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European Community

Volume 927: debated on Wednesday 2 March 1977

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Direct Elections


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he will discuss direct elections with the French Foreign Minister.

In view of the increasing unpopularity of the Common Market in both Britain and Denmark, would it not be wise—I mean this as a helpful suggestion—for the Common Market to reconsider the whole question of direct elections? Also, in view of the possible enlargement of the Community with Spain, Portugal and Greece, would it not be wise to consider at the same time the real aims of the EEC today?

I always take questions from the hon. Member as being asked in a most helpful spirit, particularly on EEC matters. I think that a reconsideration has, in fact, occurred in Denmark. The Danes are taking steps towards meeting the May-June 1978 target date. Every Government must try to seek to carry public opinion with them on any aspect of policy, but particularly on direct elections. That is the British Government's view too.

Would it not be better to clean up the scandal of the common agricultural policy before we wade further into the Brussels quagmire? Is it not wholly disreputable that, with the connivance of the Commission, 30,000 tons of butter has been sold to the Soviet Union at one-quarter of the price at which it is sold in member States in order to make further profits for a French Communist millionaire?

I have a great deal of sympathy with what my right hon. Friend has said. I made it clear to the House yesterday that this deal can be criticised very strongly on many different grounds. Although my views do not always coincide with those of my right hon. Friend on EEC matters, I have made it clear that where there are grounds for criticism we will criticise.

Will the Foreign Secretary accept that we are encouraged by his views about the common fisheries policy and the results that have been achieved to date? What are his views on the Irish Government's proposal to limit, as a conservation measure, fishing within 50 miles—

Order. I think that the hon. Member's supplementary question comes later. We are discussing direct elections.

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that there were some initial difficulties on direct elections for the French? Will he confirm that those difficulties have now been removed, and will he indicate at the same time what other member States within the EEC seem to have problems in their approach to direct elections, other than the United Kingdom?

I believe it is true to say that the constitutional court's ruling leaves the way open for the French Government to put proposals before their Parliament. They have not yet produced these proposals, and it is true that as yet no member State has passed fully the necessary legislation for direct elections. The Government with the most difficulties hitherto appear to be the Danish Government, and they are reconsidering their position. The promised White Paper will cover the question of the electoral system and will make an assessment of the various systems. At the moment, if we follow the Select Committee's proposals, we will be the odd man out. However, there is nothing against that as there is no necessity for a uniform electoral system.

If it is true that the Commission and a French Communist millionaire are making the EEC more unpopular, is that not all the more reason for hastening direct elections? It would be a total mistake for this party, above all others, to turn its back on the elective principle in these matters.

I believe in democratic Socialism, and I always have done. I have never believed that it is in the tradition of the Labour movement to turn aside from any democratic process. What we wish to ensure is that the democratic process is reflected in a variety of different ways. I would argue that it should be reflected in the decision-making of the Council of Ministers and in discussion on the Common Market in this House. Most hon. Members would agree that a system of nomination of Members of the European Assembly is not wholly appropriate to the full democratic process.

May I press the Foreign Secretary on the matter raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Spicer)? Can he confirm from his own sources the information that was given in an interesting survey in The Times last week that all other EEC countries, including France, now see their way clear to meeting the target date, both politically and legally? If that is so, will the right hon. Gentleman use his best endeavours to bring this matter before the House without further delay and in a form which would turn to practical effect the broad support that the majority of this House would give to the principle of direct elections?

My right hon. Friend is not keen for me to be pressed too far. I have already indicated that the White Paper will be put before the House in a matter of a few weeks, and I cannot be dragged into the argument any further. The House will then debate and discuss these issues, on which we have not yet had a full discussion. It is perfectly clear that there are differing views on both sides of the House on this matter, which would mean a constitutional change. We need to carry the agreement of the House as a whole, and that is what we intend to do.

