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European Community

Volume 892: debated on Wednesday 21 May 1975

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Foreign Ministers


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement about his latest discussions with the Foreign Ministers of the EEC countries.

I met three of my EEC colleagues yesterday at the Ministerial Meeting of the Western European Union but the last Council of Ministers Meeting I attended was on 14th-15th April. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State attended a meeting of the Council of Ministers on 5th May.

As Foreign Office Ministers have no doubt been following with interest the debate about British membership that is now going on in this country, will the Foreign Secretary say what his view is on the debate that is taking place on the trade deficiency which we have with the EEC? Does the right hon. Gentleman recall telling the House, in answer to a Question from me in December, that he believes that membership of the EEC has not made much difference to our trading balance with the Community one way or the other? Is that still his opinion?

I was very relieved to see my opinion confirmed almost in terms this morning by the report of the National Institute of Economic Research, which is an independent-minded body. It is always a little comforting to know that one has not gone too far out on a limb. It is still my considered opinion. Taking into account the fact that we have been able to buy food much more cheaply from the EEC during the last year and have therefore moved a number of our food purchases from outside to inside, it was inevitable that the deficit should go up. It has gone up by a large extent but, as I understand it, no more, in terms of proportion, than our deficit has gone up in other parts of the world.

Has my right hon. Friend noted the growing threats of interference by the EEC in political matters, foreign policy and military matters, with distinct cold war undertones? Secondly, might this not lead to the joint nuclear bombing force advocated by Lord Carrington and the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), which would end our hopes of détente and peace in Europe?

For the life of me I do not see any signs of that. Certainly in the EEC they never discuss these matters. The issues that my hon. Friend refers to are spoken about in the process of what is called political co-operation. As my hon. Friend knows, that is entirely different from the EEC. It comprises a meeting of nine Ministers of the countries that make up the EEC. That is part of the treaty. My hon. Friend may be a little scornful, but I remember the occasion when Sir Alec Douglas-Home had to fly from Paris to Copenhagen because the French refused to allow a discussion on political co-operation to take place physically at the same place as the discussion of the EEC. I must say to my hon. Friend that I see no atmosphere among my Foreign Minister colleagues to suggest that they are trying to create a return to the cold war. Indeed, I would say that the situation is rather the reverse.

While recognising that the Belgian Prime Minister is undertaking a survey, may I ask whether it would not be true to say that the Government must now have some ideas of what they mean by political union? Will the Foreign Secretary give us just a peep behind that curtain and tell us what the Government are thinking, and also tell us whether his Conservative allies, who agree with him about the Common Market, share the same view of political union?

I am glad to say that I am responsible only for the Government and not for anyone else. If the hon. Gentleman re-reads my speech of 19th December 1974, he will find not only that the curtain was raised a little but that the whole scenario was completely exposed. I think that after 5th June we shall have some very interesting discussions on that. I do not expect my view to change on 5th June from what it is now.

During his visits to the EEC countries has my right hon. Friend observed that countless millions of trade unionists and Socialists have found the EEC an instrument of peace and prosperity? Has he also observed that not one meaningful, responsible Socialist, trade unionist or Communist in the original Six countries is advocating withdrawal of his country from the EEC?

I have noticed that. I have also noticed that Sir Christopher Soames says that it will be the last refuge and bastion of capitalism, while "Communists For Europe" in this country says that it is the only way to build Socialism. The synthesis of these two views brings me back to the view that I have always held, namely, that we should be able to make of the EEC anything that the Governments in the EEC want to make of it.

While accepting that primary responsibility for achieving an acceptable settlement in the Middle East lies inevitably with the United States and the Soviet Union, may I ask whether the Foreign Secretary agrees that Europe has a very important contribution to make, and that such a contribution is expected by countries in that area? Therefore, did he discuss this matter with his colleagues when he met them recently?

Yes, Sir. The question of the Middle East is one that constantly comes up in terms of political co-operation, but not in the Community discussions. We have had a number of talks about the ways in which the countries of Europe could be of assistance as regards a settlement in the Middle East, but I have no details that I can give the hon. Gentleman this afternoon.


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

My right hon. Friend will meet the Foreign Ministers of EEC countries at meetings of the International Energy Agency Governing Board and of the OECD Council of Ministers in Paris on 27th and 28th May, respectively. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State will also be meeting them at a ministerial meeting on political co-operation in Dublin on 26th May.

I thank the Minister for that comprehensive answer. Will he seek to have placed on the agenda the matter of a common EEC policy towards the Middle Eastern oil-producing States, in view of the recent statements by the Government of Iran covering price increases, especially in view of certain muttered threats by the United States in regard to military intervention?

I do not want to comment on the words used by the hon. Gentleman, but the subject which he raised will be taken up in the International Energy Governing Board meeting.

