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 what consideration is now being given by the European Communities to the need for a political secretariat to ensure continuity and co-operation in foreign affairs and, where appropriate, defence.
My Lords, the Government believe that if the nine member states of the European Community are to make a serious and consistent contribution in international affairs, political co-operation must be strengthened. I have suggested that the Nine should re-examine their political commitment to co-operation in foreign policy and commit a greater part of their national diplomatic efforts to it; that we should consider ways in which political co-operation could be supported by some kind of permanent staff; and that there should be an improved procedure for convening meetings in an emergency. The Foreign Ministers of the Nine have agreed that the organisation of political co-operation should be examined, and I expect this examination to cover the points mentioned in my noble friend's Question.
My Lords, I am very grateful indeed for that encouraging reply. My noble friend knows that his initiative towards this end—which, believe it or not, was agreed in principle in the Community some 10 years ago but which made no progress—is widely welcome. Is not the creation of the European Community indeed a turning point in the history of our Continent in that it has given all member countries a new weight in the world—words which noble Lords will immediately recognise—and, while it is logical for Marxists to take the opposite point of view, do not Conservatives who wish us to withdraw from the Community and take the opposite point of view make themselves look totally out of touch with reality?
My Lords, I agree with my noble friend about the importance of political co-operation and I hope we can improve it. But I would not want it to be thought that there had not been political cooperation before; there has been some good political co-operation and I only hope we can so improve matters that it becomes even better. I hope that in the months to come we shall persuade everybody, whether they be Conservatives or members of the party opposite, though that might he a little more difficult, that membership of the Community is greatly to the advantage of this country.
My Lords, are we to understand that, in so far as the Question relates to defence, this will include the French? If so, does it mean that they will now resile from their decision to contract out of NATO?
My Lords, this is concerning political co-operation within the European Community and defence does not come into it.
Is defence not mentioned in the Question, my Lords? Has the Foreign Secretary not read it?
My Lords, I had read the Question, but I thought we all knew what the situation was.
My Lords, if there is to be a political secretariat, which I think would be a very good thing, would the Foreign Secretary agree that it is essential that it should be situated in one place and not migrate from one town to another? Is it not possible that such a secretariat could serve equally well the European Council and the European Community of Foreign Ministers?
My Lords, I agree with the first part of the noble Lord's supplementary, but I do not want there to be any misunderstanding; what I am suggesting is not a large number of people and I hope very much that it could to a large degree be serviced from the Council's secretariat, perhaps with one or two other experts.
My Lords, the noble Lord mentioned the possibility of acting in an emergency. Would he not agree that there is an emergency in Italy at the present time? Can he say what corporate action is being taken by the Community in that case?
My Lords, I do not think there has been any corporate action, but certainly we have been in very close touch with the Italian authorities and today I have already given authority for some more money to be sent in aid of the disaster and for the relief of those who have been badly hit.
I appreciate what the noble Lord says, my Lords, but would it not do more than all the Questions from the noble Lord opposite if the world could see the Community acting in a case like this?
My Lords, I wonder whether this is exactly the sort of case I have in mind. I think there has been very close touch between all the Community countries and Italy. They have only to ask their neighbours and I am sure their neighbours will give them what they need. We have been asked and we have given.