HC Deb 27 November 1974 vol 882 cc432-8
32. Mr. Blaker

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement about the progress of Her Majesty's Government's negotiations regarding the terms of membership of the EEC.

33. Mr. Hurd

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he will make a further statement on the progress of his discussions on future British membership of the EEC.

Mr. Hattersley

We are covering the ground required by our renegotiation objectives and the House has been, and will be, kept fully informed about all relevant developments.

Mr. Blaker

Is the Minister of State aware that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection told the House, in an answer to me on 23rd November, that food prices in the United Kingdom are now lower than they would be if we were outside the EEC? In the course of the continued negotiations, will the hon. Gentleman ask his right hon. Friend to give maximum publicity to that fact?

Mr. Hattersley

I am certainly aware of that answer, because I gave it a week earlier than my right hon. Friend.

Mr. David Steel

Will the Minister use his influence within the Government to make sure that when the negotiations are complete and they are put to the House there will be a free vote and that hon. Members will not be dictated to by irrelevant meetings across the road or anywhere else?

Mr. Hattersley

I genuinely do not subscribe to the view that the meeting going on across the road at this moment is irrelevant. It is essentially the representation of the party which I have tried to serve for almost a quarter of a century. The question of a free vote in the House, as the hon. Gentleman will understand, is a matter not for me but for others on my side of the House.

Mr. Churchill

Will the Minister confirm that the total amount over which the British Government are quibbling in regard to the United Kingdom's proportion of budgetary contribution by 1980 is no more than £250 million, and that it represents no more than two and a half weeks of our current Budget deficit at its present rate?

Mr. Hattersley

It may be because of a difference in our backgrounds that I am unable to dismiss £250 million in the lighthearted way that the hon. Gentleman can. I think our renegotiation aims represent something more than that. They represent the principle that what I must describe as the poorest members of the Community ought not, through the budget, to subsidise the richest members of the Community. I do not see how anyone in the House, or in Europe, can argue with that principle.

Mr. Hurd

Does the Minister of State recall that in Luxembourg on 4th June the Foreign Secretary gave a specific pledge to his partners that once negotiations were completed the Cabinet here would form a collective judgment on the result? Will he draw that pledge to the attention of the Prime Minister, because the Prime Minister, on every possible occasion, draws a thick smokescreen over this aspect of what is to come?

Mr. Hattersley

I am very well aware of what my right hon. Friend said in Luxembourg on 4th June. I urge the hon. Gentleman to try to rise above these small party points and concentrate on the really important matters concerning European unity to which I at least try to direct my attention on Wednesday afternoons.

Mr. Rippon

May I, on the question of the Community budget, express agreement with the hon. Gentleman that it is quite right that we should seek to negotiate on the basis of the treaty and in accordance with the provisions of the treaty if our circumstances deteriorate? However, the Opposition do not accept as readily as he does the assumption that we must, under a Labour Government, be among the poorest nations in Western Europe.

Mr. Hattersley

The right hon. and learned Gentleman has continued to make that point in a bellicose way, no doubt to justify the inadequacies of his own negotiation of EEC terms.

Two points have to be borne in mind. The first is a submission by my Government to the EEC. The second is the analysis made by the Commission of the EEC on that submission. The Commission confirms, not the right hon. and learned Gentleman's view but the view of Her Majesty's Government that there will be a problem in this area by 1980. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman denies that, I think he is flying in the face of two sets of facts which we have to recognise.

34. Dr. Edmund Marshall

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether the renegotiation of the terms of United Kingdom membership of the European Economic Community include consideration of the position of Gibraltar.

Mr. Hattersley

No, Sir.

Dr. Marshall

Is my hon. Friend aware that during the past year the Gibraltarians have been hard hit by large increases in the prices of flour and sugar—much larger than in this country—and that the Chief Minister of Gibraltar attributes this situation to the arrangements governing our membership of the EEC? How do the Government intend to help Gibraltar in these difficulties?

Mr. Hattersley

In two ways. First, aid talks have gone on in the past concerning our relationship with Gibraltar. The second way is concerned with those relationships between Gibraltar and the EEC which have been circumscribed in a precise fashion, but which, I think, have not resulted in the price increases directly flowing from the EEC membership of Great Britain, as the Chief Minister of Gibraltar suggests.

Sir Frederic Bennett

Does the Minister accept that on the question of the standard of living of the people of Gibraltar there is complete unanimity on both sides of the House that, irrespective of the Common Market or otherwise, we have to ensure that they do not suffer unduly due to international situations over which they have no control and over which, constitutionally, they are not allowed to have control?

