries. In 1986, EC states spent 93 billion ecu on subsidies, which is three times the Community's whole budget. Neither will competition by possible if takeovers are impeded by different regulatory hurdles, nor if price cartels undermine enterprise. It is interesting to note that this week's judgment by the European Court, on an action taken against a German firm, upheld the Commission's powers to prevent a cartel. Current takeover and merger activities are covered by articles 85 and 86 of the treaty of Rome, but these create considerable uncertainty and must be replaced by some other regulation. One issue at stake is the level at which the Commission should intervene. The original proposal that it should do so in respect of companies having more than 1 billion ecu per year combined turnover was recently revised, the qualifying figure now being 2 billion ecu. At that figure, at least 100 deals a year will be referred to the Commissioner, Sir Leon Brittan, who will become in effect a one-man mergers and acquisitions department. He has about 120 staff in the relevant group, DG4, but even that does not make for a viable team when we need a firm hand at the tiller to ensure that no competitive activities leading to oligopoly or monopoly are overlooked. A more favourable cut-off point would be 10 billion ecu combined turnover, resulting in the more reasonable and practical figure of about 10 to 20 referrals per year.
Mr. William Cash (Stafford) : When the Select Committee on European Legislation took evidence from the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry it emerged that when one has dealt with the thresholds, and so on, a critical factor is the procedures that are followed and the way in which the Community handles merger and takeover procedures, which at present is wholly inadequate. The Community would do well to study carefully the way in which such matters are dealt with in this country to ensure that European practice is fair and deals with the problems properly.
Mr. Taylor : My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. The regulations must be carefully considered in the light of who will make the final decision--the Commissioner alone or the whole Commission. We do not want such matters to become a political football. However, I am sure that my hon. Friend agrees that such safeguards do not invalidate the need for some form of regulation at European Community level. It is essential that we do not fall into the trap of double jeopardy, with companies having to refer both to the Community and to their own national authorities.
As to the clearance procedure and the speed at which decisions are taken, I entirely endorse the Confederation of British Industry's proposal that takeovers clearly not infringing competition rules should not be suspended but allowed to pass very quickly, but that those which affect competition criteria should lapse and be dealt with speedily. A period of three months has been suggested. In defending British interests we should not try to erect artificial barriers to investment in this country. Britain has a very good reputation for investing world wide. The flow of investment from this country for the purpose of acquiring companies in America and in Europe is distinctly ahead of investment the other way. We should be
Column 1183foolish to provoke other countries susceptible to such provocation into erecting barriers against our own desire to acquire. I therefore regard the CBI's proposals--I am uncertain about their status, but they have certainly been discussed this week-- either to tinker with the takeover code or to introduce a form of reciprocity preventing the bid if the bidder itself is bid-proof as a very dangerous move. The CBI should think again very seriously about what it is proposing, which I do not believe to be in the interests of its members. In a sense, the level playing field argument will resolve itself through the market. There will be difficult periods, but the change within Germany that we are beginning to see, and the change in France, with the increased role of equities and the increased power of institutional investment in pension funds, will force those institutional investors to look for a proper return. I believe that that will enable them to follow the more open pattern of the London stock exchange. That is a particular reason for my not wishing to see the London stock exchange, at this very difficult stage, turn its back on open market practices.
I wish to make a final point about the Commission's judgment on takeovers in terms of whether European Community directives are legally binding. We have a voluntary code, which has worked extremely well and is much tougher in effect than those in other countries. I hope that when my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary to the Treasury considers this matter, he will consider how we reconcile our voluntary code with what I should nevertheless like to see, which is some defined European responsibility for takeovers.
The major issues that we face in the European Community in economic policy, in takeovers and mergers and in competition will be difficult to reconcile with national interests. This goes to the heart of what we regard the Community as being. The Community should not be a socialising, centralising force, but there is no way that we can avoid regulation at the central level. We must go forward positively urging the European Commission to realise that the setting of minimum standards, acting as a referee, the breaking up of cartels and oligopoly positions, is the role that it should take upon itself and the role most likely to gain support and enthusiasm in this country for the Commission's work. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office will then find that she can come to the House and receive the enthusiastic support for her personal efforts which she fully deserves.
Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield) : As I listen to the debate, my first thoughts are of the fact that some hon. Members are only just beginning to realise that we in this Parliament are totally powerless in respect of what we are discussing. When the Minister goes to Brussels she does not exercise statutory powers ; she exercises prerogative powers. When we signed the treaty of Rome, all our negotiations about takeovers, and everything else, became treaty-making negotiations, and under our constitution all treaties are signed under the prerogative. The implementation of the decisions reached under the prerogative are then made under an enabling Act known as the European Communities Act 1972, and whatever may be said--whether we have the debates early or late, whether the
Column 1184Scrutiny Committee meets in full or does not--we have no role whatever in deciding anything. We are back to the position of the Parliament that used to petition the King.
Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend) : Would my right hon. Friend care to make some comparison with the situation in Denmark, into whose parliamentary system is built provision for proper scrutiny of the legislation?
Mr. Benn : My hon. Friend is perfectly right. Whether the Danish system would stand up to examination by the European Court I am not sure, because under the treaty of accession any nation becoming a member of the EEC has to agree to abide by Community law. But that does not alter my point. This House capitulated, gave all its powers up, and the slightly frustrated and irritable note that enters into some of the discussions seems to me to arise from the fact that people are beginning to realise that they have no role whatsoever.
Sir Richard Body (Holland with Boston) : Does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that under article 100A, as it now is following the Single European Act, the powers of the Danish Parliament are now much diminished in this respect and almost negligible?
Mr. Benn : My argument is that it never really had any powers but it tried. We did not even try. Any Member of this House who voted for the legislative provisions that led us to this position will have a lot to answer for at the bar of history.
However, I do not want to go over the past ; my purpose is to look ahead to the future of the continent of Europe because the time has come when the House should think afresh, taking account of experiences, some of which I have touched on, and of the enormous new opportunities that exist. It is astonishing to me that up to now--I hope I am right--nobody has mentioned Mr. Gorbachev. The changes in eastern Europe and in the Soviet Union are fundamental, yet here we are going on with our little discussions about agriculture and takeovers. Nobody has discussed, to the best of my knowledge, the impact on our continent of the changes in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. I am arguing--and I do not want to take too long because other Members want to speak--that we should discuss the alternatives openly and try to develop a practical vision of how the people across the whole of Europe might live together in peace, co-operating with each other free from the structures that now divide us.
This is a very timely debate. We have had these rather formal, ritual debates, sometimes rather late, about developments in the Community in six- month periods under various presidencies, but this time we are having a debate on the eve of the European elections. Many people--not just hon. Members--will want to know what alternatives there are for the future of Europe when they come to vote in June. Of course, there are many different views. They are not necesarily the same on either side of the House.
There is, of course, the simple nationalist view--one that I have never shared--that foreigners start at Dover, though some have already got to Wolverhampton, and that we should pull up the drawbridge. As I have said, I have never held that view but there are certainly some people who do. At the other extreme there is a view, which probably has more support than we have ever been allowed to know about in Britain, of western Europe as a
Column 1185nuclear superpower, federal in character with a European Bank, and with modernised nuclear weapons as a rival to the United States, Japan, the Soviet Union and China. That idea of a superpower with its own weapons is one much discussed on the continent but hardly ever mentioned here, apart from some vague indications that the Western European Union might perhaps fit in and merge with the Economic Community and provide us with a little bit more muscle.
Then there is the Government's view, which has come across quite clearly in the course of the debate so far. The Prime Minister signed the Single European Act using prerogative powers but, in her view, what we want in Europe--and this emerged from the speech of the hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Taylor)--is that market forces should be supreme. The Government do not want the Commission to intervene with any of this European dirigisme. They do not want a Social Europe, or any co-determination on the German model with the trade union movement, thus evoking a nationalist response. But the Prime Minister is utterly powerless to stop a process of which she has already approved.
