HC Deb 30 April 1975 vol 891 cc459-63
20. Mr. Hurd

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement about the most recent meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the EEC.

22. Mr. Blaker

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement about his latest meeting with the Foreign Ministers of the EEC countries.

Mr. Hattersley

The last occasion when Foreign Ministers of the EEC met was the Council of Ministers in Luxembourg on 14th-15th April. The Ministers discussed subjects referred to in the statement of Community business which I made on 27th March.

Mr. Hurd

From the Minister's discussions with our partners, how does he rate the chances of the recently-published proposal that if there were a "No" result in the referendum we would be able, by 1st January, to negotiate a free trade agreement with the Community which would allow our goods free access into the Community without our accepting limitations on our sovereignty—limitations which have been accepted by Norway, Sweden and other EFTA countries?

Mr. Hattersley

I made a speech on Friday in which I said that the speed with which we concluded a free trade agreement with the Community if we were to leave that organisation would depend wholly on the price we were prepared to pay for that speed. If we were prepared to leave the Community quickly, we might be forced to do so without the relationship to the EEC which would be necessary for our continued trading success. Looking at this morning's newspapers, I think that perhaps my remarks five days ago were a somewhat optimistic prophecy about our prospects. I see that industry in Belgium has said that a Britain outside the EEC should not have a free trade agreement with the Community. That is the sort of problem we would be bound to meet if we rejected EEC membership and then asked to enjoy the benefits without incurring any of the payments.

Mr. Fernyhough

When my right hon. Friend refers to the trading success, will he say whether, in view of the adverse balance of trade, the EEC is not more likely to miss us than we are to miss it?

Mr. Hattersley

I take the view that we are likely to miss each other—in other words, that we have something to contribute to the EEC and that it has a great deal to offer us. One of the things its members have to offer us is a trading base which is better inside the EEC than if we were to leave. My right hon. Friend no doubt will recall that our deficit in the EEC has multiplied fivefold, whereas our deficit with North America and the Commonwealth has multiplied 13-fold and 15-fold. I have no doubt that had our trading pattern in the last three years not changed in the way it has begun to change. Our deficit with those countries would have been greater.

Mr. Blaker

Even if the other eight members of the Community were prepared to conclude a free trade agreement in the event of our departure from the EEC, does not the Minister think that it would have to include food as well as industrial materials?

Mr. Hattersley

It would have to include a number of matters. It would almost certainly include food. What is certain is that if we were to conclude a free trade agreement with the Community, it would be on the pattern of agreements entered into by Norway, Sweden, Austria and Switzerland, and would involve our acceptance of the Community's commercial policy. In other words, if we were outside the Community we would have to accept commercial policies without being able to influence them as we would if we were a partner within that body and participating in the Council of Ministers.

Mr. Mikardo

In the light of the last answer, does my right hon. Friend recognise that there is no comparison between our position and that of Norway and the other countries he mentioned, since we are by far the largest customer in the Community? Is he aware of the fact that industrial traders do not normally spit in the eye of their best customer—[An HON. MEMBER: "Ignorance!"] Would the hon. Gentleman who said "Ignorance" bear in mind that last year we sold £800 million in manufactured goods and bought goods worth £1,700 million and will he also bear in mind that last year we took 350,000 tons of butter from the Community? What on earth will the Community do with that butter and with the Volkswagens, Fiats and Renaults if the Community does not give us a free trade agreement?

Mr. Hattersley

I have never doubted—indeed, I have always said—that if we were to leave the Community we would be able to negotiate a free trade agreement of some sort. My concern relates to the price that we should have to pay for such an agreement. There is no doubt that a part of that price would involve acceptance of a common commercial policy—a policy which at present applies to all countries with free trade arrangements with the Community. That is the minimum price we should have to pay. To think otherwise is to fly in the face of reality.

21. Mr. Spearing

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he next expects to meet the Foreign Ministers of the EEC in the non Council series of meetings of Foreign Ministers similar to those held at Schloss Gymnich and Dublin.

Mr. Hattersley

Informal meetings of this kind are arranged when the Foreign Ministers think that it would be useful to have a general exchange of views. There are no plans at present for a further meeting.

Mr. Spearing

Whilst it is a diplomatic convention for meetings between Foreign Ministers of sovereign States to be held in confidence, does not the existence of this series of meetings between members of the EEC, as distinct from normal meetings of Foreign Ministers, suggest that the foreign policy of the EEC is being hammered out as a distinct policy and that therefore we have lost a good deal, if not all, of our sovereignty in this respect?

Mr. Hattersley

I have never been able to understand my hon. Friend's confusion between loss of sovereignty and co-operation. It has always seemed to me that the countries of Western Europe had a great deal to gain by coming together and discussing, without commitment or sanctions, their common policies on a variety of issues. If my hon. Friend looks at the record over the past two years, he will see that there have been a number of occasions when the Community has not agreed on what its common policy should be, and when member countries have taken their individual paths. Frankly, I regret that. I think that Britain's voice is more likely to be held in authority in the world and listened to with respect if we speak within the Community according to a common Community policy. Long may that continue.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the whole point about sovereignty is that it is not something we hoard or admire, like the Crown jewels; it is something used to protect and promote the best interests of the country. We are far more likely to be able to use that sovereignty within the Community to achieve our best purposes than by going outside and simply trying to admire it like somebody's cast off cloak.

Mr. Hattersley

I agree with that, although I do not altogether like the image. Nor did I like the image when the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) used it in the House a fortnight ago. The point is this: the Lomé Agreement was a matter of co-operation between the countries of the EEC, which might be regarded by some of my hon. Friends as a reduction in British sovereignty. That reduction in sovereignty—if it was that—achieved benefits for the developing Commonwealth countries which could not have been obtained by Britain operating as an individual sovereign Power. I am prepared to make concessions on sovereignty to achieve that kind of success.