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Obligation Of Foreign Secretary To Report To Parliament

Volume 973: debated on Wednesday 14 November 1979

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'The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs shall lay before Parliament annually a report analysing the effect on the Community Budget of the accession of Greece to the European Economic Community.'.—[ Mrs. Dunwoody.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

With this it will be convenient to take new clause 2—State aids in Community

'Nothing in this Act shall be taken to invalidate the existing system of State aids within the Community.'.

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

It is important that the House should be informed about what is going on in the Community. The hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) said that we must ask not only the Greeks but others to account to the Community for their activities. In my speech on clause 1, I made it clear that we welcome the accession of Greece to the Community. However, that does not mean that we are satisfied with the internal machinery.

One way in which the Government could adapt their existing procedures and keep the House more fully informed would be to give a close analysis annually or biennially of the effect on the budget of the accession of a new member State. That would not be a discriminatory move against a new member State, but it is a proposal that we would have wished to see put into operation some time ago. Some hon. Members would like to see a change in our own treaty so that the House would have the right to look at individual decisions before they are taken. However, that proposal is not before us today and I should be ruled out of order if I pursued the matter.

The budget is obviously the kernel of the development. Long and erudite discussions on how we wish to see the Community proceeding do not matter if there is no money to meet existing commitments. We have known that for a long time. It has not been thrust von us at short notice. The Agriculture Commissioner has spelt out that fact time and again. That is why he introduced the co-responsibility levy, which, in real terms, he was forced to withdraw, and why he suggested changes in commodity agreements. The Commissioner also hoped that the Tory Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food would not agree to any price increases in the last price review. He specifically hoped that Britain would hold a line on the budget and demand that there should be no increases in the price of commodities in surplus.

The House never receives a proper account of the minutiae of the Community. That is understandable. Paper flows out of the Commission and the other institutions of the Community at the speed of light and it is difficult for hon. Members to follow all the details. Nevertheless, the practical result of that is that Ministers go to Brussels on our behalf, sometimes without even a discussion of the regulations or directives on which decisions are to be reached. They take the decisions and come back to this place to report on them. I believe that we are not fully informed. Yet we are being asked to pay a disproportionately high proportion of the budget.

6.45 pm

I welcome the stand that appears to be taken by the Government towards the imbalances. Nevertheless, if the right hon. Lady the Prime Minister returns from Dublin with egg on her face she will find it difficult to explain to the House why she was so convinced that the matter should be immediately put right and that the British taxpayer could no longer support the intolerable burden of our contribution to the Community. She will find it hard to explain why she has had to climb down when it comes to the crunch.

I hope that the Government will seriously consider accepting new clause 1. Indeed, they may take it as a pattern for our relationships with other countries in the new accession treaties. If the Government have the opportunity to say what they think is essential about the budget and what should be changed, I believe that they would receive much more support from all parts of the House. Any budget that spends 80 per cent. on agriculture and 20 per cent. on everything else is so manifestly unbalanced that it cannot conceivably continue as it is.

Agriculture welded the Community together, but I believe that agriculture will blow it disastrously apart. The political implications of the refusal of political will in the Community are great. There has been no real indication of a change of mind. It is all very well for us to say that our colleagues on the Continent have great sympathy with us and are aware of our difficulties. They will not accept a change in the make-up of the budget, because they know that if we pay less someone else must pay more. If Britain had taken a higher proportion of the regional and social funds, that would have been one way out. That proposal was blocked off by Conservative Members' refusal to allow any increase in the regional and social funds.

For four years I had the grand title of vice-president of the Social Affairs Committee in the European Assembly. I watched the tiny sum of money that was so desperately needed to help employment, youth retraining, and the position of women being snarled up in the machinery of elephantine incompetence. I learned that there was little likelihood that the Community, by using the social and regional funds, would be able to change the imbalance between rich and poor regions.

We should take care that we do not start to talk about the Community of the centre and the Community of the periphery. Greece is in real danger of joining us in an unenviable position—being part of the Community of the periphery. The investment, jobs and money go to the centre and those who are on the fringes are badly treated.

