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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 889: debated on Wednesday 9 April 1975

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Foreign And Commonwealth Affairs

Efta Countries (Foreign Ministers)


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he has any plans to meet the Foreign Ministers of EFTA countries.


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will arrange to meet the Foreign Ministers of the EFTA countries.


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what plans he has to meet the Foreign Ministers of the European Free Trade Area.

I met the then Foreign Minister for Portugal on 6th and 7th February and I hope to meet his successor and the Foreign Minister for Norway at a meeting of the NATO countries on 29th-30th May. I have at present no plans to meet the others.

From the soundings which the Foreign Secretary doubtless has already undertaken among Free Trade Area Ministers, has he any reason to suppose that if Britain were to leave the Common Market the EFTA countries would not continue to support the concept of industrial free trade between EFTA countries and Britain and the EEC?

I have not taken soundings on this matter because I have been trying to make a success of renegotiations. Therefore, my opinion can be only hypothetical. I assume that the EFTA countries would welcome the continuation of the partnership which we have had for many years. We can always solve some difficulties at the expense of creating greater ones.

Since the case for the United Kingdom's staying in the Common Market must rest almost exclusively on the inability to obtain an agreeable free trade area and since The Times and the Economist now take the view that a free trade area would be reasonably possible if we were to leave the Community, does the Foreign Secretary not agree with his right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, who made the same sort of remark on television some weeks ago?

I remember nothing about that.

Unfortunately, since my right hon. Friend the Minister of State says that he cannot remember the remark he made, I am in no position to say whether I agree with him. Basically, I do not see that it would be of any great advantage to the United Kingdom to exchange a partnership of 200 million people for a partnership of 40 million people.

Is it not unlikely that if we were to leave the EEC the EFTA countries would be anxious to extend to us treaty facilities, remembering that we would have just broken other treaty facilities? Is it not wise to remember that the preponderance of our trade is with Europe and that a greater partnership with EFTA is in no way a substitute for the EEC? Are not my hon. Friends chasing a will-o'-the-wisp?

I do not wish to intervene in any quarrels in the Conservative Party—I have plenty of my own—but certainly I do not regard EFTA as an alternative to the EEC, and never have done.

Does my right hon. Friend not agree that instead of his speaking about partnerships of 200 million or 40 million people, Europe would be better served if this country's policy were aimed at uniting everybody, and if we were to act as a catalyst in that respect?

I think it would be a good idea, but if we were to come out of the Community it would not help us to achieve that aim.

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that when EFTA countries trade with the Community they have to observe its directives and regulations?

In a great many cases that is so. I am sorry that there were not more hon. Members present in the House last night to hear my right hon. Friend the Paymaster-General talk about the trade agreement made between Sweden and the EEC. Under that agreement Sweden has had to accept, as part of the conditions, Articles 90 to 92 of the Treaty of Rome—provisions which cause so much difficulty to a number of hon. Members, but not to me personally. In those circumstances, in the argument which we shall be conducting in the country we should beware of believing that we can escape from the policies of the EEC by contracting out. Its influence is broader than that.


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the prospects for a constitutional settlement in Rhodesia.


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what further action he has taken to end the illegal régime in Rhodesia.

Following the arrest of the Rev. Sithole, talks between the ANC and Mr. Smith were broken off. Now that Mr. Sithole has been released to attend the OAU meeting in Dar es Salaam we hope that an early and constructive resumption of talks may be possible. We remain in close touch with the governments of neighbouring African countries and will continue to support their efforts to promote a just and peaceful solution.

What significance does the Secretary of State attach to the more moderate statement by Mr. Smith at the weekend? Will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that in spite of his preoccupation with Europe he will seize any opportunity that may arise for a British initiative over Rhodesia to reinforce the helpful influences now being exerted by Zambia and South Africa?

I do not think that it would be helpful for me to comment on or attempt to interpret Mr. Smith's speeches. I think that they must stand for themselves. His actions will count for more.

As for our own position in this matter, I have strengthened our representation in the Southern African countries and have strengthened communications between us. Although I am not wholly up to date about what took place at the OAU meeting yesterday, although I have received one message about it, nevertheless I think that relations between the African countries and ourselves are sufficiently close for our politicians to converge as much as is possible. I hope to carry that process further at the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' conference in Jamaica at the end of the month.