Will my hon. Friend say whether it remains the Government's view that the proceedings of these ministerial meetings should be kept secret? This will have a considerable impact on the views of people about our future conduct within the Common Market.

As my hon. Friend knows, there are many ministerial meetings not only in the EEC but at other levels and in other forums. It is not the usual practice to give a detailed and full verbatim record of these discussions. But in regard to discussions within the EEC and elsewhere, my right hon. Friend is always willing to answer questions in this House, in correspondence, and in discussions. I believe that a great deal of information is made available to the House on discussions which take place.

When next he meets his colleagues will the Foreign Secretary give an assurance that they will have consultations on the recent discussions which Sir Christopher Soames has had with China, Mexico, Canada and other countries? Will her further assure the House that he will give Government support to strengthening those ties?

I am certain that my right hon. Friend and the Minister of State, who have taken part in the discussions, will note the point raised by the hon. Gentleman. The agenda for the meeting on 26th May has not yet been decided but it gives an opportunity for Ministers from each of the Nine to raise any subjects they wish which are of importance to the whole of the Community.

Will the Minister make a point of discussing with other Ministers the problem of migrant workers within the Common Market, particularly those from non-Market countries, who often have to work for very low wages and suffer deplorable housing and other social conditions? Do not these despicable practices prove that the Common Market is based on international exploitation rather than on international co-operation?

On the general conditions of the workers in the Community, most hon. Members will recognise that in some countries there are considerably higher standards of wages, conditions and benefits than exist in this country. That is a factor to be recognised. However, we must be careful about seeking to interfere in the internal affairs and sovereignty of other Community countries.

When the Foreign Sectary next meets his EEC colleagues, does he plan to raise with them the alleged loss of 500,000 British jobs as a result of two years of British membership of the EEC—or do the Government not accept the figure put forward by the Secretary of State for Industry?

The hon. Gentleman knows that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made a statement on this matter in answer to questions raised.

In regard to the Minister's reply to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley), did the Minister say that Her Majesty's Government are considering how they can best disclose the proceedings in the Council of Ministers?

European Assembly


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will now make an announcement of policy about direct elections to the European Assembly.


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement of Her Majesty's Government's policy towards direct elections to the European Assembly.

I refer the hon. Members to the reply which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister gave to the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) on 18th March.—[Vol. 888, c. 1477–8.]

Do the Labour Party and the Labour Government agree with the resolution passed at the Common Market Assembly on 10th January, which referred to the integration of the countries in the Common Market and to direct elections to what will be called the European Parliament? Do the Labour Party and the Labour Government agree with direct elections? If so, may we know about this before the referendum, as it is a very important point?

The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that the Prime Minister reserved the British Government's position on the occasion of the communiqué. The issue which we have to decide, and which the country will decide on 5th June, is whether we shall be in or out. If the decision is, as I believe it will be overwhelmingly, that Britain should stay in, I think that we shall all have to consider what sort of future we want to see for the European Assembly. However, all these decisions will depend on the decisions of hon. Members. The first decision will be taken by the people in the referendum.

Does my right hon. Friend realise that many of his hon. Friends very much favour the concept of a directly-elected European Parliament as a means of putting into the EEC the kind of democratic element that we, as pro-Europeans, realise is not there at the moment? Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that if, as he thinks and I think, the result is an overwhelming "Yes" on 5th June, the Government will work to expedite the provisions of a directly-elected European Parliament?

No, I do not want to give that assurance. I believe that when the decision of the referendum is known, and if it should be, as I believe it will be, that Britain should stay within the EEC, we shall find within all parties a good deal of disagreement about what change, if any, should be made in the pattern of the European Parliament. There are hon. Members on both sides of the House who believe in democratic election. There are others who think that it would be better to leave the system as it is now. I think that the time for resolving those differences is after the referendum.

Is it not the case that direct elections depend wholly on the assumption that there will be a substantial increase in the supranational legislative powers of a European Parliament? If it is to retain its present powers, does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that there is no case for changing the basis of the election of members? Is it not grossly unsatisfactory for the Government simply to reserve their position on this vitally important matter? Is the right hon. Gentleman suggesting that the British people, too, can reserve their position on this matter on 5th June?

It would be absurd for the British Government to take decisions or to indicate a conclusion about issues such as these before the British people have decided whether we stay in the EEC. After the decision has been taken by the British people, that will be the time for hon. Members to make any determination on the question whether there should be any changes in the European Parliament.

Will the Minister say why the Government are being so secretive? The other Minister of State at the Department said that the questionnaire on political union would be answered but that the Government would not publish the answer. What is the reason for the secrecy? Is the Minister frightened of letting people know whether the Labour Government favour direct elections, or a two-Chamber legislature? Why the secrecy?

