HC Deb 22 May 1974 vol 874 cc355-62
5 . Mr. Adley

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the renegotiation of the United Kingdom's terms of membership of the EEC.

6. Mr. George Gardiner

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the Government's progress in formulating their detailed requirements in the renegotiation of the terms of Great Britain's membership of the European Community.

16. Mr. Biffen

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what proposals he has for pursuing the fundamental renegotiation of British membership of the EEC at the next meeting of the Council of Ministers.

19 Mr. Norman Lamont

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he will make a further statement on the progress of the renegotiation of Great Britain's membership of the EEC.

23. Mr. Christopher Mayhew

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what progress he has made in renegotiating the terms of Great Britain's entry into the EEC.

24 . Mr. Moate

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

26 . Mr. Marquand

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will now outline his detailed proposals for renegotiating the terms of British membership of the EEC.

40. Mr. Kenneth Clarke

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 the United Kingdon's membership of the EEC.

Mr. Hattersley

I have at present nothing to add to my right hon. Friend's reply to a similar Question on 1st May. —[Vol. 872, c. 1122-27.]

Mr. Adley

Has the hon. Gentleman seen the report of the annual general meeting of the National Association of Townswomen's Guilds yesterday when a resolution was passed asking the Government to abandon their proposed referendum on the Common Market and to leave the decision to Parliament? Is the Minister aware that we clearly understand, as we have seen this afternoon, his dilemma on this issue within the Labour Party? Will he please, on behalf of the Government, at least give the House a clear decision of principle on the Government's commitment to Europe?

Mr. Hattersley

The proceedings of the annual general meeting of the National Association of Townswomen's Guilds were drawn to my attention this morning. I confess that I do not follow their proceedings as carefully as perhaps I should. As for the opinion of that body, I think that the opinion of the British electorate, who returned a Government who talked about consulting the British people, is better to be followed. As for the Government's intentions, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and others have made it absolutely clear that there must be a process of direct consultation with the British people, which could be undertaken through a General Election but which may well be undertaken through a referendum.

Mr. Gardiner

In preparing his terms of renegotiation, what reports has the Foreign Secretary before him from British industries and firms concerning the likely effect on exports and employment of any change in European trading patterns? How extensive have these consultations been?

Mr. Hattersley

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have had discussions with the CBI—as the hon. Gentleman probably knows, because the CBI thought right to publish the letter which it sent to the Foreign Secretary.

Mr. Marquand

Does my hon. Friend agree that the problem of Britain's budgetary contribution, which must be one of the central issues in the renegotiation, can best be solved by increasing the Community's expenditure on items of benefit to this country? Will he therefore say what the Government's attitude is to the Commission's proposals for a regional development fund, which would be of great benefit to this country and, not least, to many constituencies represented on these benches?

Mr. Hattersley

I certainly agree with my hon. Friend on the second part of his question. If the Community's regional policy—not simply the fund, but the policy in general—works out in the right way, it can be of substantial benefit to this country. Interim discussions about the future of that policy are taking place now, and Her Majesty's Government are taking part in those discussions.

On the first part of the question, concerning the budgetary contribution, my hon. Friend will understand that this is a central issue of our renegotiation intentions. The Foreign Secretary will be saying something about that on 4th June. My hon. Friend would not expect me today to prefer one solution to the problem to another.

Mr. Biffen

When the Foreign Secretary next goes to the Council of Ministers to continue these negotiations, will he point out to his European colleagues that there is a widespread recognition in Britain of the desirability of a fundamental renegotiation, as set out in the terms of Command Paper 5593? Although some hon. Members may have reservations about the negotiating style of the Foreign Secretary, it is none the less noteworthy that the terms of renegotiation have never been tested by a Division in the House of Commons.

Mr. Hattersley

I am grateful for what the hon. Gentleman says. The terms of that White Paper embrace all who sit on the benches on the Government side of the House, but, as I understand it, the same cannot be said of the Opposition side.

Mr. Lamont

What discussions have there been about any plans of the Secretary of State for Industry for financial aid to industry and its compatibility with Article 93, which gives the Commission power to prohibit or to examine such aid?

Mr. Hattersley

I think that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has been specific about that. One of the things which are an essential part of our renegotiation needs is the assurance that those measures which we think necessary for the rehabilitation and improvement of the British economy must be allowed by the Community. That is an essential part of our renegotiation package.

Mr. Lee

What is the date by which preparations for the referendum will be made?

Mr. Hattersley

It is impossible to give a precise answer to that question. My hon. Friend will understand that the entire renegotiation will take a period of time—and a period of time which events in Europe in the past two months have not shortened but lengthened. We shall have to think about referendum dates when we know more about the renegotiation dates.

Mr. Moate

The Government obviously expect to be successful in their renegotiations, but will the Minister confirm that if they found themselves in the position of negotiating terms for a withdrawal, as envisaged in the White Paper, it would be one of their objects to secure the maintenance of industrial free trade in Europe and to keep down the tariff barriers, which have so far been reduced, and would not such an arrangement be to the mutual benefit of countries both inside and outside the Community?

Mr. Hattersley

I do not want to hypothesis about what the Government's attitude would be if they failed to obtain the terms which they think necessary to our continued membership. Although I do not commit the Government, while I suspect that we would hope for a free trade area with the EEC, it would be rash to assume that we could obtain that.

