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European Community

Volume 894: debated on Wednesday 25 June 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what arrangements he has made for the supply of information to the public on EEC matters following the referendum result.

The special arrangements made during the referendum campaign have been terminated, but the arrangements which existed previously will of course continue.

Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that there is now likely to be a growing public demand for information on EEC matters—a demand which cannot be properly met by the Commission's own information offices? Does he accept that there is therefore a responsibility on the Government to provide more authoritative information on the Community's aims and objectives, particularly within the Council of Ministers? To that end, would it not be helpful if Ministers made more frequent statements to the House on what they are doing, have done or are proposing to do, within the Council?

There is a very comprehensive system of statements, debates. White Papers and other matters which has been agreed by the House as a result of a previous report and which the Leader of the House announced some months ago as part of our intention of making sure that the House is informed about Community matters. I shall be making such a statement later this afternoon. I think that the way the country has to be informed on progress in the EEC is through debates, questions and procedures in this House, and I am sure that we have given adequate opportunity for those debates and other procedures to be carried out.

Will the right hon. Gentleman undertake to publish a White Paper to explain to the people of Scotland the full implications of EEC membership? Will he refer particularly to the future of the steel, fishing and agriculture industries and of the Scottish Assembly and the Scottish Development Agency? Will he confirm or deny the validity of guarantees given to the people of Scotland on these issues by the pro-European campaign during the referendum?

I think that the hon. Member is making her speech three weeks late. It would be unchivalrous of me to remind her of the votes in Scotland as a result of the previous speeches that she made. I do not commit the Government to producing a specific White Paper on the subjects she referred to, but the Government are obliged to produce periodic White Papers on progress within the EEC and I have no doubt that these subjects will be touched on there.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the EEC draft proposals should be readily available to the public, particularly through Her Majesty's Stationery Office? Is he aware that the Paymaster-General has already given an assurance to the House that steps are in hand to achieve this end? What progress has been made?

I cannot, offhand, give my hon. Friend new information about draft proposals being available to the public through the usual sources, but no doubt he will recall that they are made available as quickly as possible in the House. I can only reiterate my answer to the first question. The real obligations of parliamentary scrutiny are to make sure that this House is aware of what goes on and to give hon. Members the opportunity of publicising their views on these matters. That we have promised to do.

Foreign Policy


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent progress has been made in working out a common foreign policy for the member States of the EEC.

There is a growing wish among member States of the European Community to use the political co-operation machinery to work for common positions on foreign policy. Member States now regularly discuss international events as they occur. There has been continuing close co-operation on the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe, on the Euro-Arab dialogue, on the problems of the Middle East and Cyprus, and on developments in Portugal, Latin America and Africa.

I thank the Foreign Secretary for that reply. Does he not feel that the foreign policy differences which exist between members of the Community are now differences of emphasis and not of fundamentals? Would it not be possible to go beyond the machinery for co-operation which the right hon. Gentleman has described and make a strenuous effort now to get a concerted policy across the board?

If we were to try to get a concerted policy across the board we should encounter a lot of difficulties. It is better that we should foresee what is likely to happen in these situations and work out common positions, rather than adopt an abstract group of principles from which, when the strain is applied, we should probably depart.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that further co-ordination of foreign policies of member States might have implications for the overseas aid policies of at least some of those nations? Will he confirm that the proposal to give the Foreign Secretary and the Minister of Overseas Development similar powers in respect of these functions has nothing to do with the proposals for the co-ordination of the foreign policies of member States.

I had never thought of that matter until my hon. Friend suggested it. He is quite right in saying that the discussion of the aid programmes and the fact that Britain is the largest member of the Commonwealth and carries with it about 30 other Commonwealth countries into these discussions, is transforming Community debates on aid to the developing countries. Those factors are giving these debates a greater sense of urgency and relevance, and I hope that they will produce more aid.

Will the right hon. Gentleman lay before the House or otherwise publish the evidently important speech that he made yesterday in the Council of Foreign Ministers, of which what appear to be extracts have appeared in the Press?

If that is the wish of the House I shall be delighted to do so. I shall certainly put a copy of the speech in the Library. I do not rate its importance as being above that.

Treaty Of Rome


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make representations that Articles 92 and 93 of the Treaty of Rome should be applied with a high degree of flexibility.