Has my right hon. Friend seen the statement made at the OAU by the Zambian Foreign Minister to the effect that he understands that South Africa intends to withdraw its forces from Rhodesia? It would seem that Rhodesia cannot continue for very much longer as an illegal régime now that Mozambique and Angola have also cut their connections with that country.

Yes, I have seen what Mr. Mwaanga said. The Prime Minister of South Africa told me that when hostilities ceased in Rhodesia he would withdraw his troops. At the moment I have no confirmation of the statement made by Mr. Mwaanga. No doubt other statements will be made in due course. As to the survival of the Rhodesian régime, I am concerned—as I know my hon. Friend is—to ensure that that country, which is bound sooner or later, and I hope sooner, to have a majority of Africans in its Government, shall achieve that peaceably so that Europeans and Africans may continue to live there together.

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that this country must still have a tremendous responsibility for the Europeans and British communities in Rhodesia? They will look to us in the last resort to safeguard their lives and their future.

I think that safeguarding the lives of the Europeans in Rhodesia will depend as much on the wisdom and magnaminity which they show during the current negotiations as upon any armed force that we could put at their disposal.

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman did not mean that. It is my belief —as I think it is of hon. Members on both sides—that the minority population in Rhodesia should be enabled to live there. I think that a lot will depend upon the way in which they handle their own affairs during the next few months.

Are not there now welcome signs that the Government of South Africa are bringing effective pressure to bear on the Smith régime to take a more reasonable attitude? Will my right hon. Friend do everything in his power to encourage the South African Government to understand that the achievement of a just settlement in Rhodesia is very much in the interests of South Africa, not only in terms of its relations with other Black African countries but in terms of securing the support of countries in Europe and elsewhere?

It is true that Mr. Vorster is anxious to see a settlement of the Rhodesian problem. He would not accept that he was intervening in the affairs of Rhodesia. He has consistently denied that. However, the weight of opinion of that neighbour of Rhodesia must have a considerable impact on Rhodesian policies.


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he will pay an official visit to Moscow.

My right hon. Friend recently paid an official visit to the Soviet Union with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. At present he has no plans to return.

If my right hon. Friend or any other Minister has the opportunity to visit Moscow, will he please inform Mr. Shelepin that his allegation to the effect that those who demonstrated against his visit were professional agitators, paid £5 a day, was a disgusting lie? Will he also inform his host that many hon. Members on both sides of the House care deeply about the KGB's current persecution of dissident minorities of all kinds, not least the two trade unionists sentenced to five years' exile, Professor Mark Azbel, who is not allowed back to Moscow, and the Slepak family, which went on hunger strike on Sunday after waiting five years for an exit visa?

My hon. and learned Friend has made his point. It will be reflected in Moscow before any of my right hon. Friends visits the USSR.

Even though the right hon. Gentleman has no plans to visit Moscow, will he none the less send a message to the Soviet authorities calling their attention to the increasingly alarming and growing reports of atrocities perpetrated by the North Vietnamese forces in their invasion of additional territory in the southern Republic, with a view to persuading the Soviet authorities and other countries, including our allies, to work in a concerted fashion, to check the reports, and, if they are true, to try to put an end to the situation forthwith?

That is another question. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to ask it, he must put it down.

If my right hon. Friend visits Moscow, or if he is able to convey a message, will he make it clear that although some Government supporters are concerned about the problem of political prisoners in the Soviet Union they are also genuinely concerned about political prisoners on our own doorstep —namely, the Shrewsbury Two—and many other people charged and brought to trial in this country because they do not agree with the present political philosophy and suffer as a result of it?

My hon. Friend knows that he and I disagree about the Shrewsbury Two, as he calls them. However, I welcome his initial comments, in which he referred to the unacceptability, to him and to other Social Democrats, of the existence of political prisoners in the Soviet Union. It is important that all sections of the Labour Party should make that point as often as possible.

Reverting to the question asked by the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner), will the Minister ask his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs to summon the Soviet Ambassador and make it plain that we deplore the Communist-sponsored aggression in South Vietnam, and that the United Kingdom stands four-square by the moral obligations of the Paris agreement and expects other nations to do the same?

We attach a great deal of importance to the Paris agreement. However, I think that is a different matter from summoning the Soviet Ambassador. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to ask about Government initiatives, he must put down a Question.

Middle East

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he will make a statement on his recent discussions with Dr. Kissinger on the Middle East.

