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Foreign Ministers

Volume 892: debated on Wednesday 21 May 1975

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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?