I hope that the Government will resolve that there must be changes in the budget. All the good Tory Europeans have failed to put forward one good practical alternative to the existing funding arrangements. The Minister of State said that the Government do not know when we will run out of money. We do know that it will be in 18 months' time—at the latest. That will come at a time when some other European States will be facing their electorate. When European politicians believe that their votes will be affected, they are hardly likely to agree to a vast change in the pattern of funding which will take money away from their electorate.

The agriculture policy is manifestly untenable. Not only is it not in the interests of the Eupropean consumer but it is not in the interests of the small European farmer. Large farmers have done well out of it, but many small European farmers have not received any real benefit from the CAP. If the money runs out and no political decisions have been taken, there is a real danger that the Community will blow itself apart. What is put in its place may be even more damaging than the existing funding of the Community, though that seems unlikely to many of us.

Why does the Minister not say that the Government wish that they had thought of the idea and that since the Opposition have been kind enough to put it forward they will accept it? They could explain to the House in detail the budgetary implications of what is happening in the Community. When we reach the brave new world in which Britain will, at long last, pay a great deal less and the French and the Germans will pay a great deal more, the Government will be able to explain in considerable detail how the funding is going and why countries such as Greece will find it difficult to get the transfer of resources that they will need for their structural changes.

The Minister did not mention the point that I stressed earlier, namely, that under the guarantee fund Greece will have considerable difficulty in getting the transfer of resources that it will need to bring its agriculture up to even a reasonable standard.

We are giving the Minister a marvellous opportunity. He is basically a gracious gentleman and he can accept the opportunity with grace. Instead of suggesting that we are distorting the picture, the hon. Gentleman can remedy a previous mistake and agree that the House should be given a great deal of information, more opportunities to debate that information, and an annual report making clear what changes are needed in the budgetary arrangements of the Community.

I support the new clause, and I am sure that the Government, with their new attitude towards Common Market expenditure, will welcome it. I may not be here for the Minister's reply, because I have to attend a meeting at 7 o'clock. I hope that the Minister will forgive me.

Since the Government are saying, as they were not before the general election, that Community expenditure and our contribution are out of hand, I am sure that they will accept the new clause as an element of accountability to this Parliament—a development that has not so far been noticeable as a consequence of our membership of the Common Market.

When the Labour Government were in power, the then Leader of the Opposition said that we were being too abrasive in our attitude towards the Common Market, because we were saying that £1 billion a year was too much. Since, according to all sorts of non-attributable briefings and statements made hither and thither, the Prime Minister has developed an abrasive attitude herself about what she intends to do at the Dublin summit, the rather gentle new clause, which sets out in such a succinct and reasonable way how the expenditure relating to the accession of Greece should be accountable to this Parliament, should be acceptable to the Government. It will enable them to express the view that our relationship with the Community should be accountable to the House.

We see our powers dribbling away to the Common Market and the decisions of Commissioners becoming increasingly important. We are told that we cannot take certain action without the approval of the Commissioners. Civil servants, particularly in the Department of Trade, which is staffed virtually from top to bottom with dedicated Euro-fanatics, tell Ministers that they cannot take certain actions because they will offend the Common Market. I have no knowledge of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, but I have no doubt that the process is repeated there.

The new clause will help in a minor way to establish a relationship in which there is some degree of accountability to the House, so that we may debate the effects of Greek accession on the EEC budget. It is not unreasonable to suggest that elected hon. Members should have an opportunity to debate the real issues of the Common Market, the application of funds and the distortion, beneficial effect or whatever that the accession of Greece will have on the Community budget.

The most important and all-embracing topic of discussion at present is the massive amounts of money being poured away in the EEC. We are contributing a significant proportion of that money. Why should there not be some degree of accountability to us?

The hon. Members for Crewe (Mrs. Dunwoody) and Keighley (Mr. Cryer) have reasonably used the new clause as a peg on which to hang another discussion of the general problem of the European budget. It was a little puzzling to listen to them, since they gave the impression that the House of Commons had no opportunity to discuss EEC matters. In fact, they have both taken a prominent part in our elaborate procedures for discussing such matters. We have a Scrutiny Committee to enable us to have those discussions.

Over the years, I concluded that what was wrong was not so much the procedures, the legal situation or even the attitude of Governments, but that the debates in the House were usually rather drab and scanty and did not reflect the importance of the issues under discussion.

