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Council Of Ministers

Volume 889: debated on Wednesday 9 April 1975

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21.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs in what form he plans to announce the provisional agendas of meetings of the Council of Ministers between Easter and early June 1975.

We shall continue to deposit in the House a monthly forecast of Community business. As a general rule it will be followed the next day by an oral statement.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that reply. Has he been sitting in the Chamber over the last few days and heard hon. Members say time and again that we can ask Ministers to take a line in Brussels concerning the view of this House? If that is so, how does that coincide with the Statement of Agenda which refers to the "estimate" of subject headings likely to come up for discussion? If it is only an estimate of matters that he has, now is it possible for the House to discuss matters coming on the agenda and so instruct Ministers what line they should take?

I have spent a good deal of time in the House over the last two days and have heard many criticisms of the scrutiny procedure—almost all of them from my hon. Friend. The answer to his question is the answer given many times before, which I believe is abso- lutely right: if the House can control its Ministers, it controls the business in Brussels, because the Ministers have the right to participate in, and sometimes to veto, what happens there. That remains the position.

Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether, at any of these meetings, the Lomé Convention will be further discussed? Will he say what the future of that convention, with the benefits that it offers for the Commonwealth, would be if Great Britain were to withdraw from the Community?

I do not think that the Lomé Convention will be discussed at any meetings next month, because it is now signed and agreed between 46 Commonwealth and developing countries and the Community. It is difficult to decide what would happen in terms of the convention if Britain were to withdraw, but it would certainly put the entire matter at risk, and I think it would pose some very great problems for many Commonwealth countries if they wanted to continue the same sort of relationship, as I am sure they would, because it is so beneficial to them.

At the whole series of Ministers' meetings which are to take place, will the United Kingdom be represented by Ministers who personally support the policies of the Government, or will there be occasions when German, French and other Community Ministers have to deal with British Ministers who, privately, are opposing the policy which at those meetings they will be supporting? Is this not a case in which the Foreign Office ought to take responsibility for these negotiations? Reverting to what the Foreign Secretary said, the problem is not whether Parliament can control its Ministers but whether the Government can control their Ministers.

The hon. Gentleman is reverting to a question that he asked, with little credit, on the day before the House rose for the Easter Recess. I repeat what I said then. The Prime Minister made it absolutely clear that Ministers speaking from the Dispatch Box—he meant that phrase metaphorically as well as literally —would express the view of the Government. I repeat what I said then. I have no doubt that my colleagues acting in Europe or anywhere else will act with clarity and honour. That ought to satisfy the hon. Gentleman.

Will my hon. Friend consider putting in the Vote Office supplementary statements on business in the Council of Ministers when that business is changed after the business has been laid down in the initial estimate?

I shall certainly consider doing that. We try to keep the House informed as much as is possible by what is stated in the oral statements that I give monthly and in giving each month corrections or alterations from the written statement deposited the previous day or 48 hours before. Certainly it is our wish to keep the House informed as much as is practicably possible, and I shall consider ways of making that more realistic.

Does the Minister know what are the provisional agenda headings for this proposed meeting? If he does, will he say whether the subject of fishing limits will be on the agenda? If not, why not?

I do not think that the hon. Lady understands the nature of the question when she refers to this proposed meeting. Had she been here on the day that the business statement for the forthcoming month was made—on the day before the House rose for Easter—she would have discovered from me that although fishing limits and the problems associated with them are not part of the official agenda for Council business during April, we expect that they will be raised and that we shall be taking some part in the discussion.

As this may also be relevant to our credibility at these meetings, will the right hon. Gentleman answer a question which the Prime Minister failed to answer yesterday and which was asked by one of my hon. Friends? If important Questions are down for answer in the House—Questions which would normally be answered by dissenting Ministers in the next few months, in relation to these guidelines—if the question arises of their being transferred to another Minister, who takes the decision? Is it the Minister to whom the Question is tabled, the Foreign Secretary, or the Prime Minister himself?

Quite clearly, questions about the machinery of government are questions for the Prime Minister, but, equally, attitudes to the EEC, our position in terms of renegotiation and our intentions between now and the referendum, are matters which are under the general control of my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary, and that will continue.

Will the Minister of State confirm, for the sake of the hon. Lady the Deputy Leader of the Scottish National Party that on fishing limits the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is discussing this very matter next week, I understand, with his eight colleagues in the agriculture and fisheries field?

That is absolutely right. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture will be discussing this matter on Budget Day, 15th April. Had she been present on the day that the statement was made, a fortnight ago, the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mrs. Ewing) would have known that.

Will the Minister confirm to his hon. Friends as well as to the country at large that whatever happens to fall on the agenda, it is through these meetings that we have parliamentary control of our sovereignty, and that there is no relinquishment of the sovereignty of this Parliament to the European Commission?

I made my views on sovereignty and the role of Parliament clear on Monday evening. I suspect that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will touch on this subject later this evening. There is nothing that I want to add now to what he has said or may say later today.