Our objectives on the retention of those powers needed to pursue effective regional and industrial policies were satisfactorily achieved in renegotiation, but I can assure my hon. Friend that we would make representations if they seemed necessary.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that it is frequently the task of a Labour Government to distort competition, contrary to the terms of those Articles? Will he attempt to ensure that the Labour Government are free to apply their policies towards industry without interference by the Commissioners, who, as he knows, are not subject to the right of veto in this respect?

It is important to approach Community policy and the policy of the Labour Party not as matters of semantics but as matters of reality. I have no doubt that a Labour Government would be able to do what they wished within the Treaty of Rome and within the Community.

Will the right hon. Gentleman give a categorical assurance that the EEC will have no control over the constitution, financial powers and autonomy of the Scottish Development Agency?

I think that I can give that assurance, but I am reluctant to give an assurance as total as that on any occasion without suitable notice. If I cannot give such an assurance I shall gladly write to the hon. Member about it, and if I am wrong I have no doubt that he will publish my refutation of my own answer.

European Parliament


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what is the policy of the EEC on direct elections to the European Parliament; and what communications he has had with the Council of Ministers on this subject since the referendum.

At their meeting in December 1974 the EEC Heads of Government noted that the objective laid down in the Treaty of Rome of election by universal suffrage should be achieved as soon as possible. We shall now undertake a thorough study of this matter.

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that now that the referendum is over, the time for prevarication over direct elections to the European Parliament is also over? Does he agree that to have direct elections to the European Parliament in 1978 would be the best way to strengthen the democratic control of the institution? Will the Government hasten to make a decision on the matter, in agreement with what the rest of the Community did in 1974?

I disagree with each of the three points of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question. There has certainly been no prevarication. If we had not taken time over the matter during the renegotiation, it would have been that we had prevaricated but that we had moved with an urgency and speed which were altogether intolerable while the British people were making up their minds as to where our future lay. The hon. Gentleman must understand that a high level of democracy is preserved within the Community by the existence of a Council of Ministers, each democratically elected and each able to prevent proposals going ahead which, in their view, are not in the national interest. There must now be a careful examination of the desirability and propriety of direct elections. I have no doubt that when that careful examination has been completed, my right hon. Friend will report it to the House.

As the question of direct elections was not one of the items in the renegotiated terms, will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that not only shall we examine the matter in depth but that the views of the Labour Party will be taken into consideration before there is any question of a commitment of any kind by the Government?

That would be such a step forward—some hon. Members might describe it as a step in the other direction—such a step in our constitutional history that it would be essential that all the parties and many interests be consulted before the Government made up their mind.

In the process of whatever consultation the Government feel to be right in the matter, will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that there is the fullest debate in the House?

Yes, Sir. I give that assurance at once. Before any system of direct elections was implemented, legislation would need to be passed in this House. But the hon. Gentleman is right in implying that at the earliest stage the House should be notified of the Government's intentions and given any opportunity to express its views. I promise the hon. Gentleman that that will happen.

Foreign Ministers


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

At the meeting of the Council of Ministers yesterday I took the opportunity to assure them that following the referendum the United Kingdom would play a full and constructive part in Community policies and activities. In the course of a long agenda we discussed the Community's relations with Canada, Egypt and Portugal; we held an Association Council with Cyprus; we took note of Greece's application to join the Community; we considered the next steps on raw materials and commodities; and among various trade items, I am glad to say, we reached a satisfactory settlement on the question of beef exports to the Community from Botswana.

If the country continues on its present mad economic course, shall we not find it increasingly difficult to exert in the Community the influence we should be capable of exerting? If we can bring inflation under control, however—as other member countries of the Community appear to be doing—does the right hon. Gentleman agree that we shall be able to play a major rôle in influencing the policies of the Community, both internal and external?

I do not necessarily accept the hypothesis with which the hon. Gentleman began his supplementary question, but every one of us on the Government side of the House remembers that on a very early page in the Labour Party manifesto we said that our first and most important task was to overcome inflation, and I believe that the steps now being taken will achieve that end. [HON. MEMBERS: "What are they?"] Those are questions that should be addressed to other Ministers. I have little doubt, having been at least an observer of some of the discussions, that there is more prospect of our overcoming inflation with—[An HON. MEMBER: "Careful."] I shall be very careful—the consent and assent of the trade unions and the people of this country than by any kind of statutory policies or political coalitions.

