HC Deb 26 June 1974 vol 875 cc1547-8
33. Mr. Moate

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he is contemplating any change in the unanimity rule in the Council of Ministers.

Mr. Hattersley

No, Sir.

Mr. Moate

Does the hon. Gentleman recall that the previous Government laid great stress on the importance of retaining the veto as a defence of our essential national sovereignty? Is it not a little unsatisfactory that this unanimity rule is just a convention and not actually a rule of the Community? Will he at least consider the possibility of arranging for the unanimity rule to be built in as a more permanent feature of the mechanism of the Community?

Mr. Hattersley

The unanimity rule has worked very well—though not enshrined in the treaties—for the last eight years. To preserve a country's proper interests one needs the unanimity rule as it now stands, and a Government who apply it fearlessly. The difference between now and before February is that we have both those situations.

Mr. Spearing

Despite the fact, which my hon. Friend claims, of the presence of the unanimity rule, does he recall that in a written reply recently he declined to define Britain's major national interests where he feels that the rule could be invoked? Does he also recall that the last part of the text of the so-called Luxembourg Agreement is confined to certain agricultural matters and, therefore, implies that everything else is still subject to majority vote?

Mr. Hattersley

In practice that is not how the unanimity rule works. During the limited period that I have attended the Council of Ministers in Brussels and Luxembourg I have seen it worked by virtually every country which is a member of the EEC on virtually every topic that has been discussed. This is a great deal wider in practice than it appears to be in theory.