Mr. Clarke

If and when a referendum is held at the end of the present process, will the Minister confirm that there can be no question of its being constitutionally binding upon hon. Members, who will continue to vote in the House in the usual way and be answerable to their constituents in the usual way? More importantly, will the Minister confirm that there can be no question of the British Government's using the result of any referendum as an excuse for breaking treaty obligations with those with whom we are engaged? Therefore, is it not true that these negotiations make sense only on the basis that there are genuine attempts to seek agreement about what is practicable and what is not, on the road to European unity? Will the Minister disabuse his hon. Friends who still think that it is proper to treat the negotiations as a last-ditch attempt to get this country out of the Community?

Mr. Hattersley

Concerning the treaty obligations, my right hon. Friend has made it absolutely clear that his initial hope is that we can obtain the terms that this country needs without attempting to renegotiate the treaties. We hope that that can be obtained. At present, we are participants in the institutions of the treaties because we are signatories of the treaties and bound by them. If we are unable to obtain the terms without making some sort of adjustment to the treaties, we shall attempt to make that adjustment in a proper international fashion; that is, with the co-operation of other signatories.

As to the actions of this House after a referendum is decided, it must be for right hon. and hon. Members to make up their own minds how they react. There may be some who in the face of a vote of the British people will still think that they know best, but that would not be my view of a proper parliamentary response.

Mrs. Renée Short

Regarding the date of the referendum, will my hon. Friend bear in mind that we are very concerned lest he should feel that there is a completely open-ended commitment for him and our right hon. Friend to postpone the conclusion of the negotiations for a long period? Is my hon. Friend aware that we want to see this matter concluded as speedily as possible, so that, in spite of the resolution of the townswomen's guilds, the people of this country will be allowed to consider the terms that have been obtained?

Mr. Hattersley

I do not think that anyone wants the renegotiation process to drag on. That is not wanted in the House or in this country, and it is certainly not wanted in Europe. Clearly, it is in the interests of all of us—the parties to the Treaty of Accession and the people of Britain—to complete the renegotiation process as swiftly as possible, but it cannot be done very swiftly because it is a long business. All interests are best served by its being completed, and my right hon. Friend will complete it as quickly as possible.

Mr. Rippon

After the Foreign Secretary's statement to the Community on 4th June, may we have an assurance that he will make a statement to the House on 10th June, the earliest opportunity? May we also have an assurance that, as has been suggested by my hon. Friend, there will be a debate? May we have a further assurance that the Government will produce a full White Paper setting out the basis upon which they are renegotiating, the basis of the consultations which they say they are having with British industry and agriculture and with the Commonwealth, and setting out in some detail, as we did when we were negotiating to join, what might be the cost of withdrawal?

Mr. Hattersley

I shall tell my right hon. Friend that the right hon. and learned Gentleman feels that another White Paper is appropriate at this stage, though I think that June or July is not the time for a second White Paper, coming shortly after the one in May.

Whether there will be a debate is a matter for the Leader of the House, and no doubt he will be approached, if the right hon. and learned Gentleman thinks proper, through the usual channels. If I have been less than forthcoming on the second and third points, I assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman that the Foreign Secretary will make a statement as soon as practicable after his visit to Luxembourg on 4th June.

9 . Mr. Whitehead

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what plans he has to discuss the European Community with the new West German Government.

Mr. Hattersley

My right hon. Friend has no immediate plans to meet members of the new West German Government, though he looks forward to doing so before long. He will, of course, be seeing German Ministers at forthcoming meetings of the EEC Council of Ministers.

Mr. Whitehead

Would it be appropriate in this context for the Government and the House to put on record their appreciation of the work of the great European Socialist, Willy Brandt, whose recent departure was entirely in character with what we know of the man?

On a more detailed point, will my hon. Friend convey to the new German Chancellor, Herr Schmidt, that while we understand his recent remarks about putting Germany first—which is not unlike some of the more chauvinistic remarks made in this House—we intend to pursue the aim of renegotiation not only for the political and economic good of this country but also for the reconstruction of Europe as a whole?

Mr. Hattersley

I very much endorse the second part of my hon. Friend's question. He is right to say that the continuation of a thriving Community is in the interests of Europe, as it is of Britain. I also endorse and support the first part of his question. I share his admiration and his regret.

Mr. Blaker

Would the House be right in assuming that the remark which the hon. Gentleman made a few moments ago—that it would be rash to assume that if we withdrew from the EEC the option of a free trade area would be available to us—is based on consultations which he has had with other members of the Community? In particular, will he tell us what consultations he has had with the German Government about it, and what they say?

Mr. Hattersley

We have had no consultations on that point. It was certainly a matter of judgment—a judgment which I fear is endorsed by every authoritative commentator on the subject.

Mr. Amery

Will the hon. Gentleman have in mind that in any discussion which he or his right hon. Friend may have with the German Government it is important to be clear that if we are to give full effect to his right hon. Friend's recipe for closer co-ordination, consultation and co-operation between countries on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean there must be a United Europe, and this country must be part of it?

Mr. Hattersley

As I have said many times and, indeed, as I said a few moments ago this afternoon, there are overwhelming advantages in the situation which the right hon. Gentleman describes, but the reality of the British situation and the reality of the policy of the Government is that a United Europe is possible only if we can obtain substantially improved terms over those negotiated two years ago. That must be related to our economic future, and it must be the policy of the Government.