HC Deb 24 July 1973 vol 860 cc1507-9

8.0 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Anthony Royle)

I beg to move,

That the European Communities (Definition of Treaties) Order 1973, a draft of which was laid before this House on 16th July, be approved.

Included in the schedule to the order is, first, an ECSC agreement with Norway. It was signed on 14th May 1973 and the text was laid before Parliament in June as Command 5347. It will come into effect on the first day of the second month following notification by the contracting parties that procedures necessary to this end have been completed. The conclusion of the parliamentary and Privy Council procedures in relation to the proposed Order in Council will enable formal notification to be made by this country.

Two decisions of the representatives of Governments of the member States of the European Coal and Steel Community establishing supervision of imports of certain products originating in Austria and Sweden are included in the schedule to the order. Texts of the decisions are contained in the Official Journal of the European Communities, Volume 16, Number L59, dated 5th February 1973, which is available to Members in the House.

The last three items in the schedule relate to exchanges of letters between the head of the United Kingdom delegation to the European Communities and the heads of the Austrian, Swiss and Swedish delegations concerning duty-free quotas of paper products. These exchanges took place on 22nd July 1972, with the exception that the acknowledgment from the Swiss delegation is dated 22nd August 1972. These exchanges are shown in Command Papers 5159, 5180 and 5181 which were laid before Parliament in December 1972.

The matters dealt with in this order are uncontentious. They should not give the House cause for difficulty. The draft Order in Council follows the precedent set in December last and, as on that occasion, the terms of Section 1(3). There is no doubt that all six items listed in the schedule are new treaties within the scope of that section.

8.3 p.m.

Mr. Christopher Woodhouse (Oxford)

All the other orders which the House has had or will have before it this evening have one feature in common: that this House has the power either to accept them or to reject them. I should like an assurance from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary that the same is true of this order. I am not saying for one moment that this House should exercise its power to reject the order, assuming that it has such a power.

I ask the question not because I have any objection to the six agreements listed in the schedule. In the light of my hon. Friend's explanation, they all seem to be unexceptionable. The countries and Governments with which they have been contracted are countries and Governments with which we can have no possible quarrel. Suppose, however, that one of the six were to be objectionable. Would it he possible for us to detach it from the rest, or should we have to reject the whole lot? Even more important, could we reject the whole lot? What would happen if we purported to do so?

This is not an imaginary hypothesis. We might be confronted with an order containing five unexceptionable agreements and one with, say, Portugal or Spain which the Opposition might wish to reject, or one with the Greek military dictatorship which I might want to reject—unless in the meantime my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary had acted upon my proposal to suspend negotiations for the adherence of the United Kingdom to a treaty of association between the EEC and Greece until democratic institutions had been restored in Greece.

Therefore, seriously and not merely hypothetically, I ask my hon. Friend for a definition of the powers of this House in such cases as I envisage. Have we the power to reject such orders? If we have not, what is the point of the motion which my hon. Friend has just moved? If we have the power to reject orders and if we do so, what happens then?

8.7 p.m.

Mr. Royle

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Woodhouse) for raising an important point which probably gives concern to other hon. Members who cannot be here today.

Of course this House has the power to reject the order. What it does not have the power to do is to alter the order in respect of individual agreements.

I understand that my hon. Friend is concerned about the possibility of an order affecting Greece coming before the House. Of course this does not arise on the present order. However, my hon. Friend might like to know that a protocol adapting the agreement with Turkey to suit the circumstances of the enlarged Community was signed on 30th June and that we expect to include it in the next Order in Council under Section 1(3). The corresponding adaptation protocol in regard to Greece is still under negotiation.

Question put and agreed to.


That the European Communities (Definition of Treaties) Order 1973, a draft of which was laid before this House on 16th July, be approved.