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Renegotiation

Volume 886: debated on Wednesday 19 February 1975

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25.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he will list the outstanding items in the United Kingdom's renegotiation of membership of the EEC.

27.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what are now the main problems still unresolved in the EEC renegotiations.

36.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what items of the renegotiation which he outlined on 1st April 1974 remain outstanding.

The principal matters still to be settled are those listed in my right hon. Friend's reply of 29th January to the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes), but we have made further progress in dealing with them in the last three weeks.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that whenever or however renegotiations are completed, there are some Members on both sides of the House who do not want the negotiations to succeed? Will he reaffirm his commitment to the Labour Party manifesto, namely, that the objective of renegotiation is to stay in the Common Market? Will he also assure the House that when renegotiations are completed there will be a free vote not only among members of the Cabinet but on the Floor of the House?

My hon. Friend is too old a bird to expect me to comment on the subject of free votes, certainly when my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip is not present. As regards the first part of his supplementary question, having been given that task by the Labour Party through our election manifesto, it was my job to try to carry out that task, and I shall negotiate for success, not for failure. That has been my object the whole way through. I am sorry if any degree of success I may achieve causes other people pain, but it seems to me that that is the only way in which to go into negotiations.

The negotiations are not yet complete. There are still some important subjects on which agreement must be secured. I shall do my best to secure agreement on them on the conditions laid down in the Labour Party manifesto.

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that since the original Six in the Common Market had no fisheries policy until the British application for entry was received, and since they then rapidly got together to "cobble" one up, the moratorium until 1982 is one of the vital issues that must be renegotiated, otherwise Common Market vessels will have the same rights in our fisheries as do our fishermen, and if they employ their methods of fishing here our waters will be as clear of fish as are the waters around other Common Market countries?

The question of fisheries is an important matter for the whole of the United Kingdom and, indeed, for some other members of the Community. I should not like to give the hon. Gentleman a detailed answer, but I undertake to send him a written reply when I have considered the matter.

As the present Prime Minister's chief objection to the terms of entry into the Common Market was the absence of any provision for long-term free access for New Zealand produce, may we assume that the present Government are pressing for long-term free access for New Zealand produce? If so what success has there been so far?

There have been conversations between the New Zealand Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and myself. We are making substantial progress on the question of access for New Zealand produce. I believe that it will not be impossible to secure a reasonable solution to the problem.

Does the right hon. Gentleman feel that there should be a debate at the conclusion of the Government's negotiations when the terms are known and before the House discusses the Bill on the referendum?

That is not a matter for me, but if I may be allowed to advance an opinion as one member of the House, it is surely inconceivable that the House would not want to debate the result of the renegotiations.

29.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he can now give a firm date for the conclusion of the negotiations with the EEC.

My aim is to complete renegotiation by Easter and we are continuing to make reasonable progress, but I cannot yet give a firm date.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that we cannot afford to waste any more time on these rather trivial exchanges that are constantly putting up prices, and that we should get down to some real negotiations, which have not been evident so far? Has my right hon. Friend seen, for instance, the trade deficit figures for the last quarter of 1974, which show a minus of £614 million? Is it not time we stopped this external bleeding? Soon we shall not have enough money even to buy the bandages.

The deficits that we are running are extremely serious. They show that British industry is not taking advantage of the opportunities available to export. I am not ascribing blame. I am describing a simple situation that exists. But I do not believe that membership of the Community has affected one way or the other British industry's capacity to export.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many people will feel that the remarks he has just made are the correct assessment of the figures bandied about on both sides of the argument? As renegotiation is about terms and not principle, will he, when the renegotiations are complete to the Government's satisfaction, emphasise to the country that the original aims of the Community include an underlying European political unity?

That was one of the original aims, but I think that the passage of years has altered the way in which many people thought that it would be approached. The kind of political unity that is achieved now is achieved through meetings of the Council of Foreign Ministers, at which, attending as sovereign members, each carrying our own Parliament behind us—at least, we hope we are—we reach common agreements on issues of common importance.

32.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether the retention of parliamentary control over fiscal, regional and industrial policies is one of the objects of renegotiations with the EEC.

Yes, Sir. It is the aim of renegotiation to ensure that the effective policies which the Government and Parliament adopt in these matters are not frustrated by the operation of the treaties.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the Question and the election manifesto on which it is based specified parliamentary as distinct from ministerial control? Does he not agree that Parliament can reassert such control only if the constitutional relationship between the House and the law makers in Brussels is changed?

