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Treaty Of Rome

Volume 984: debated on Wednesday 14 May 1980

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35.

asked the Lord Privy Seal if, following the recent meetings of EEC Ministers, he will take steps to secure the amendment of the Treaty of Rome.

Will the right hon. Gentleman try to persuade the Cabinet to read the speeches that some of its members made when the Treaty of Rome was being debated in the House? Is it not now abundantly clear that the milk and honey promised in at least some of those speeches is totally divorced from present reality and that the main cause is the nature of the treaty? If the Government do not intend to withdraw from the EEC, will they at least try to make fundamental changes in the treaty?

I do not think that it is very good for politicians to spend time reading their own speeches. Some were rather proud of doing that. They probably gain greater intellectual refreshment from reading other people's speeches or other matters. We have no intention of proposing amendments to the Treaty of Rome. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are proposing changes in our budget contribution, but that is a very different matter.

Is not the Lord Privy Seal aware that the continuing deterioration in our trade with the EEC, particularly in non-oil products, points to amendment of the treaty? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware, notwithstanding his injunction not to read his own speeches, that when he told the House a month ago that there had been an improvement in our trade with the EEC between 1978 and 1979, he was wrong? Does he realise that figures published by the Government prove that there has been no change? If the greatly increasing exports of oil to the EEC are removed, is he aware that our trade with the EEC has deteriorated from 83 per cent. to 78 per cent. and the deficit in non-oil trade has doubled to £4 billion?

With respect, the hon. Gentleman is not right. Our trading performance with the EEC is better than it is with the rest of the world. The United Kingdom's performance in manufacturing trade with the world as a whole has been disappointing but. last year, the deterioration in our trade with the Community was less bad than that with the world as a whole and less than that with the United States or Japan.

Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that no amendment of the Treaty is required for the appropriate restructuring of the common agricultural policy since the articles in the Treaty relating to the common agricultural policy are cast in generalised terms? Will he, therefore, press ahead to secure the necessary agreement in the Council of Ministers, which is all that is required for this laudable and imperative objective?

My right hon. and learned Friend is extremely learned in this matter, as in other matters. The House will accept his word. We wish to restructure the budget, but, as my right hon. and learned Friend will know, that is a medium and long-term matter rather than something that can be dealt with during the next few weeks.

By his own high standards, the Lord Privy Seal is being exceptionally complacent in his replies to this question. Is he really telling the House that a Treaty, written 25 years ago, not one word of which was contributed to by a British hand, is not a subject that he ought to be thinking about in terms of major amendment and change after all the experience of failure in matching and meeting its own objectives, let alone our national interest? If he is not thinking about it, he should start doing so now.

The difference between the right hon. Gentleman and myself is that I wish to secure an agreement with the EEC and the right hon. Gentleman does not. The right hon. Gentleman therefore, wishes to maximise our difference with the EEC whereas the Government do not wish to do so.