HC Deb 01 May 1974 vol 872 cc1122-7
3. Mr. Marten

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the Common Market renegotiations.

6. Mr. Blaker

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement about the progress of his renegotiation of the terms of Great Britain's membership of the EEC.

8. Mr. Molloy

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what progress he has made with the renegotiation of the terms of the EEC agreement.

10. Mr. Jay

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he can now state his detailed proposals for renegotiating the terms of United Kingdom membership of the EEC.

17. Mr. Sillars

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a further statement on the Government's renegotiation of the terms of entry to the EEC.

22. Dr. Dickson Mabon

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he will outline his specific proposals to the Council of Ministers on renegotiation of the terms of entry of the United Kingdom to the European Communities; and if he will make a statement.

23. Mr. Lee

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a further statement on the progress of renegotiation of the EEC agreement.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. James Callaghan)

The preparation of Her Majesty's Government's detailed renegotiation proposals has been making good progress, and I expect to make a further statement on them at a Council of Ministers' meeting early next month. They will be fully consistent with the objectives which I have already explained in the House. I shall, of course, report to the House after the meeting.

Mr. Marten

I very much look forward to hearing about that. However, in the meantime, in his talks with his Common Market colleagues, has the Foreign Secretary been able to discover what his predecessor meant by political European union by 1980? May we have an assurance that the Government are opposed to any further steps in the Common Market towards a federal or supranational State?

Mr. Callaghan

What I have discovered is that the Council of Ministers and, apparently, the other institutions are under a remit to produce both a definition of this term and proposals for achieving it. So far there does not seem to be a consensus. Therefore, there is no case for us to move any further at present.

Mr. Marten

May we have an assurance for the future?

Mr. Callaghan

This is so far into the distant future that I am more concerned at the moment with the immediate difficulties that are besetting us.

Mr. Molloy

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that there are many people in this country who, irrespective of its definition, would not want Britain to be part of a supranational European State? Is he not also aware that many people believe that if there is to be procrastination he should see that it is kept to a minimum, because in these negotiations procrastination could be the thief of our liberty?

Mr. Callaghan

I am well aware of that. It helps to frame the approach of Her Majesty's Government to these problems. However, there is a long way to go before there is any agreed policy on this development.

Mr. Blaker

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many hon. Members welcome the fact that the Government are negotiating in good faith to see whether arrangements can be reached by which Britain would stay in the Community? Will he confirm that the negotiations are essentially about economic matters and not the present basic structure of the Community?

Mr. Callaghan

What we are negotiating about is the matters that were put forward in the White Paper. They are being developed in the course of talks, both now and in the future, until I make the full statement early next month. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for saying that there is support for the policy of renegotiation. I wish that it had been taken a little more seriously rather earlier when what we were saying was dismissed.

Mr. Jay

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, according to his colleagues, in the immediate present and not the distant future the EEC beef mountain has reached 75,000 tons? That is depriving the British public of supplies of beef at reasonable prices. May we be assured that, whatever else happens, one condition of these negotiations will be freedom from the absurdities of the common agricultural policy?

Mr. Callaghan

What I have said about the common agricultural policy so far represents our approach to it, and it is desirable that its illiberal characteristics should be removed as far as possible.

Mr. Churchill

I congratulate the Foreign Secretary on his assurance that the Labour Government are renegotiating with a view to staying in the Community. Is he aware that the proposal of a referendum in this country strikes at the very heart of representative democracy?

Mr. Callaghan

This was an essential part of the policy upon which we fought the General Election. Because we did so, we shall, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, carry out our obligation to consult the people, either by this method or by way of a General Election, but my right hon. Friend felt that it would be more likely to be by way of a referendum. I recommend the hon. Gentleman in all friendliness, as I keep recommending a lot of other people, please to read what we said, what we fought the election on and what we are trying to do.

Mr. Sillars

Once he has cleared the major obstacles of renegotiation, will my right hon. Friend look at the device used by the Council of Ministers known as "stopping the clock"? Is he aware that the clock has been stopped and was stopped for a long time before the Labour Party took office and reopened the European issue on regional policy? When George Thomson was in this country a short time ago, did he tell my right hon. Friend when that clock would start again?

Mr. Callaghan

I did not see Mr. Thomson when he was in this country recently, so I did not have a chance to talk with him about it. I should have been happy to see him or anyone else. I seem to spend my life receiving deputations from one country or another.

Mr. Amery

Including the President of the European Parliament?

Mr. Callaghan

Yes, including even him, with pleasure; even the right hon. Gentleman, if he makes a request in writing, in due course. As far as the general issue is concerned, we shall carry forward the policy we have enunciated. There is some progress on regional development, but I am not sure that it is yet near agreement.

Mr. Rippon

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is a great deal of support for what the Government propose by way of continuing negotiation, which is largely the content of the Luxembourg speech? Will he consider issuing a White Paper before he next goes to Luxembourg or Brussels in order to indicate what is "continuing negotiation", what is "renegotiation" and exactly what the Government want?

Mr. Callaghan

It is my desire that the House should be kept fully informed on these matters. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman will know from his experience, however, when one is renegotiating it is hardly desirable to set out all the cards face upwards on the table before one starts. I shall certainly try to carry the House with me by this kind of information. That was why I published the recent White Paper, which was my major speech at Luxembourg.

Mr. Freud

On the subject of the referendum, will the right hon. Gentleman say whether, if 18 million people vote to stay in and 11 million vote to come out, the Government will come out? That is the basis on which they are the Government.

Mr. Callaghan

The Government will reach a conclusion in the light of whatever result is shown by the referendum.

5. Mr. Biffen

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he is satisfied with the outcome of the talks he has so far conducted in pursuit of the fundamental renegotiation of British membership of the EEC.

Mr. James Callaghan

So far so good, but we have not yet begun detailed talks.

Mr. Biffen

Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that some anxiety was expressed in recent questions about the non-encounter with Dr. Cornelis Berkhouwer? Will he on a future occasion find an opportunity to meet the good doctor and explain to him that many people feel that the wings of this Parliament were wantonly clipped by Section 2 of the European Communities Act and that a successful renegotiation will restore to this national Parliament law-making capabilities which we have no intention of yielding to a Strasbourg Assembly?

Mr. Callaghan

I think that at the end of the renegotiations Section 2 of the European Communities Act will need to be scrutinised very closely to see how far it fits in with our requirements and with the overall desire of this House to maintain control of its own affairs.

Mr. Raphael Tuck

My right hon. Friend said a little while ago that there was a long way to go. I am in complete agreement with him. Will he make it clear to the EEC however that if there is any question of this country's becoming a supranational State or joining in a federal organisation we shall have no part in that?

Mr. Callaghan

I think that that is is fairly clear. I assure the House that I was as polite as I usually am in this House when I was talking about it, and I confined myself mainly to questioning this concept and asking what was really meant. That revealed a surprising number of different views and thoughts about what it meant. I am not at all sure that the best thing to do would not be for the Council of Ministers to publish what we in this House call a Green Paper setting out all the varying views on which public opinion could debate.

Mr. Rippon

Does the Foreign Secretary accept that negotiating in good faith means acceptance of the views that he expressed on sovereignty on 9th May 1967?

Mr. Callaghan

Yes, I am sure that it does, although I do not have the reference beside me. What I do not think it involves accepting is the communiqués that were issued in Paris in 1970 or 1972 for which no definition has yet been provided and for which no definition exists.