I do not accept that. The concept of Government control and ministerial control clearly implies parliamentary control. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I stand at this Box only because I have the support of my hon. Friends. [Interruption.] If I did not have it, I would not be here. It is on that basic that our control will continue to be exercised. I remain answerable to the House, as does every other Minister.

In order to save the right hon. Gentleman from having to answer such questions, so that he may devote his time to other matters, will he refer his hon. Friend, and everyone else who asks similar questions, to all the excellent speeches made by the Prime Minister before 1969, in which he dealt specifically with the point of sovereignty, assuring the House and the country that there was no question of Britain's giving up her sovereignty and that we would remain an independent sovereign country? Will he see that those excellent speeches by the Prime Minister are made available to his colleagues?

I always regard my right hon. Friend's speeches as excellent, whatever they are about, but I am becoming increasingly aware that even if I bring back a crock of gold from Brussels it will not satisfy some people. Because that is so, and because I wish to adhere to the contents of the Labour Party manifesto and to conference decisions, I shall continue to take that stand. It is the only safe ground for me to rely upon.

Is it the object of the renegotiations or is it the right hon. Gentleman's view that he already possesses the authority to implement import controls, as has been suggested by the Cambridge Group of Economists?

Does my right hon. Friend agree that his answer to this Question and to earlier questions demonstrates clearly both the farce and the dishonesty of the original application to join the Community, in the sense that the whole case was based upon our trading position improving as a result of joining a much enlarged home market? Yet the existence of a home market depends entirely upon monetary union. As Government policy is now to move away from monetary union, does not that give the lie to the original intention that we could talk in terms of an enlarged home market?

I see part of the point made by my hon. Friend, and it has considerable relevance as long as we do not move to economic and monetary union. As the House knows, it is not only my view but the view of the Community that we shall not move there. On the other hand, there has been a substantial and continuing reduction of tariffs between the members of the Community and, I hope, under the multilateral trade negotiations, between the Community and countries outside. To that extent the market is growing. However, I have never believed that the creation of this larger market would of itself improve our trading conditions. That remedy lies here, at home. The National Enterprise Board and other measures being taken by the Government are steps in that direction.

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that in the two years that we have been members the Community has never interfered in our fiscal, regional or industrial policies on any material matter?

Offhand, I should think that is broadly true. There are areas where it has got close to it. I think that if we remain members of the Community—we must face all these facts, so let us face them fairly—there will always be areas where the Commission will try to extend its authority and where individual national governments will resist that extension. There will be this continuing tension between the two. If I had to make a summary at this stage, I should say that on my experience so far, broadly speaking, I am satisfied that the United Kingdom Government and Ministers, if they have the will, can look after us in Brussels.

Can my right hon. Friend deny that whether or not such powers have been used in the past two years the Commission has power to intervene in our industrial policy? For example, yesterday we gave a Second Reading to the Industry Bill, which is of great importance. If the Commission decides that that will distort competition, it can overrule the intentions of this House and of the Government.

That is a pretty general question, but I think that my answer must be "No". My hon. Friend's appreciation of the situation is not correct. I do not think for a moment—

I am giving the answer. It may be that my hon. Friend has a different view. I do not think for a moment that the Commission will put itself into the position that my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-West (Mrs. Wise) thinks it might take. That is my view about the situation. Others will no doubt have different views. But let us not destroy ourselves with hobgoblins. Let us look at the reality of the situation.

In the renegotiations, will the right hon. Gentleman insist on his right to apply our regional policies within the United Kingdom? May we have a clear answer on that matter?

Yes. I hope that the House will very soon debate the co-ordination of regional aids. Indeed, I should like the opportunity of joining in such a debate if I manage to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker. The co-ordination of regional aids is an issue to which I attach great importance because, like the hon. Lady, I represent a development area. Therefore, I am not anxious to be put into a position in which our attempts to deal with unemployment or structural problems can be overridden by people outside this country. There is a difference between that proposition and the other proposition, that competition between countries in their regional aids can be self-destroying if they run to excess. If the Commission's proposals are based on trying to co-ordinate the extent of regional aid, they could turn out to be of advantage to this country, as to others.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm, in the context of his last answer, that in almost any international economic agreement, whether in EFTA, in the free trade agreement between Sweden and Austria and the Community, or in the European Economic Community, there are inevitable restrictions on some national policies to prevent that kind of wasteful competition?

Yes. That is true, for example, in the sphere of giving credit and of what can be done in the matter of supporting exports. If it is a bargain that is worth this country's while making, let us make it. If not, let us say so and come to a clear conclusion on the issue.