I would refer my hon. Friend to my full statement in the debate on foreign affairs on 25th March.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that Dr. Kissinger has not ruled out a possible resumption of the step-by-step approach which he has already used? Will he also state whether Dr. Kissinger confirmed to him that Israel, at any rate, was standing by either for a resumption of step-by-step negotiations, or to go to Geneva?

My conversations with Dr. Kissinger are confidential, but I understand that United States policy does not rule out either a resumption of what are called step-by-step negotiations, or a return to Geneva, depending on what seems to be the most likely way forward. At the time I met Dr. Kissinger he was naturally dispirited as a result of his most recent efforts. Nevertheless, I think that if there were an opportunity of bringing the parties together without returning to Geneva, and if that seemed to be the best course, it should be taken. If not, a return to Geneva should be the next step.

Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that, apart from the countries in the Middle East, no one would be more affected by a further outbreak of war than ourselves, and no country's economy is more vulnerable to tension in the area than is ours? Therefore, in the light of Dr. Kissinger's unfortunate failure, ought not the right hon. Gentleman to go to the Middle East to see whether this country, alone or in unison with our Community partners, can bring the parties together and take some form of initiative which might bring about a further step towards a settlement?

Of course, we are not uniquely affected by any development of tension in the Middle East, but our interests are affected substantially, as are those of others. However, I would rule out any prospect of the United Kingdom acting alone in this matter. That would seem to be to repeat the follies of 20 or 30 years ago, from which I hope we have learned lessons. There is a prospect of other nations apart from the United States and the USSR taking an interest in these matters, because we are all concerned, but this must be the subject of general agreement, and I do not know of any general agreement to that effect yet.

Did the right hon. Gentleman's discussions include a mention of Dr. Kissinger's statement, as endorsed by President Ford, that he would not rule out the possible use of force by his Government in the Middle East? If that matter were discussed, did the Foreign Secretary associate himself with it or dissociate himself from it, as a Minister in Her Majesty's Government?

That statement, which was made many weeks ago, has been overtaken by explanations and events on a number of occasions. I see no useful contribution to the cause of peace in the Middle East in resurrecting it now.

We do not underrate the efforts of Dr. Kissinger recently, even though they produced no concrete results, but does my right hon. Friend agree that time is slipping away and that if we wish to take advantage of the climate for peaceful negotiation it is urgent that the Geneva Conference be reconvened in the very near future?

I agree that time is slipping away. We should not lose sight of the fact that President Sadat said that the United Nations mandate would be renewed for a period of only three months instead of the normal six months. I believe that we should draw lessons from that, because in my view President Sadat is a man of his word in these matters and there is considerable significance in what he has said. I promise my hon. Friend that we shall lose no opportunity of taking any initiative in this matter. I hope that this may be one issue that I shall discuss with the other Community Foreign Ministers when I meet them in Dublin at the weekend, although the agenda is clearly a matter for common agreement between us.

My hon. Friend the Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Tugendhat) referred not only to a British initiative but to a European one. If at any time the Foreign Secretary thought that a visit to the Middle East by himself might contribute to the possibility of a useful European initiative, would he keep his mind open on this possibility?

I have considered this matter and discussed it with some of our allies. At the moment, however, I do not think that there is anything that I can usefully do. If I thought that there was, I would undoubtedly go.

European Security And Co-Operation

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the latest progress of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe.

Substantial progress has been made at the conference. A number of important points remain to be settled, but there have recently been signs that some of these, especially in the Declaration of Principles and on military confidence-building measures, may be on the way to a solution.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that reply. Will he confirm, none the less, that Her Majesty's Government are not yet satisfied, first, with the guarantees offered by the Soviet Union with regard to confidence-building measures and, secondly, with those concerning the freer flow of people and information across frontiers? Will the right hon. Gentleman undertake to see that there is no further erosion of the Western position on these matters, and make clear to Mr. Brezhnev that he will not get his summer summit meeting unless the Soviet Union makes some concessions on these matters?

I know of the hon Gentleman's interest in these matters. However, I do not believe that that kind of approach will get us very far. There is a process of negotiation going on at present. Each side is putting forward its own proposals. We are working closer to agreement. I hope that we shall get it, because my belief and that of most people who study these matters is that the signing of an agreement by 33 European nations, even though not having as much political content as we might like, would be an historic moment in the history of Europe. For that reason, I believe that we should work for that. Therefore, I do not rule out a summit conference; indeed, in the reverse way, I am trying to achieve one.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the approach which has been suggested by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) seems to indicate that he and some of his right hon. and hon. Friends are not really concerned about achieving genuine disarmament in Europe? In those circumstances, is not it time that the Opposition made it clear that they are serious about taking the steps which they say are necessary on a multilateral basis if they believe that disarmament should take place?

