HC Deb 17 December 1975 vol 902 cc1388-91
30. Mr. Canavan

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he next proposes to meet representatives of the EEC.

Mr. Hattersley

The next meeting of the Council of Ministers (Foreign Affairs) will be held on 19th and 20th January.

Mr. Canavan

At the first available opportunity will my right hon. Friend tell his friends in the Common Market that an increasing number of the unemployed people in this country who voted "Yes" are becoming increasingly angry over the referendum propaganda about "jobs for the boys"? Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is about time that a multinational community such as the Common Market stopped its pussyfooting attitude towards multinational companies and, instead, brought some collective pressure to bear on multinational companies to make them face their social responsibility to provide more jobs, especially in view of the Chrysler fiasco?

Mr. Hattersley

I am sure that my hon. Friend and I agree about the tragedy of increasing unemployment and the regrettable nature of the increases that have taken place. For my part, I have no doubt that if Britain had voted to withdraw from the Economic Community unemployment in this country would have been a great deal higher than it is now.

Secondly, like my hon. Friend, I want to see increased control over multinational companies, but that control can come only from multinational co-operation from individual States, and that the EEC offers the best prospects to provide.

Mr. Biffen

When the right hon. Gentleman does next go to Brussels and meet representatives, will he inquire whether or not the negotiations concluded with Chrysler fall within the provisions of our treaty commitments, not least on account of the very authoritative comment that appears in today's edition of the Financial Times, which suggests that they may well constitute a form of concealed subsidy and, therefore, fall without our treaty obligations?

Mr. Hattersley

I have often told the hon. Gentleman and others who think like him that the EEC is a much more flexible organisation than some people give it credit for. I have no doubt that in the special circumstances attendant on the Chrysler declaration and the Chrysler decision, the Community will understand the need for the British Government to do what they have done.

Mr. Skinner

Is it not true, however, that Norway took a decision to keep out of the Common Market and that as a result of that decision the Norwegians are now managing to weather the capitalist economic storm much better than we are, particularly in regard to unemployment?

Mr. Hattersley

It is certainly true that Norway decided to keep out of the Common Market. It is not true that that contributed to Norway's increased prosperity. There are some of us who may think that the fact that Norway got its oil ashore five years earlier than Great Britain made some contribution to its prosperity.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

Bearing in mind that the referendum is now behind us and these matters are really of the past, may I remind the right hon. Gentleman that there brave been no fewer than eight, or possibly nine, meetings of the Council of Ministers in Europe this month, some of them of considerable importance, but there has been no statement to this House on the subject? The Opposition would not ask that in every case statements should be made, but I ask the right hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friend that occasions should be taken to inform this House more frequently than has been the case of what Ministers are actually doing in our name in Brussels.

Mr. Hattersley

I agree with that wholeheartedly. However, the hon. Gentleman will recall that when we last had a statement on these matters there was some criticism about its value in the House. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman will recall—because he was not here—that on the last occasion on which we debated European matters the debate collapsed after 45 minutes because there were not sufficient Members in the House to keep it going.

33. Mr. Wigley

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs on how many occasions he has specifically addressed the Council of Ministers on the problems of Wales.

Mr. James Callaghan

I have spoken for the interests of Wales in the Council of Ministers and have also corresponded about them whenever they were relevant to the questions under discussion. I have done the same for all other parts of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Wigley

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that there were 54 meetings of the Council of Ministers in the year up to the end of October but no Welsh Office representative attended any one of them, although there were representatives from the Scottish Office in attendance? Will the right hon. Gentleman therefore clarify the situation and confirm that there is a right and a principle, at least, for the Welsh Office to be represented at these meetings? Will he also make sure that in future, when the Council of Ministers discusses subjects such as agriculture, transport, or regional policies, where there is a direct Welsh Office interest in these matters, a Minister from the Welsh Office is invited to go along with him to these meetings?

Mr. Callaghan

I assure the hon. Gentleman that the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East was present at nearly all of the meetings to which he has referred. Whether they were to discuss regional funds, development area status—including its extension to parts of Wales—the future of steel or the question of farming, on all these matters the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East was there, and was speaking. If my right hon. and learned Friend from the Welsh Office would like to accompany me, he can come with pleasure whenever he wants to, as can the Secretary of State for Scotland. On the whole, however, they rather believe that the interests of Wales and Scotland are very well looked after at present.

Mr. Kinnock

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) is well known throughout Wales as being a very balanced Nationalist, in that he has a chip on both shoulders? My right hon. Friend has spoken up so often for the interests of Wales, in Brussels and elsewhere, that he is commonly known as "Jim the Trip". Is my right hon. Friend aware that in any case, with all the inadequacies of the EEC and the criticisms that many people in Wales and elsewhere have in relation to it, we are far more concerned with the power that is exercised by that body and the manner in which it is exercised than with the paraphernalia and the machinery of Government and the question whether the appropriate Under-Secretary from the Welsh Office happens to be at the meetings?

Mr. Callaghan

Yes, Sir. I should like to make clear that these issues, whether they are concerned with the problems of Northern Ireland, Wales or Scotland—or, indeed, any other area—are always cleared either by way of correspondence between Ministers or meetings between Ministers before meetings take place in Brussels. I hope that I can claim that I am extremely scrupulous, for obvious reasons. After all, I care about the regions. I come from one of them. [An hon. Member: "Regions?"] Of course. There is no obscenity in using the word "region". I want to make it clear to the House that I regard it as my first responsibility to ensure that the welfare of the people concerned is taken fully into account in the discussions that we have.