Mr. Hattersley

I think that there is complete unanimity on two issues concerning the people of Gibraltar and that country's future. The first is the one to which the hon. Gentleman draws attention, namely, their standard of living. The second is their free choice to remain in association with the United Kingdom as long as they choose to do so.

39. Mr. Norman Lamont

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

36. Mr. Adley

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the EEC negotiations.

Mr. Hattersley

I would refer the hon. Members to the reply I gave a little earlier this afternoon to questions from the hon. Members for Blackpool, South and (Mr. Blaker) and Mid-Oxon (Mr. Hurd).

Mr. Lamont

Will the Minister explain how he can reconcile the statement of the Foreign Secretary, made on several occasions, that Britain is now playing a full part in the development of the Community, with the statement contained in the Labour Party manifesto in February, that until the renegotiations were complete all impetus to further integration would stop? If the Foreign Secretary will not come to the House, will he arrange for the question to be answered at the Labour Party conference?

Mr. Hattersley

I hope that the hon. Gentleman has been here to ask that question on the many previous occasions when the Foreign Secretary has been available to answer such questions. The answer is perfectly simple. The Government have made it absolutely clear throughout their renegotiations that there are a number of objectives that we need to achieve. We promised the British people those objectives and we cannot go back on them if we are to fulfil the promises in our manifesto.

On the other hand, we have made it absolutely clear that although we pursue those objectives we shall neither inhibit nor prevent the progress of the Community. Those two policies are not incompatible, and the Government have run them side by side very successfully.

Mr. George Rodgers

Does my hon. Friend accept that there is considerable concern about the lack of pace in the negotiations and that many of us feel that the longer negotiations are prolonged, the deeper we get into the quagmire and the more difficult it will be to extract ourselves, no matter how the referendum or ballot is conducted?

Mr. Hattersley

With respect to my hon. Friend, that is another question I have the privilege of answering almost every Wednesday. Let me make the situation clear to him again. The Government are anxious that the renegotiations should be completed as quickly as possible, as are our partners in the EEC, the country at large and the House. These are serious and detailed negotiations, and our obligation is to get them as right as possible rather than to hurry them. But I assure my hon. Friend that we shall not delay or prevent progress in these negotiations. Our hope and intention is to complete them as soon as possible.

Mr. Powell

Is it the view of the Minister that the renegotiation aims set out by the Labour Party in February and reaffirmed in October can be achieved without amendment of Section 2 of the 1972 Act or alteration of the Treaty of Brussels? Second, since he is desirous, as he says, of preserving the sense of the Luxembourg agreement, may I ask whether Her Majesty's Government will ensure that that agreement is given the force of a treaty?

Mr. Hattersley

On the right hon. Gentleman's first point, the Foreign Secretary made clear to his colleagues in Luxembourg on both 1st April and 4th June that it was our hope and belief that we could achieve our renegotiation aims without amendments to the treaties. As regards the Luxembourg compromise, if it can be so called, I believe that that is working well. It is working in fact rather than in theory, and as long as it can continue to work in fact it will represent and preserve the sovereignty of this Parliament and the British people.

Mr. Walters

The Minister has tended to dismiss the questions from some of my hon. Friends about the position of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet as being party-political points, but is it not reasonable to ask at this stage whether, if the renegotiations continue satisfactorily, one is to expect the Prime Minister on this crucial decision for the country to come out with the Cabinet and state that he is in favour of the terms which he is negotiating?

Mr. Hattersley

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that I can dismiss that type of question as the most trivial kind of party point.

Mr. English

When my right hon. Friend is next in Europe, will he try to explain to the Commission and its employees that civil servants in this country do not normally engage in matters of party controversy in the way that a commissioner and other members of the Commission did last week on this very issue of whether we should stay in the Common Market or not, with which, frankly, they have nothing to do?

Mr. Hattersley

I do not know to whom my hon. Friend refers. It is very difficult to describe the commissioners in the European Community as civil servants in the accepted sense. They are deeply distinguished representatives of this country who are serving this country abroad. Mr. George Thomson, at one time one of my right hon. Friends in this House, is a commissioner, who said on television on Friday that he believed that, as a citizen of Great Britain and, indeed, as a member of the Labour Party, he had a right and a duty to express an opinion on these matters. That is a judgment which I share.

Mr. Alison

Does the Minister agree, in the context of the renegotiations, that leaving the Market would be nothing less that traumatic for Britain, and that coming out of the Market would be very different from not going in to the Market?

Mr. Hattersley

I think that the hon. Gentleman is trying to cause me difficulties by quoting what the Foreign Secretary said on television on Thursday. Since I recognise the reference, he will hardly expect me to disagree with it.