HC Deb 17 July 1974 vol 877 cc437-44
31. Mr. Kirk

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he will make a statement on the progress of his talks regarding the renegotiation of the terms of entry into the EEC.

33. Mr. Silvester

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he will next discuss the renegotiation of our terms of entry to the EEC with the Council of Ministers

36. Mr. Roy Hughes

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement about the progress of the renegotiation of the terms of entry into the EEC.

39. Mr. Kenneth Clarke

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he will now make a further statement on the progress of the renegotiations of Great Britain's terms of entry into the European Community.

Mr. James Callaghan

We are pursuing our objectives on several fronts in the appropriate Council meetings. I expect intensive negotiations to get under way in the autumn.

Mr. Kirk

Does the right hon. Gentleman intend his intensive negotiations to be compartmentalised in the four areas that he has singled out, or will he pursue them in parallel? Does the link that he has made between them and other matters at present under discussion within the Community mean that the process will necessarily be slowed up while those other matters are discussed?

Mr. Callaghan

I think that they will proceed in parallel in a compartmentalised direction. [Interruption.] I tried to understand the question, and that was my interpretation of it. With regard to the pace at which negotiations proceed, they certainly cannot hang fire, and it would be reasonable to assume that they will begin to speed up as the autumn leaves begin to fall.

Mr. Roy Hughes

Does my right hon. Friend feel that he should give some more specific details about the timetable of the negotiations? Does he not feel that the negotiations should be concluded within the next 6–12 months? Above all, will he give the House an assurance that this issue will not be fudged, and that the British people will have a clear opportunity to state whether they wish to stay in the Common Market or come out?

Mr. Callaghan

The nature of the timing has still to be decided. I have already given my views on that matter in a personal capacity in so far as I am able to do so. I share my hon. Friend's view that the issue must neither be fudged nor unduly delayed. I think that the question must be clear and capable of a clear answer.

Mr. Silvester

Now that the right hon. Gentleman has had some months of experience of negotiating in Brussels, if he comes to the conclusion that the systems in use in Brussels allow him by continuous negotiation to make gradual improvements, will he accept that position instead of trying to get one massive agreement simply because that is the only way to refer it to a referendum?

Mr. Callaghan

There were certain objectives contained in the manifesto on which we fought the General Election and on which we became the Government. At a suitable time, and not too distantly, we must come to a conclusion on those objectives and present our conclusion to the British people.

Mr. Jay

In the course of renegotiation, has my right hon. Friend discussed the proposals now going forward from the the Commission to the Council of Ministers of the EEC which, in the words of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy, have policy implications for United Kingdom sovereignty over our indigenous energy resources"? Will he firmly resist any proposals from the Commission that we should surrender to the EEC our sovereignty over North Sea oil?

Mr. Callaghan

We certainly do not intend to set up State corporations of the kind that are proposed and then to surrender them to some other body.

Mr. Hooson

The answer that the right hon. Gentleman gave to his hon. Friend the Member for Newport (Mr. Hughes) was generalised in the extreme. Will he tell the House in his official capacity, as opposed to his personal capacity, how long he has in mind for renegotiation? Where does the continuous negotiation begin that one can expect between countries within the Treaty of Rome, and where does the renegotiation end? Will he make that position clear?

Mr. Callaghan

These are fair questions and I am bending my mind to them. The Government will have to reach conclusions on these matters. When they have done so—I hope that that will not be too far in the distant future—they will be communicated to the hon. and learned Gentleman and to the House.

Dr. Dickson Mabon

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that in the White Paper which will follow the conclusion of the negotiations there will be, first, a statement on the progress of negotiations and the conclusions thereof, secondly, a statement of the Government's opinion on the outcome of the negotiations and, thirdly, a statement of the alternative, even though the Government may not wish to recommend it, if we ceased to be a member of the EEC?

Mr. Callaghan

I shall bear these matters in mind. As yet we are rather a long way from preparing a White Paper.

32. Mr. Kershaw

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what consultation he has had with the United States Government about Great Britain's future in the European Community.

Mr. Hattersley

None, Sir. But as I told my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Williams) on 19th June, we are in close and constant touch with the United States Government on matters of common concern, and they are well aware of our position.

Mr. Kershaw

Does the hon. Gentleman agree with the recent statement of his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food that the United States wants us to remain a member of the Community?

Mr. Hattersley

I understand that that was the impression that my right hon. Friend obtained when he was in Washington six weeks ago. That was also the impression that I obtained when I was in Washington a week before. Let me repeat for the third time this afternoon, as we may have to repeat again, that the ultimate decision does not lie in Washington but in Great Britain, and that it is the British people who must decide.

Mr. Skinner

Does my hon. Friend agree that, whilst he may not be able to have consultations with everybody about this matter, as it must finally be decided by the British people it would be as well, in view of the need to get the matter hurried along, for him to consult his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade, who revealed to the House on Monday that after only a few months' membership of the EEC we are running a current trade deficit of £2,000 million? In view of that deficit, does my hon. Friend agree that there is a need to get on with the job as quickly as possible, so that the Labour Party Conference can frame the appropriate resolution?