The EEC budget is a classic example. The hon. Member for Crewe gave the impression that the House had had no opportunity to discuss the budget. For several years, we have had a substantial debate in the House on the EEC budget, as a result of recommendations of the Scrutiny Committee. The first two such debates were dreary and I came away almost in despair because the Treasury Minister dealt simply with the dry sticks of the matter and did not encourage the House to launch into wider issues.

This year there was a change and a substantial and rather good debate on the budget. The opportunity exists and was used properly this year. Since we have a lively Opposition on this matter, I am sure that such debates will be important and influential in the history of the House and will match the importance of the subject.

It is not necessary to smuggle a new clause into an accession Bill for one new member of the EEC to secure proper consideration of the general matters that the hon. Lady discussed. The hon. Lady puts forward the new clause for reasons concerned with our position in relation to the European budget. We understand the reasons here. However, it would be widely misunderstood in Greece if we attempted to put a statutory obligation on our Government in respect of Greece alone—it has never happened before. The only explanation that would occur to our Greek friends is that there is some special reason, suspicion or doubt about Greek accession and that we were attributing to that accession some of the major problems facing us in the EEC budget. That would be taken amiss in Greece.

7 pm

In order to emphasise what my hon. Friend has rightly said, may I point out that we are the first country to move for Greece to become a member? When the matter passes to all the other member States, they will observe that the British have picked out Greece for this specific provision, which would then have to be discussed by all the other member States in their respective Parliaments.

My hon. and learned Friend is quite right. That may well be a consequence.

The hon. Member for Crewe and the Opposition are right in pressing for the fullest possible information on this as on other Community matters. Earlier I gave the up-to-date figures for the financial effects of Greek membership, particularly upon ourselves. I am quite willing to undertake that from time to time—maybe once a year, as was suggested—we shall make available to the House in what seems to be the most convenient form figures to show the effect of Greek membership. We are perfectly prepared to find a way of doing that. It should not be difficult, as it has not proved difficult today. I ask the hon. Lady, however, not to impose a statutory obligation which could lead to a good deal of difficulty of a kind that I am sure that she is not seeking to create.

Question put and negatived.

Bill reported, without amendment.

7.2 pm

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

As we come towards the end of the discussion, it is right that, on behalf of the Government, I should emphasise the warm welcome which we and our predecessors in the last Government have given throughout to the Greek application. Of course, as the debate has again illustrated, the application creates complications and problems for the Greeks, for ourselves and for our partners. But we should not let the complications disguise the fact that the Greeks are paying Europe the compliment of accepting that the European Community is now the focus of European co-operation.

Quite naturally, we are so absorbed in our own criticisms of the way in which the Community works that we sometimes forget that to those outside looking in, the Community, with all its failures, represents the most hopeful form of co-operation that Europe has ever achieved. One proof of that is the application and decision by Greece to join. Having thrown off one kind of totalitarian rule without falling into the grasp of another, Greece's record of democratic achievement is such that it has a very powerful argument to put to Members of this House, given our concern for democracy.

It is not open for us to say that Greece is not a European country. I do not think that anyone has ever ventured to make that remark. I do not think either that it is open for us to say that we in the Community are in such a muddle over skimmed milk, butter, wine and lamb that we propose to shut the door in the face of Greece until we have sorted it all out, whatever the consequences for them.

We must take a larger view than that, and both major parties in this country have taken that larger view. We accept that there is a good deal of work still to be done. There are a good many important matters of an institutional and economic nature still to be resolved. However, at the moment that Greece joins the Community one would have to be lacking in historical imagination not to regard that as a splendid step forward in the history of Europe.

7.5 pm

On behalf of the Opposition I have the greatest pleasure in welcoming the accession of Greece to the Community. Most of those words that we hold most dear in the English language, including "democracy" and even "politics" itself, basically come from the Greek language. The reason why many of us still enjoy what is lightly called the advantage of a classical education is that it has always been firmly believed in this country that Greece, with its great cultural heritage and its great dramatic and economic history, has a great deal to offer us and the Community as a whole. We have always believed that it would certainly be to the advantage of the Community that Greece should join.

