HC Deb 28 April 1976 vol 910 cc377-9
26. Mr. Cryer

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he is satisfied with the moves towards harmonisation within the EEC.

Mr. Hattersley

Provided our national interests are safeguarded, we support measures to remove technical barriers to trade and to facilitate fair competition. We do not, however, believe in gratuitous harmonisation or harmonisation for its own sake.

Mr. Cryer

Will my right hon. Friend explain to the House what he is doing to curb the apparently insatiable zest for harmonisation by the Brussels bureaucrats, from dressed poultry to skimmed milk? Will he comment on his earlier answer on the votes of the House given towards Community proposals, bearing in mind that on the skimmed milk Order the votes of this House made not a whit of difference? What moves on harmonisation are we making on wages, which are generally higher in the other Community countries, and on holidays, which are generally fewer in the United Kingdom? Will those two matters be harmonised?

Mr. Hattersley

On the final point, I doubt it. On the previous two points, on the skimmed milk directive the House proceeded in a way recommended and endorsed by the Scrutiny Committee, which said that it knew that there might have to be progress made before the wishes of the House were finally known. Notwithstanding that, the Leader of the House made it clear that there could be a second debate on this subject, and no doubt there will be. My hon. Friend also refers—if I may mix a metaphor—to the hoary old chestnut of eviscerated chicken. This is one of the occasions, as is so often the case, when something that the Community is doing is wholly approved of by the domestic Department. As I understand it, the Minister of Agriculture believed that proposition to be in the interests of hygiene. It so happens, in the current state of national opinion, that the Community gets blamed for these things and is accused of reckless harmonisation. It happens to be a good thing, as are so many of the Community proposals.

Mr. John Davies

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in accepting the comment on the subject of skimmed milk he is dealing with something on which there is no harmony at all, nor any harmonisation envisaged? Perhaps he will also recognise that by introducing the principle of the optional directive on harmonisation the Community is greatly assisting intra-Community trade and has done nothing but good in this field. Will he encourage the Community to proceed with this line?

Mr. Hattersley

The new principle of optional harmonisation is altogether desirable. It helps to facilitate those measures to reduce non-tariff barriers to trade without bearing over-onerously on individual member Governments. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman drew that to the attention of the House.

Mr. Bidwell

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the previous Prime Minister quite recently described the common agricultural policy as a nonsense, or alluded to the nonsenses of its operation? Does he also agree that most people thought that there would be economic advantages in remaining in the Common Market but that no one thought that there would be much advantage from retaining the so-called common agricultural policy? What hope does my right hon. Friend hold out for a British contribution to changing the situation fairly rapidly?

Mr. Hattersley

The House has been told by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture every month that we have made substantial alterations to the CAP during the past two years. We made them during renegotiation and have made them since. We intend to continue making those improvements which we regard as essential if the CAP is properly to reflect the needs of consumers as well as producers.

Sir B. Rhys Williams

While it must now be obvious that to proceed to economic and monetary union as originally suggested in the Werner Report would be futile, have not the last few weeks shown that it is highly desirable to co-ordinate our exchange rate policy and interest-rate policy with other members of the EEC?

Mr. Hattersley

I certainly subscribe to the hon. Gentleman's first point—that the old concept of economic and monetary union was something which would never work and which has now been demonstrated as certain to fail. The hon. Gentleman's second point is more appropriate for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food goes to Luxembourg for an emergency meeting of the Common Market Agriculture Ministers tomorrow? We hope that he will strongly resist any attempt to change the rate of the green pound, as to do so would add considerably to the food bill in this country and make it totally impossible to continue a decent incomes policy.

Mr. Hattersley

I assure my hon. Friend that there is absolutely no question of the green pound being changed in any way which does not observe the assurances and safeguards for British financing within the common agricultural policy which were specified in the Treaty of Accession.