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Foreign Ministers

Volume 889: debated on Wednesday 9 April 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he next expects to meet Foreign Ministers of the EEC.


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he next expects to meet the Foreign Ministers of the EEC countries.

When my right hon. Friend has a chance to meet the Common Market Foreign Ministers, will he, in his cool, professional and competent manner, explain to them that whatever the outcome of the referendum there will be no cheap North Sea oil for any of those who are currently joined with us in the Common Market? If it seems that the Common Market Ministers are not too aware of what he is trying to indicate to them, perhaps he could then display the other side of his character, which was shown to our loyal, hardworking Deputy Chief Whip. He could even tell them, in the brusque way in which he dealt with that little incident, that if there is any hesitation we are finished.

On the first part of that question, I agree about there being no cheap North Sea oil, but so far as I am aware that is not in question. Under the energy policy as far as it has been devised, we have the right to fix our own prices and we shall continue to do so. Indeed, we are engaged in international discussion on a wider basis in order to ensure that we achieve the maximum benefit for the British people from our fortunate discoveries. As regards my relations with the Deputy Chief Whip, I take note of my hon. Friend's strictures. Unfortunately, unlike him, I did not have the advantage of learning my manners in a good grammar school or at Ruskin College, Oxford.

Will the right hon. Gentleman, on Saturday, fortified by the result of the vote which we are to take tonight, express to his colleagues, the other Foreign Ministers, the appreciation of the great majority of hon. Members at the substantial concessions which they have made to meet the negotiating requests of the British Government, often at considerable inconvenience and cost to their own countries?

There is no doubt that it was because all our Common Market colleagues felt that our membership was of such value to the Community as a whole that they made concessions. The fact that it is of value to the Community as a whole is no reason why it should not also be valuable to us.

Would we be allowed, under the Treaty of Rome, to differentiate, in terms of the price of oil, between this country and the other members of the EEC?

I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would put down a Question about the price of oil. What is clear, and what I repeat as a general principle, is that there is no question but that we have complete control over these resources and can charge what prices we like. In so far as we enter into an arrangement with the EEC countries to limit that freedom, that is a sovereign decision which we shall take and which no one can force upon us.

If the right hon. Gentleman does meet the other Ministers, will he be able to get an assurance from his partners in the Common Market that if and when a Conservative Government are returned to power in this country they will retain the sovereignty to abolish value added tax?

With the help of the hon. Gentleman, I hope that it will be a long time before that fate overtakes the British people. As for value added tax, it is clear that no harmonisation of this tax is likely, and that we should not be required to tax essential and basic foodstuffs. This is an important issue for us.

My right hon. Friend said that he is meeting the Foreign Ministers next weekend. Will he confirm that there is a meeting of EEC Foreign Ministers in Ireland in the not-too-distant future? If so, will he tell us something about this series of meetings?

My hon. Friend must have misunderstood me. The meeting in Ireland is next Saturday; that is when we are meeting.

When, in October 1972, the Queen's signature was affixed to the European Communities Bill and the Great Seal was also affixed, had not these other Foreign Secretaries the right, at that time, to think that the nation's word was then pledged and the matter settled?

It was made clear right at the start that for the Labour Party—the then Opposition—the issue was not closed, and that we would leave it to the British people to take the final decision. That was all argued out in the House, and I see no value in going back over that ground again. That was made quite clear, and the British people will take their own decision very shortly.