Will the Foreign Secretary take comfort from the fact that we shall have a very good debate on this matter, which is one of the very few issues on which the Government are sure of a majority? That is a very happy change.

I choose my friends with circumspection. I am very fond of the right hon. Gentleman, who is a fellow Devonian Member, but I will look for support from my hon. Friends on my own side of the House. I am prepared to take time to persuade my hon. Friends, even my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), that it is in the interests of what many of them hold very close—proper scrutiny of the Common Market and of the Commission—to have that scrutiny through a properly elected European Assembly.

Commission Proposals


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what arrangements he has made for Departments of Government to obtain updated proposals of the EEC Commission.

The EEC Commission very seldom puts forward updated proposals for Council legislation. When it does so, those proposals are made available to Government Departments in the usual way. They are also deposited in Parliament. No special arrangements are required to cater for this possibility.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Does he agree that, in pursuing proper scrutiny of the EEC proposals, it is necessary for this House to have available all the relevant documents? Although we know that the Government have done their best, it is clear that some documents are available to some citizens and bodies in this country—documents which the EEC will not allow to come to this House. If that is so and my hon. Friend can confirm the situation, will he make representations to the EEC to change that classification?

The Government recognise the force of my hon. Friend's remarks. Obviously the House wants to have at its disposal the fullest possible information as a basis for any debate, but documents produced in the framework of the Council are normally confidential. The United Kingdom, in common with other member States, is required to observe that confidentiality. If hon. Members obtain their own copies of such documents from other sources, that is not a matter for the Government. The Government will seek to ensure that full information is available to the House in time for debates on EEC documents.

Will the President of the Council of Ministers, in taking office next week—and I hope to be there to welcome him—bear in mind that the European committees as well as the House would welcome information on the proposals? We would particularly welcome the views of this House before we go into committees and into the Assembly. It is difficult to obtain an adequate correlation of information, and I very much hope that the Minister will take up this matter when he goes to Strasbourg next week.

I assure the hon. Gentleman that all Ministers concerned in this matter understand what is at stake. It has fully registered with us all. We shall be seriously examining the matter with our colleagues.

Will my hon. Friend consider updating the proposal for stopping the disgraceful sale of subsidised butter to Russia or any other country? When we joined the EEC, were we not sold a pup?

My right hon. Friend has already dealt with that point, and the action taken by the Government this week shows how strongly we feel about this matter.

Does the Minister realise that the fact that occasions when the Commission comes forward with new proposals are so rare points exactly to the difficulty, namely, that the development of legislation and its redrafting are carried out within the Council of Ministers, without any new proposals emerging from the Commission, and that whereas new proposals from the Commission would come to this House, the process inside the Council of Ministers is confidential. What would the Minister say if the legislative process in this House were also secret?

I am sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman will accept from what has been said in all parts of the House that his point is well taken. The Government are concerned about this matter and are closely examining the situation. I am sure that he will recall that my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council told the House on 28th February, in reply to a Question tabled by the hon. Member for Broms- grove and Redditch (Mr. Miller), that he is now considering the problem and will provide the House with updated information on the progress of proposals for purposes of debate in this House.

Helsinki Final Act


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent consultations he has had with the other EEC Foreign Ministers about the observance by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and other Eastern bloc countries of the provisions of Basket III of the Helsinki Agreement.

Compliance with the provisions of Basket III of the Helsinki Final Act by signatory States is one of the questions on which EEC Ministers have already consulted, and these discussions will continue amongst the Nine in preparation for the Belgrade review meeting. It is an important part, but only a part, of the whole framework of the Helsinki Agreement.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I welcomed his statement yesterday that the Government will not hesitate to speak frankly when they consider that the performance of obligations under the Helsinki Agreement by other signatory countries is unsatisfactory? Is that also the view of the other Common Market countries? In view of the unanimous advice by the Russian dissidents that the best way of helping dissidents in the Soviet Union is to speak frankly, will he encourage his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to emulate President Carter in that respect?