However, the questions that we have raised today have, I hope, explored some of the difficulties that we envisage for the British Parliament in a larger Community and have put on record some of the difficulties that we frankly expect to face Greece after its accession. We do not believe that all will be sweetness and light, and there may even be occasions when—I know that this will surprise the Minister of State—we may not envisage the Community as the be-all and end-all of the future.

Nevertheless, we shall extend the very warm hand of friendship to the Greek people when they join us. This House has a long history of welcoming democratic States and helping them to maintain that democracy. We hope that their future in the Community will be a happy and prosperous one, and we know that the Greek people will understand that they can always rely on us for support in their democratic future and ideals.

7.7 pm

I was delighted to hear the speech by the hon. Member for Crewe (Mrs. Dunwoody). I thank her and Labour Members who obviously had collectively to consider whether they would divide the Committee on the amendments which they had tabled for deciding, in their sound common sense, not to do so.

I see on the Labour Benches the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Sandelson), who has long been associated with the Greek parliamentary group. I am sure that he will echo the view that I have expressed.

I believe that when we pass the Bill tonight it will be regarded in Greece as a moment of some importance. Ours is the first country to grant and approve its accession. Others will follow, and it is right that with our joint heritage with Greece, Britain should have been the first mover in this matter.

These developments are of great importance, because Greece has been through an exceptionally difficult period in the last 30 or 40 years. There has been the closest liaison between Greece and certain great Members of this House and another place, whose memories are always treasured in Greece. I refer, for example, to Lord Jellicoe and the immeasurable and brilliant way in which he supported Greece in the war. I refer to Monty Woodhouse, a Member of this House for many years, who was a great friend of Greece and was of immeasurable assistance to it in the war. There are others. It is that link which provides a great political connection and a great link of friendship in times of war.

Greece had a civil war. Those who have been through a civil war realise that it is perhaps worse than any other form of war in terms of tearing person from person. Thereafter the Greeks suffered a great indignity, the period of the generals' dictatorship. It says much for them that they survived, threw off the yoke of dictatorship and subsequently created a successful and improving country. They are improving their quality of life, method of civilisation, and industrial production. They are now almost the world leaders of the tourist industry. I hope that as a result of their success in that area they will contribute greatly, in many ways, to the EEC.

Of course the Greeks have grave problems. Their country is poor. Their small population occupies a large area of land. They have considerable problems with agriculture and the exports that they can generate. Therefore, the deficit must largely be made up by tourism. Both the Greeks and ourselves recognise that we can follow the road of European civilisation. It is not only the money; we look forward to an improvement in the life of our civilised society.

For political reasons and for the sake of our associations with Greece, we believe that we are doing a good night's work when we pass the Bill. It will be of benefit to Greece and Britain. It will bring people of commanding thought to assist us gradually to conquer the problems of Europe, so that ultimately we shall see the light of an improved future.

7.12 p.m.

I do not wish to take up more than a minute or so as almost everything that I would wish to say has been said already, not only by the hon. and learned Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies) but by my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe (Mrs. Dunwoody), who spoke on behalf of the Opposition. I congratulate my hon. Friend on the warm way in which she expressed the feeling of the Opposition about the accession of Greece to the European Community.

There are many outstanding issues between the Government, the Opposition and the Community. It is important for the nation that they should be sorted out. We hope that they will be. We are all at one on that. However, the fact remains that the Community holds out the greatest hope for Western order and civilisation and the defence of Western values against those people in Europe and elsewhere, but primarily in Eastern Europe, who now threaten the values to which I allude.

For those reasons, especially for political reasons, the accession of Greece is to be welcomed by all hon. Members. The accession of Greece will add enormously to the strength of the Community in different ways, not detract from it. There will be a new atmosphere of deepening friendship between ourselves and Greece, to our mutual advantage.

7.14 p.m.

I was a soldier in the Greek Army 34 years ago. Understandably, at that time I came to have a great affection for things Greek and Greece. In the humble capacity in which I served, I never expected that the day would come when, in this House, I should welcome Greece as a member of a European community. I hope that my support tonight may be of more use to Greece than were my services as a soldier.

It is good to have Greece with us. The Greek soldiers used to say to me: "There was a time in 1940 and 1941 when it was just you and us alone." They were right. I hope that the combination now being set up will be as successful as the co-operation in more difficult days.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.