It is not for me to judge the motives of the Opposition, but there is clearly a problem here between achieving a genuine move to détente and a mere propaganda move. I want to see sufficient meat in the agreement—without getting everything that we want—to ensure that it represents something which people in Europe, including people in Eastern Europe, will consider to be an advance over anything that they have seen before, signed by their own Governments and politicians.

Although I go a long way with what the right hon. Gentleman has just said about the interests of people in Eastern Europe outside the Soviet Union, is it not evident that the main reason why the Soviet Union wants a meeting of this conference at summit level is to secure a propaganda victory by putting the seal on achievements since the war in gaining control over peoples and territories? Therefore, in consultation with our Western allies, will the right hon. Gentleman make it clear to the Soviet Union that a meeting at summit level is not essential and that our needs must be met?

I am being asked to comment on the motives of a great many people today. Again, I must disclaim knowledge of the Soviet Union's motives. I do not mind conceding propaganda victories to anyone, if they are peaceful and if they carry the confidence of the people of Europe further forward. That is the task to which we have to bend ourselves As regards not ending this conference with a summit meeting, that must depend on the nature of the final agreement. But I should be deeply disappointed if it did not end with a meeting of Heads of Governments, as it began.

May I associate the Opposition with the view of the Foreign Secretary that these are important negotiations? We wish them well. However, will he now tell the House that he will make it his business to keep us better informed about the progress of negotiations than has been the case to date?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. As regards keeping the House informed, the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) has prompted me consistently to answer Questions, and I am always glad to do so, but the Opposition have been extremely lax in the way that they have failed to ask for foreign affairs debates. I have had literally to force myself upon the House in order to explain my views. I am always willing to keep the House informed on these matters.


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what progress is being made in negotiating with the Turkish Government for compensation for the British owners of land in Cyprus now under Turkish control.

We continue to press for a positive response from the Government of Turkey to the repeated representations made by Her Majesty's Ambassador at Ankara about the establishment of compensation procedures.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that reply. Will he pay special attention to the plight of those British citizens whose land in Cyprus has been seized by the Turks and who, because they happen to have been born in Cyprus, may have unwittingly acquired dual British-Cypriot nationality? Will he assure that representations are made by Her Majesty's Government on their behalf to the Turkish Government?

We are conscious of these problems, particularly the one referred to by my hon. Friend. We continue to make representations from time to time, varying in strength and in our attitude according to the depth of suffering. My hon. Friend referred to a group of people who are suffering particularly. I promise that we shall continue to do what we can, but my hon. Friend must understand that in the Cyprus situation our powers are limited. However, we shall continue to press as far and as fast as we can.

On the question of representations to the Turkish Government, is it not a fact that they are now suggesting that such representations should be made to the Federal Turkish authorities in Cyprus? Does the Minister accept that this is a foolish and unworthy distinction? Will he tell the House whether he is in fact negotiating these matters with the Turkish Government at home or with the Turkish authorities in Cyprus? Indeed, was not most or much of the damage caused by Turkish troops under Turkish command?

I do not wish to comment on the hon. Gentleman's definition of foolish and unworthy distinctions. I should like to make it clear that we expressed our position in this House on the day that the so-called federated State of Cyprus was declared. Our position is that the legitimate government of Cyprus has not altered because of the unilateral declaration. Notwithstanding that, we have special obligations, in practice as well as in principle, to British citizens who are suffering in Cyprus at the moment. Because of that, we thought it right to make representations both to the Turkish Government in Ankara and to the local authorities in Cyprus. I am sure that we are right to continue to do that.

Strategic Arms Limitation Talks

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on whether Her Majesty's Government consider Great Britain bound by the ceilings on strategic arms negotiated by the United States Government at the recent Strategic Arms Limitation Talks.

These are bilateral agreements between the United States and the Soviet Union. We welcome them, but since they concern only United States and Soviet strategic arms they are not applicable to the United Kingdom.

Will my right hon. Friend comment on the known Russian view that the ceilings agreed for the American side include the strategic weapons possessed by Britain? If we are not a party to and are in no way bound by the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, may I ask what my right hon. Friend proposes to say when he goes to Geneva next month for the review conference on the non-proliferation treaty, when he will be asked what Britain has done to carry out its obligations under Article 6 to proceed towards nuclear disarmament?