My hon. Friend wants to have it both ways. He wants us to take a position which we have not taken, so that he can attack that position. The Government have not taken that view. They have not reached a conclusion—[Interruption.] I do not think my hon. Friends want us to reach a conclusion until the British people have spoken. My hon. Friend and many others who take his view about the Common Market will wish to be consulted if the decision is taken to remain within the Community.

Is it not the plain and simple fact that under the treaty it is obligatory, at some time, to have direct elections to the European Parliament? Is not the only question, assuming continuity of membership, when?

United Kingdom Membership


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether any representative of any Commonwealth Government at the recent Commonwealth Conference expressed a wish for the United Kingdom to leave the EEC.

No, Sir. The Commonwealth Heads of Government unanimously placed on record their firm opinion that Commonwealth interests were in no way prejudiced by Britain's continued membership of the Community.

I congratulate the Foreign Secretary on a spell-binding performance this morning on "Referendum Call". Will he take the opportunity to dissociate himself totally from the reprehensible attempts being made by certain hon. Members to incite Commonwealth leaders into expressions of qualified disapproval of British membership of the Community?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he said. As regards inciting Commonwealth leaders to express their disapproval, my experience is that any such course is totally counter-productive. Because of this factor, a clear statement was made and their interests were not prejudiced.

Is not my right hon. Friend astonished by the amount of attention now paid to the views of Commonwealth leaders, compared with the little regard that we paid to their views before we went into the Market?

It is true that because the then Conservative Government negotiated in haste they did not take into sufficient account the position of New Zealand or of other Commonwealth countries. Because we have now got a satisfactory solution to the situation of New Zealand, the developing countries and the Commonwealth sugar-producing countries, I think that we can claim that this is the result of our renegotiation which, in turn, has led many Commonwealth countries to display an active wish for us to remain full members. They see the advantage to them of our staying in.

Why does the Foreign Secretary spoil it all by talking such nonsense about "our renegotiations"?

I was not trying to please the right hon. Gentleman; I was merely telling the truth. It is a great pity that the Conservative Government did not spend longer in settling some of these questions, for we would not then have needed to embark on some difficult renegotiations.

Parliamentary Questions


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how many Parliamentary Questions on EEC matters have been transferred from the Department to which they were originally addressed in order to comply with the Government's guidelines on official Government policy.

Following the Prime Minister's directive, why has the House continued to receive misleading and evasive answers on EEC matters from the Secretary of State for Industry?

There is nothing misleading in the answers given; it is only in the reception they receive.

Heads Of Government Meeting


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what are the principal matters which will be discussed at the forthcoming meeting of Heads of Government of the EEC at Brussels in July.

It is too early so say. A number of possible subjects are under consideration, but the agenda has not yet been agreed.

Despite that answer, in view of some of the odd things which are being said by some of the Foreign Secretary's colleagues, will he confirm that there is no question of the Government's being obliged to accept any scheme of Community action or integration which has not previously been fully discussed and accepted by this country?

I am willing to repeat that assurance, although sometimes it falls on deaf ears. There is no doubt that the degree of integration is dependent on the votes of the Nine member countries acting unanimously. One vote can block any advance in that direction.

Does my right hon. Friend realise that the only way in which that will work properly is for the British people and the House to be aware of the draft proposals? Is he aware that even the head office of Her Majesty's Stationery Office does not have copies of the draft EEC instruments, and that even the EEC office in London does not have them available for the general public? In that case, how does he think that either the House or the public will be able to understand the draft documents which must be discussed by the Council?

I do not accept anything that my hon. Friend said. This House now has more opportunity of debating proposals made by the Commission than it has ever had. The process of consultation is complete. Indeed, many more statutory instruments issued by the Commission are discussed in this House than those issued by the Government. I do not object to that. It is right that Parliament should take a continuing interest in the matter. I hope that that will continue, and that the procedures will be improved. However, it should not be allowed to be believed that it is impossible to discover what the Commission or the Council of Ministers is doing, or that it is impossible to debate those matters before decisions are taken. I have taken the most stringent precautions to ensure that that is not so.

I welcome what the Foreign Secretary said on this and the preceding Question, but does he recognise that the House is in some difficulty when Ministers in the same Government give different advice on the EEC matter? Can he now say, in terms, for the benefit of hon. Members on both sides, whether Questions about the effect of the Common Market—for example, on unemployment—are now to be addressed to himself as the responsible Minister who negotiated this matter, to the Secretary of State for Industry, who said one thing, to the Prime Minister, who said something different, or to the Chief Whip, who said that the Secretary of State for Industry was not telling the complete truth? To whom should these Questions be directed? The House is in some difficulty when different Front Bench Members say different things about this important matter.

I did not think that the Opposition were in any difficulty. I thought that they were rather enjoying it.

The hon. Gentleman will probably recognise that Questions put down today will be answered after 5th June, when, as a result of the resounding "Yes" that I believe is likely to be given, we shall have a united, harmonious, active and determined Government, which will sweep all before them.