The Government's stance on human rights issues is well known. There are other aspects of the Helsinki Agreement and the Final Act to be taken into account. The way in which we should respond to a given violation of human rights requires careful judgment. I make no secret of the fact that we shall put our views frankly—sometimes publicly, sometimes in speeches, and sometimes by exerting varying forms of pressure. This is a very complex and difficult area, but what is important is the progress that is made. We hope at Belgrade to assist the progress that has been made in the past 18 months. I have made no secret of the fact that pressure will have to continue long after the Belgrade review conference if we are to be satisfied with the completion of the Final Act.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that any struggle to free peoples from torture or from having peen wrongly gaoled is welcome in any country, and certainly that applies to the Soviet Union or Eastern Europe? Would it not be helpful if Opposition Members would also struggle to free people in Chile and Fascist States as well as in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union?

I very much agree with my hon. Friend. In dealing with human rights, when there are violations we shall carry more conviction if we are seen to apply our standards around the globe. I said that to the House yesterday. It would be helpful if on more occasions we could have the same degree of support from the Opposition Benches when dealing with violations in Chile and in some areas of South Africa as when there are violations of human rights in Communist countries. We must all of us be concerned about violations, from wherever they come. We shall carry more weight with Communist countries if they see that we condemn violations of human rights elsewhere in the world.

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that his remarks will cause resentment among the Opposition? He has only to read the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Horn-castle (Mr. Tapsell), in replying for the Opposition Front Bench to yesterday's foreign affairs debate to know how much support we give to these considerations.

I am the first to admit that the speech made by the hon. Member for Horncastle (Mr. Tapsell) in yesterday's debate was an extremely thoughtful and helpful contribution to the African debate. I recommend it to my hon. Friends. I think I made a fair comment on the situation. I must tell the right hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies) that I did not intend to refer to him personally.

The hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) will know that many criticisms have been levelled at some of my Labour colleagues who have been concerned about the situation in Chile. I strongly welcome what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery), with his well-known views about violations in Chile and in Communist and Eastern European countries.

Euro-Arab Dialogue


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he is satisfied with the progress of the European-Arab dialogue; and if he will make a statement.


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the United Kingdom's contribution in the dialogue between the EEC and the Arab League.

The second meeting of the General Committee of the Euro-Arab Dialogue took place in Tunis from 10th to 12th February. The atmosphere was positive and frank and both sides were satisfied with the outcome. The Government played their full part in the Nine's preparation for the meeting and, as holders of the Presidency, the United Kingdom led the Community delegation.

When we bear in mind the enormous potential advantages that could arise from Euro-Arab co-operation, has not progress been regrettably slow? Is it not time to remove one obstacle at least, namely, the question of Palestinian representation, and should not the EEC accept the reality of the situation as the United Nations has done?

The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that the British Government attach great importance to this dialogue. At the recent meeting valuable work was carried out on the transfer of technology, commercial and cultural co-operation, protection and encouragement of investment, and labour and agricultural projects. The remainder of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question raises a wider issue.

Will my hon. Friend assure the House in regard to the EEC statement—which was agreed at a meeting in London on 29th January but which was not made public—that the Government exerted their influence to try to make that statement public—and if not, why not?

I hope that this afternoon I made our position plain on the dialogue. The British Government welcome the dialogue, and we feel that it has made a valuable contribution to Euro-Arab relations, to which both sides remain committed.

Will the Minister assure the House that the EEC will take up the question of the boycott of trade on the same lines as the United States now appears to be following?

The hon. Gentleman will have noted what my right hon. Friend has already said on that subject.

I greatly appreciate what the Foreign Secretary has said, not only this afternoon but many times, and his unequivocal denunciation of the Arab boycott. Will he take up with his European colleagues the question of how such blackmail can be made unremunerative by international action?

My right hon. Friend has made his position absolutely clear. The way forward is one that we shall consider together with our colleagues in Europe.