My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.
The Question was as follows:
To ask Her Majesty's Government how many Green and White Papers about British policy in the EEC will be issued during 1976.
My Lords, in June the Government issued a White Paper reviewing developments in the European Communities for the six months period up to April 1976. A Green Paper dealing with direct elections to the European Assembly was issued in February. A White Paper covering the six-monthly period from April to October 1976 will be issued before the end of this year.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that the six-monthly White Paper, while of mild interest to historians, is virtually useless to those who wish to gain some idea what the Government intend to do inside the EEC in the future? In view of the fact that the British will take the presidency of the Council of Ministers at the beginning of next year, could not the Government give an under-taking that the British Parliament will be given an opportunity before then to discuss the major objectives which they hope to achieve during their presidency—a discussion on the basis of Green and White Papers?
Yes, my Lords, we are constantly looking at this matter to try to ensure that more frequent, more timely and better opportunity is given to Parliament to consider, ahead of decisions, what is Government policy. It is not an easy matter having regard to the structure and the present constitution, if I may call it, of the Community; but I shall very much bear in mind and convey to my right honourable friends what the noble Lord has said.
My Lords, in order to preserve some semblance of Parliamentary sovereignty over European affairs, if not over domestic affairs, would it not be more satisfactory if we were able to discuss the developments in the European Community during the next six months rather than the mistakes which have occurred over the last six months? We should like some firm commitment from the Government that they will enable the Houses of Parliament to discuss the matters which will be coming up at the Council of Ministers in Europe, and not those which have already happened.
Yes, my Lords, we would be most anxious to help to make this possible, and any suggestions beyond the somewhat polemical interjection of the noble Baroness would be most welcome.
My Lords, will the Government issue a White Paper on the Common Market telling us what benefits we have had since we joined, in view of the fact that we now have a massive annual deficiency in the balance of trade?
My Lords, within the limitations of Question Time I am afraid not but no doubt my noble friend, whose Parliamentary expertise is known to all of us, especially those of us who observed him in action in the other place, will find more than one opportunity to raise that question in this House.
My Lords, is it not a custom for Governments about to take up the presidency of the Council of Ministers to make a public Statement about what they want to achieve during their presidency?
I do not know about custom, but I should be very greatly surprised if there were not more than one indication of this country's intentions regarding its period of presidency in the first six months of 1977. Beyond that, I hope the noble Lord will not press me.