Mr. Ian Taylor rose --
Having been on the Council of Ministers for some years, and having been president of the Energy Council for six months during our presidency in 1977, I must tell the House that, once a law is passed, neither the Prime Minister nor any other Minister has power to stop the Commission applying the law--not just in Brussels but through the British courts. As the British Energy Minister, I was threatened with court action by Guido Brunner and by one of the other commissioners on two grounds : they objected to a British interest relief scheme to provide employment in Scotland, and they claimed that the treaty of Rome gave them authority over the continental shelf where our North sea oil was situated. They took me to court on what, from their point of view, was a very useful day, polling day in 1979, the day on which, I was removed from Government by the British electorate. But let us not think that the Prime Minister has power to stop all this dirigisme. She has not, because she gave away even more powers when she signed the Single European Act.
Mr. Ian Taylor : When the right hon. Gentleman reads Hansard he will see that what I was saying was that the British Government should take the lead in formulating the type of social policy that the European Community wishes to endorse. In fact, I propose employee share ownership rather than the worker participation espoused by the Germans.
Mr. Benn : I understood the hon. Gentleman perfectly. I am telling him that he has no power to act in that way. The strange thing about the EEC, which those who have not been on the Council of Ministers may not realise, is that there is no provision for repealing laws without unanimity. EEC regulations and directives are like a lobster pot : it is easy to get in but impossible to get out. Once there is unanimity on going in there must be unanimity on coming out, and not even the Prime
Column 1186Minister, with all her rhetoric in Bruges, can do anything about the mass of bureaucratic excrescences that surround the European process.
Several Hon. Members rose--
Mr. Benn : I want next to set out some alternative views so that hon. Gentlemen can declare to which they attach themselves. Another view of the future of Europe associated with the Social Democratic parties in Europe is that of a social Europe, linked to federalism and a European union. That view emerges in the Euro-manifesto, which was adhered to very recently--with reservations--by the Labour delegation. A reading of the manifesto leaves us in no doubt that the Labour delegation wants a federal union in Europe. Although I do not share that feeling, I understand the reason for it. The Social Democrats suffered terribly under Hitler and Mussolini, and for them a European Union is a guarantee that there will not be another war in Europe, and some guarantee that the trade unions will have a better deal than before. They want a Social Europe. They want the European Union. They would really like Britain--a Labour Britain--to go into the European monetary system. It should be understood that that manifesto is on offer, although not from me, and will be on offer in the European elections in the summer.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) is not present, because I wish now to talk about--I was going to say the Europe of regions, but Scotland is not a region, so I shall say a Europe of nations and regions. I remember saying and believing--at a time when the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars), who has just been re-elected to the House, was still a Labour Member--that joining the Common Market meant disintegrating the United Kingdom, and that process has just begun. My hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) was right to point out that an independent Scotland might find it hard to get in if he were the Minister there, and perhaps the Spaniards would be worried about the Basques, but we should not imagine that the process of disintegration has not already begun.
This is a superficial argument, but no doubt the SNP is putting it forward to the Scots with some feeling. Now they think they have found the answer-- two Scottish Commissioners in Europe, Scottish Members at the European Assembly--and no one can argue that it means a frontier post with England, because England is in the Common Market as well.
Then there is the Labour party's view. It is difficult for anyone to identify that view correctly, but I shall be as honest as I can. The Labour party conference has always been hostile to the Common Market. It fought for the referendum. The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) signed the treaty of accession without it even being published, and we did not know what he had signed until he had signed it. He signed it under the prerogative ; we said that we would have a referendum, and the vote went against us. At various times the party of which I am proud to be a member has favoured the repeal of section 2 of the European Communities Act, as the House must know very well. Whatever may be the result of our present policy reviews there is a total lack of enthusiasm for the sort of Europe spoken of by some in my party and the Conservative party. I suspect that, as the election
Column 1187approaches, that European Social Democratic manifesto will not feature very much in our campaign. [Interruption.] That speculation is based on a certain amount of inside knowledge which I will not quote. I cannot believe that that will be the basis on which Labour candidates will be presenting themselves, because we still have our own manifesto, which we shall be preparing in the national executive committee.
