HC Deb 31 March 1976 vol 908 cc1300-3
29 Mr. Gould

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he has yet reached any conclusions on the Tindemans Report.

Mr. James Callaghan

The Report will be discussed at the forthcoming European Council. The Government regard it as a constructive basis for discussion of the development of the Community, even though we can by no means accept everything in it. We shall be happy to join in whatever further work on it the European Council sets in train before reaching any definitive conclusions.

Mr. Gould

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in respect of the Tindemans Report many hon. Members on both sides of the House were much encouraged by the statement in his Hamburg speech to the effect that he is not a federalist? Will he give an assurance that so long as he remains in charge of the Foreign Office, in one capacity or another, that statement will remain the keynote of the British Government's policy?

Mr. Callaghan

Yes, federalism is failing in Europe and has never been a strongly held view in this country. However, that should not prevent us from trying to get the maximum co-operation among our partners in the Community. We are stronger when we work, speak and act together. Providing we do so with due regard to our individual nationhood—not narrow nationalism—it will be for the benefit of this country as well as Europe.

Mr. Amery

The Tindemans Report places emphasis on an effective European foreign policy. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that the situation now prevailing in the Lebanon is of very serious import for Europe, whether it results in partition or an extremist takeover? Will he ensure that this subject is discussed at tomorrow's meeting?

Mr. Callaghan

The situation in the Lebanon is now the most serious in the Middle East and could give rise to a flare-up in other ways. We are constantly in touch with our allies in the Community as well as in the United States and I should like to put on record my appreciation of the restraint the Israelis have shown in the present situation and of the skill shown by the Syrians in trying to mediate. I hope that the matter will come to the attention of the European Council, though the agenda is a matter for agreement among us all.

Mr. Raphael Tuck

If, as the Tindemans Report insists, we have direct elections to the European Parliament, can my right hon. Friend give us some idea of the kind of issues on which such elections would be fought, supposing, for example, that the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) and I were opposing candidates for the same seat?

Mr. Callaghan

It would be a very interesting election, but I am not sure how much enlightenment the electors would get.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that he rejects the idea of a two-tier Community with first and second-class membership, as proposed in the Tindemans Report? Does he agree that it is essential to make progress in monetary and economic matters in order to move towards a unified reserve currency?

Mr. Callaghan

A two-tier Community has no prospect of holding the Community together and must be rejected. On economic and monetary union, I repeat my personal conviction that attempts to revive the snake, even if it sloughs half-a-dozen skins, will fail until there is some economic convergence. It is putting the cart before the horse to try to erect a monetary system until our economies are moving more closely together.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that the best hope for Europe lies in an orderly advance by nation States with their assent? Does he agree that the suggestion in the Tindemans Report that majority decisions should be taken and that all countries should come into line, irrespective of their views, would be a retrograde rather than an advancing step?

Mr. Callaghan

I agree with the first part of my hon. Friend's question. I suppose that there are minor matters on which a country would not feel it necessary to hold out if it was in a minority, but I have never seen any major issue of importance to one nation being discussed in the Council of Ministers where that country has been willing to yield if it felt it was going to be put at a major disadvantage. It would break the Community if there were an attempt to enforce a policy different from that.

Mr. Hurd

Is it not strange and wrong that, despite repeated requests, the House has not yet debated this important Report before our Prime Ministers, old and new, go to Luxembourg to discuss it tomorrow? The right hon. Gentleman has given us hints that there are parts of the Report which he does not think should be followed, but are there any ideas in the Report which he thinks should be pursued in the interests of this country and the Community?

Mr. Callaghan

I do not know why the hon. Gentleman raises this topic. There was a Supply Day yesterday and it is for the Opposition to choose what we discuss on those days. If they wish to debate direct elections rather than the Tindemans Report, they cannot complain the next day. The question of a debate on the Report is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, but debates can be arranged and there are several Supply Days coming up if the Opposition wish to use them. However, it is a long-range Report and there will be no decisions taken on it tomorrow or the next day.