It is true that the Soviet Union claims that there should be a general ceiling and that the United States has repudiated that view. Certainly, if my opinion were sought I should support the United States on this matter. There cannot be an asymmetrical arrangements of that kind, especially when we are not consulted.

Regarding the discussions in Geneva to which my right hon. Friend the Minister of State will be going, I do not accept that we are in breach of our obligations under Article 6 of the nonproliferation treaty. We participate in a number of international bodies of that kind. I am sure that my hon. Friend has noted that in a special declaration during the Moscow visit we reached agreement with the Soviet Union to hold consultations on the problems of arms limitation and disarmament. We intend to carry that out.

If we were to be bound by these talks, would not that be an infringement of parliamentary sovereignty?

It is astonishing how the Common Market crops up in the most innocent of conversations. Yes, I suppose it would be an infringement of parliamentary sovereignty, but if right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite will kindly listen they will probably hear me define what I think sovereignty is at about half-past nine tonight.


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what proposals Her Majesty's Government intend to make in the Security Council to bring further pressure to bear on South Africa to withdraw from her unlawful ocupation of Namibia.

We supported the resolution passed by the Security Council on 17th December 1974 and look to the South African Government to respond positively.

As the South African Government are unlikely to respond positively, and as the Security Council's warning to the South African Government runs out on 31st May, will my right hon. Friend and his colleagues who normally answer on African matters bend their minds a little more thoroughly to this question, since it is abundantly clear that the OAU intends to go on campaigning for the destruction of raciliasm in Namibia and South Africa itself?

It is too early to say whether there will be a reaction from South Africa before the Security Council is convened again. Our hope is that pressures upon South Africa from ourselves and other countries, as well as from the Security Council, to the effect that South Africa's position in Namibia is unlawful and that she should withdraw, will be accepted by South Africa.

Will the right hon. Gentleman invite some of his hon. Friends to dust down their consciences? If there were such a thing as an hierarchy of unlawful occupations, would not South Africa's occupation of South-West Africa, or Namibia, be right at the bottom of the list and the illegal occupation of South Vietnam right at the top?

I am glad that I am not responsible for the consciences of hon. Gentlemen opposite. As for my hon. Friends, I am glad that they have shown a continuing concern for a situation in Southern Africa which has remained illegal, has been declared by the International Court of Justice to be illegal, and in our view is unlawful. It would be wrong to forget the situation there. The people of Namibia have a right to determine their own future. We, as part of the international community, have a right to stand up for them.



asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if British relations with Portugal have been affected by the recent abortive coup and if he will make a statement.

Britain's good relations with Portugal have not been affected by the attempted coup of 11th March. It is our hope that the changes taking place in Portugal and the results of the forthcoming elections for a constituent assembly will promote the cause of democracy, so that our relations can be strengthened.

The Portuguese authorities have reaffirmed their adherence to their international commitments, of which NATO is one.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the abortive Portuguese coup demonstrated the existence of a threat to democracy from the Right which has not been a feature of the carefully orchestrated campaign backed particularly by hon. Gentlemen opposite regard- ing the present situation in Portugal? Will he make it clear that the British Government would be utterly and completely opposed to any steps taken from any quarter which would overturn the present Portuguese régime from the Right and lead to the situation which came about in Chile following the coup against the Allende Government there?

It is my hope that the changes taking place in Portugal will strengthen the cause of democracy and neither the Right nor the Left in its extreme form. Indeed, I understand that one Right-wing and two Left-wing parties have been banned from taking part in the elections. I hope that there remains a broad spectrum of parties which will offer the Portuguese people the opportunity to express a wide range of opinions through the ballot box. As I have said on other occasions, I hope that the armed forces movement will hold the ring so that these elections can take place in a peaceful and orderly way.

Does the Foreign Secretary accept that, despite all that has been said, the main threat to democracy in Portugal comes from the extreme Left? If we can equate the armed forces movement in Portugal with democracy, it is a surprising state of affairs indeed.

I do not think that we can equate the armed forces movement with democracy, but I do not believe that anybody has ever tried to do so. Portugal has emerged from 48 years of dictatorship. In a country where I have seen and had personal knowledge of and contact with the leaders of those who do not have that democratic tradition and background, the struggle towards democracy is difficult. That is why we should be slow to condemn. It is for the Portuguese people to choose their own régime. All I ask is that they choose it in free and orderly elections.