Mr. Robertson : May I put the record straight? Unlike my right hon. Friend, I am not a member of the national executive committee of the Labour party, but am I not correct in saying that this week the NEC endorsed the manifesto to which my right hon. Friend has referred?
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman recalls that earlier in the debate I said that there was nothing in the White Paper about the Labour party's policy on membership of the EEC.
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. The Chair is taking a relaxed view and allowing very wide debate, but we cannot ignore the fact that the debate is concerned with the White Paper on developments in the European Community between January and June 1988.
Mr. Benn : I understand that, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and it is not my purpose to run into difficulties with the Chair. I was tempted by my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, who asked me a factual question. The endorsement of that manifesto was carried by 20 votes to four--I was one of the four. For further details I must refer the House to diaries that will be published later.
You worried me rather, Mr. Deputy Speaker, when you set a time limit on the scope of the debate, for, in the course of the century, there have been four of five different Europes. Before the first world war Queen Victoria had a grandson on every major throne. George V was her grandson ; Kaiser Wilhelm II was her grandson ; the Czar Nicolas II was also her grandson. We did nothing about human rights in Russia when Queen Victoria's grandson was on the throne. That was the Europe that people took for granted at that time. Then Edward VII went to Paris and consolidated the entente cordiale-- in ways that I will not go into. Imperialism was what pre-war Europe was about. Next came quite a different Europe, the Europe that followed the Russian revolution, when we sent an army into Russia to destroy the revolution. Schoolchildren are never told that : they are probably told that the Russians sent an army here. Hitler and Mussolini built their whole position on an anti-Soviet stance. When Lord Halifax went to visit Hitler in 1937--I shall not weary the House with an exact quotation from the German archives--Halifax congratulated Hitler on crushing Communism in Germany and on being a bulwark against Bolshevism in Europe. That was the Europe between the wars. Then we had the wartime alliance, which in fact followed the opposite policy. The Germans attacked the Soviet Union ; Hess came and tried to get Winston Churchill--then Prime Minister--to join him. To his credit, Churchill refused. He was no friend of Communism
Column 1188and once described Lenin as a grinning monster sitting on a throne of skulls, so he was not exactly a member of Militant Tendency. Churchill would have nothing to do with it. Some of the most powerful speeches in support of the Soviet Union came from Winston Churchill, and even Eden.
During that war, we signed a treaty of friendship with Russia--I have a copy--saying that we would pledge ourselves not only to eliminate fascism but to co-operate after the war. That was a third Europe. I have lived through two of them, although I did not experience the one before the first world war.
The wartime alliance looked to the Security Council, and the idea of a united Europe. When the United Nations held its first assembly in Central hall, Westminster--I remember it well : Gladwyn Jebb was acting Secretary- General in 1945--we really believed that we would have a Europe based on co -operation between the Allies.
Finally, we have had the cold-war Europe--the one in which we still live. That Europe was quite different again. NATO was there to keep the Red Army out. I do not know how many people ever believed that the Red Army would land in Britain, but according to the latest polls only 2 per cent. now hold the cherished view that Gorbachev is about to land it here and make us listen to a lecture on perestroika whether we want it or not.
The Europe of the last 40 years was therefore quite different from the expectation during the war. It was a Europe that we had deliberately divided. No one should think that we did not do that ; we played a large part in the division of Europe, based on the Soviet threat and the fear of Socialism and, on the other side, the Warsaw pact, the Brezhnev doctrine and the militarisation of Europe. Hitler's greatest and most tragic legacy was that he left our continent divided.