Mr. Hattersley

I agree that there is everything to be said for making as speedy progress as is possible with renegotiations. That is in the interests of Great Britain and the rest of the Community. My hon. Friend will understand that as we are negotiating in good faith—which means negotiating with the hope and determination to remain a member of the Community—this is not a matter that can be hurried. I am sure that my hon. Friend would not want a slipshod renegotiation which would end up less fundamental than the manifesto of my party prophesied. There has to be serious and perhaps prolonged negotiation.

Mrs. Winifred Ewing

Is the Minister mindful that the United States Government and other Governments are attending the Law of the Sea Conference at Caracas, which will end in the middle of our recess? Will it not be dangerous for the fishermen of Scotland and England if, after the conference, States do not wait for ratification but make pronouncements claiming large chunks of the sea? For instance, Norway may claim a 50-mile limit. In the Common Market renegotiations we have not taken into account the interests of fishermen. Will the hon. Gentleman alter that situation as from now, with a view to protecting our fishermen?

Mr. Hattersley

I have told the hon. Lady on at least two previous occasions that we have a derogation from the Community on fishing policy until the end of this decade. This question is, therefore, not applicable to EEC business. If the hon. Lady wishes to ask a question about the Law of the Sea Conference, she must put it down.

35. Mr. Ralph Howell

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether it has yet been decided in what form the Government intend to consult the British people at the conclusion of the period of renegotiation.

Mr. James Callaghan

No, Sir.

Mr. Howell

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that many people who find it incomprehensible that he is still unable to answer this question believe that the Government have no intention either of holding a referendum or of taking us out of the EEC, and regard this whole matter as a squalid party political manoeuvre?

Mr. Callaghan

Sir, in the immortal words of one of my predecessors, if the hon. Gentleman believes that, he will believe anything.

Mr. George Cunningham

Will the Foreign Secretary accept that we have all but said that we shall have a referendum on this issue, and that many of us believe that the last element of doubt should be removed by the Government's saying categorically that we shall have a referendum?

Mr. Callaghan

Yes, Sir, I am aware of these considerations, which are very much in our minds now. I undertake that clear answers will be given, perhaps a little sooner than some hon. Gentlemen opposite might like.

Mr. Rippon

I accept that the Foreign Secretary is right when he says that we shall have to wait to see how the situation develops, but will he confirm that while Parliament is still regarded in our constitution as the sovereign representative of the people there could be no decision on a form of referendum until the Government have presented the necessary legislation to Parliament?

Mr. Callaghan

If and when we have proposals for that we shall come forward with them. What is quite clear—I shall say it again for as many times as hon. Gentlemen care to put the Question down—is that it is the British people who will declare on this matter, through the ballot box. When the Government are ready to say more, they will announce their intentions.

Mr. Milne

Does the Foreign Secretary recollect that in an earlier statement on this subject he made clear that in the event of failure to secure the renegotiation terms that Britain had asked for the question of withdrawal from the Community would be on the agenda? Will that question be included in any referendum or in any discussion or consultation with the British people prior to their decision? The question of withdrawal may be the most important factor.

Mr. Callaghan

Yes, Sir, I agree that that is a very important consideration, which I am examining carefully at the moment.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

In reply to the supplementary question put by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon), the Foreign Secretary said that proposals would be put before the House. He did not quite say—at least, I did not understand him to say—that a referendum would require legislation. Is that not so?

Mr. Callaghan

That is quite right. I did not say that.

Mr. Speaker

Question 37, Mr. Blaker.

Mr. Rippon

May I ask the Foreign Secretary whether that is the case?

Mr. Callaghan


Mr. Speaker

Order. I have already called Question 37.

37. Mr. Blaker

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he next intends to discuss present policy towards the EEC with other European Foreign Ministers.

Mr. Hattersley

My right hon. Friend will be attending a Foreign Ministers' Council in Brussels next week. On 19th July he will have talks in Paris with the French Foreign Minister and on 26th July in London with the Belgian Foreign Minister. Policy towards the EEC will, of course, be covered in these bilateral discussions.

Mr. Blaker

Although truth may be many-sided, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we hope the Foreign Secretary will not be so—or at least not too much so? Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that the Foreign Secretary said in 1967 that if we were members of the Community it would be healthier for Britain, a gain for Europe and advantageous to the whole world? Will he urge his right hon. Friend to stand four-square on that position?

Mr. Hattersley

I do not think my right hon. Friend needs any urging. My right hon. Friend and all of us on the Government Front Bench are committed to the terms of the manifesto on which we fought the General Election. That manifesto talked about renegotiation of a fundamental sort, and since then we have talked about that renegotiation being carried out in good faith. That is and remains our policy.