Is it correct that the right hon. Gentleman finds himself greatly inhibited in initiating any foreign policy moves because of the present rate of inflation? Does he find that rate an in- tolerable hindrance to taking major steps in foreign policy?

I am being tempted on to Tom Tiddler's ground. The answer is a mixed one. Britain's view is taken very seriously by our colleagues in the Community and other nations in the world. At the same time, I cannot depart from what I said on the 8 o'clock news—I do not know whether anybody listened to it—[Interruption.] I am glad that I had an audience. I said that of course the impact of inflation weakened our ability to take initiatives in foreign affairs. It weakens it in many ways. It weakens the respect with which we are listened to if our affairs do not seem to be under proper management, and it limits the assistance we can give when there are a number of desirable ends at stake.

For example, we must now consider the question of aid to succour democracy in Portugal. I should like Britain to be in a position in which we could ensure that Portugal followed a democratic path by assistance from outside, if such a thing is possible. But how can I look my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the eye and ask him for large sums at present? I give that as an example. There are many other illustrations of that kind.

Can my right hon. Friend say what was the settlement on beef exports from Botswana that he mentioned?

Yes, Sir. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving me the opportunity of boasting. The Batswana, who are so heavily dependent on cattle, instead of being required to pay a levy of 100 per cent. on their imports into the Community, as under the Community rules, will now pay a levy of 10 per cent. That is the minimum that anybody could be expected to pay. I am glad to say that that levy will make very little difference. They will also charge an export tax which they will be able to use in any way they like, in their own country, to reimburse their people. The Botswana delegation met me at 1 a.m. today in Luxembourg, and thanked me profusely. That only goes to show how much the fears that some people expressed before the referendum have proved to be incorrect.

Energy Policy


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if EEC energy policy will be discussed at the next Heads of State meeting.

The agenda for the meeting has not been settled, but I expect that energy matters will be discussed.

Have the Government satisfied our European partners that the British National Oil Corporation, as it is proposed to be established under the Petroleum and Submarine Pipe-Lines Bill, will in no way contravene the rules on fair trading and unsubsidised competition? If so, how?

Certainly we have satisfied our partners. I assume that we have done so by the force and logic of our argument.

At the meeting will the right hon. Gentleman confirm this country's determination that the oil to be taken from the Scottish sector of the North Sea will be refined in the United Kingdom, and will not be shipped or piped straight to our EEC partners?

Such questions are more appropriate for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy, but I must remind the hon. Gentleman that our policy on the national control of oil—a policy which was shared by the previous Government—has been accepted—[Interruption.] The British national policy on British oil was accepted by our predecessors when they were in Government, and it is in all ways consistent with our membership of the Community.

Mineral Resources


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will take an initiative towards the development of an EEC policy for the development of mineral resources among the Group of 77.

The Prime Minister's initiative on commodities at the Heads of Commonwealth Government meeting at Kingston sought to create a broad frame- work within which policies for individual raw materials, including the development of mineral resources, could be worked out. We are now pursuing these ideas with our partners in the EEC, where careful and urgent study is at present being given to these problems.

Has the right hon. Gentleman taken note of the much more aggressive attitude towards commodity stabilisation schemes shown by the Group of 77 than the attitude advanced by the Prime Minister at the Jamaica conference? Is this not a very good area for the EEC to examine, both for financing overseas sources of minerals and for using its collective consumer power in the event of expropriation by the overseas host country?

No, Sir. I think that the remedy the hon. Gentleman suggests is wrong. We have all noticed the aggressive attitude adopted by some developing countries. The object of the Kingston initiative of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was to convince them that in these matters co-operation is better than confrontation. If the hon. Gentleman wants to advance that thesis, he must advance it in a way which does not run side by side with the suggestion that the developed countries—the raw material consumers—should act in an aggressive fashion. That would be altogether inappropriate.

Can the Minister say anything further about the attitude of the Government to the most interesting document produced by the Commission on the supply of raw materials to the Community, and especially to its imaginative ideas for a combination of private and State enterprise in the exploration and development of new mineral resources in the less developed countries?

That document was examined at the political co-operation meeting of the EEC Council of Ministers in Dublin some weeks ago. That was a preliminary examination. The details are now being considered by individual member countries and experts. I welcomed parts of that document when I attended that meeting, not least because they confirmed the suggestions put forward by the Prime Minister in Kingston some days before.