Sir Anthony Meyer : I was a little disturbed when the right hon. Gentleman talked of a Europe based on the fear of Socialism. He must recall that at various points in that long catalogue Socialist Governments in western Europe were as resolute in standing up to what was then Soviet expansionism as any Conservative Government in this country. Mr. Benn : I can only give my honest opinion to the hon. Gentleman. I believe that nobody in western Europe ever believed that the Red Army would attack, but they were afraid that Socialist ideas would spread in western Europe. I shall not argue that any more. We then come to British membership of the Community. I do not wish to go over that because I want to look forward, but when we joined the Community we were told that it would give us endless prosperity. I remember making a speech in which I said that joining the Community would cause unemployment and I was denounced by Roy Jenkins, who was then the Labour Home Secretary. He said that he "could not take me seriously as an economic Minister." Yet looking back, we had a £4 billion surplus in manufactured trade with the EEC in 1970, whereas the deficit is now £14 billion. We have not done very well, yet we are getting the same arguments again now. People say that if we work for the Single European Act, women will get their rights, the water will be purer and training will be better. That is rubbish. It is part of the attempt to consolidate the EEC.
Column 1189I finish by looking at the alternative open to us. I mentioned a moment ago that the Gorbachev reforms had transformed the prospects for the continent. They are as great a change as the Russian revolution, the advent of Hitler or the end of the war. Gorbachev's reforms are very popular and I think that he might have won the American election if he had been a candidate. He would certainly have been an improvement on the other two candidates. His disarmament proposals are credible for the simple reason that they are not presented as part of the long exchange of politically motivated disarmament proposals. Gorbachev says that he wants to cut weapons expenditure to improve the standard of living of the Russian people. Of course, people here say, "We want that too", so Gorbachev is much more popular in Britain than any other Soviet leader.
I want a wholly non-nuclear Europe. I would like to see all trade restrictions with eastern Europe lifted. When I signed technological agreements in the 1960s, as the responsible Minister, the Americans held us back all the time. They did so allegedly on strategic grounds, but actually because they were waiting for the moment to go in and do the trade themselves. We want closer cultural and political links. I feel strongly that the moment is coming when there will be reunification of the trade union movement and when the division between the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions and the World Federation of Trade Unions will be ended. I would like to see the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, set up after the war and allowed to wither on the bough, revived instead of the bureaucracies of Brussels and the Comecon countries.
I want to see--and I have said this in trips to eastern Europe--a restoration of the treaty of friendship between Britain and the Soviet Union and its extension to others on a bilateral basis. I want to see a European security pact, which is now a serious possibility, and the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Europe--the Russians from eastern Europe, all American soldiers and bases from Britain and the removal of British troops from Germany. I might add, for good measure, that I want to see the removal of British troops from Ireland. If we are going to build a world at peace in Europe, we cannot have occupying forces, even if they purport to be allies--as the Hungarians and Czechs learned to their cost in 1956 and 1968. I want to see the closure of foreign bases and a massive switch of resources from war to peace. The money saved might go towards the cancellation of the Third world debt.
Those ideas, put in the present mood and atmosphere, may seem somewhat outlandish, but I ask the House to go back to 1945. If anybody had said then, "Let us re-arm the Germans and put two German commissioners in charge who can make laws for Britain", he would have been laughed out of court. Yet 40 years later, because of the cold war, structures have been built up which have changed our view of Europe. I argue that we have come to the time when we must look again. We must move towards a different idea of Europe. I shall pluck one word out of our experience to describe it. We want a Commonwealth of Europe--a commonwealth being a free association of fully self-governing states. We may talk about harmonisation, but only by agreement. We want to look at a way of
Column 1190repatriating the powers from Brussels, in the way that the Canadian Government repatriated their powers from Britain. When I look at the changes over the past 80 years, I can see great support- -
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I have allowed a very wide debate, but I find it difficult to see how the events of the past 80 years can be reconciled with the White Paper that we are debating, which covers the events of January to June 1988.