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he will make a statement about the safety of British subjects, interests and property in Portugal and its overseas territories.

We have no reports of any threat to the safety of British subjects in Portugal, Mozambique or Angola. We shall watch the situation with care.

When a British journalist was seriously molested in Lisbon, was appropriate action taken by Her Majesty's embassy? Have the Government obtained assurances from the new rulers of the Cape Verde Islands that specific British facilities there will be safeguarded?

The second question is clearly unrelated to the Question put down by the hon. Gentleman. If he wants information about facilities, he must table a Question.

Concerning the journalist molestation, as the hon. Gentleman described it, certainly inquiries were made and a point was made. But I suspect that both the hon. Gentleman and I have different interpretations of what then took place.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May we be told the name of the journalist concerned in this matter?

Reverting to the right hon. Gentleman's answer, I should point out that my hon. Friend's question referred to

"the safety of British subjects, interests and property".
Surely that covers the Cape Verde Islands. Will he now answer my hon. Friend's Question?

I think that the right hon. Gentleman is being a little unnecessarily casual in his reply. My hon. Friend's original Question quite plainly asked for a statement about the safety of British subjects and "interests" in Portugal and its "overseas territories". We have interests in the Cape Verde Islands, and although it may have escaped the right hon. Gentleman's attention, the Cape Verde Islands happen to be among the possessions of Portugal. So will he kindly answer the question or tell the House that either he or his civil servants have come here unprepared?

I shall answer the Question if I am given notice of it, and only then.

European Community



asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will pay an official visit to Brussels.

I hope to visit Brussels for an EEC Council of Ministers meeting in May.

Does the Secretary of State agree that if the referendum is to be meaningful the British people must be presented with some form of positive alternative by the Government? As we have already negotiated ourselves into and out of EFTA and into the EEC and would have to negotiate ourselves out of the EEC again if that were the decision of the referendum, is it not becoming clear that the only European group to which the Government will not have applied to join will soon be Comecon?

I do not know—I had not thought of it, but it is a new idea. I am grateful to the hon. Member, after his experiences of China, for putting the idea into my head. As to the present position, it will I think be in our best interests if at the moment we take the basic decision whether we shall remain in the Community, as in my judgment it is in the best interests of Britain that we should.

If the referendum of the people of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland says that we should remain in the Common Market, what arrangements will the right hon. Gentleman make for the future Scottish legislative assembly to be represented directly in Brussels?

I should like notice of that question. The original Question was a simple one, asking whether I would pay an official visit. I should not like to give an answer which might be offensive to the hon. Gentleman without at least having thought about it first.

Foreign Ministers


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.

Council Of Ministers


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.



asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether, during the EEC negotiations, the representatives of any other member States raised with him problems connected with their loss of sovereignty.

Does this not prove that the practical experience of those members of the Community who have been within it for 17 years is that their sovereignty has been in no way reduced but, indeed, has been added to?

That is certainly my view. If one examines the position of the Government of France or Germany, one finds that it seems inconceivable that they may judge or suspect that they have lost any of their proper national rights through membership of the EEC.

Will my right hon. Friend try to explain to which category of pro-Marketeers he belongs—those who say that they genuinely want an integrated united Europe, or those who say "We want to go into the formalities but we really believe that we shall retain all of our national interests and do as we like"?

The reality of the matter is rather more important than the reality of my position. But if my hon. Friend wants to know, my position is this: I believe that the hopes I have for the future of Great Britain—hopes which are very much related to my views on social democracy and the party which my hon. Friend and I serve—are more likely to be realised within the EEC than outside it. That is my position.

Will the Minister of State now answer the question which the Foreign Secretary could not answer? If we stay in the Community and a future Conservative Government—hypothetical as the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary might think that to be—wished to abolish VAT, would they have the sovereignty to do so and, if they did so, what would happen within the Common Market?

It is utterly inconceivable that I could answer any question which the Foreign Secretary failed to answer. All that I can do is to repeat the answer that he gave—that in or out of the Community the right of a Labour Government or a Conservative Government to operate VAT according to their choice—[HON. MEMBERS: "Abolish it."] —including zero rating, which some of us regard practically as the equivalent of abolition, is absolutely clear.

When my right hon. Friend is being pressed for the abolition of VAT, will he bear in mind that many of us in the House and many people in this country would deeply resent the reimposition of purchase tax and a higher rate of income tax, which would flow from any abolition of VAT?