§ [Commission Documents Nos. R/2099/75 and R/1025/76]
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Stoddart.]
§ 12.32 a.m.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is a tradition of this House, whenever we debate any matter—it is New Zealand butter tonight—that we have the proper documents before us. We have a memorandum from the Minister of State in which he says that the official text of the proposal is not available. Moreover, it says that the quantities are left blank in the proposal, the intention being that they should be decided by the Council of Ministers. I understand that some hon. Members on the Scrutiny Committee have the working document but I have inquired at the Vote Office and have found that this working document is not available to hon. Members. I therefore ask, the facts being as they are, whether this debate is in order because we do not have the document in front of us.
§ Mr. Clement Freud (Isle of Ely)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We are about to embark on a debate on New Zealand butter of which no notice was given and for which no adequate explanation has been offered. We are told that the debate follows the recommendation of the Select Committee, whose report is yet to be printed; the Committee itself was asked to report on the EEC working document which is non-specific in its recommendations and is yet to be printed and is not available at the Vote Office. Further, we are told 1144 that this document is being discussed in Brussels at a meeting of EEC Ministers today.
Not content with this retrospective debate, the Government have circulated a business statement containing a sentence which was not read out in the statement made by the Leader of the House. This business statement circulated to the Whips Office says:However, in all the circumstances, the House might prefer not to proceed with the debate today but to await the report from the Minister on the outcome of the Council meeting.For this reason I would ask that this Question be not put.
§ Mr. Neil Marten (Banbury)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I confirm what the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) says. I have a copy of the draft regulations, which is in blank, because I was on the Scrutiny Committee. I asked at the Vote Office a short while ago whether they were available, and they were not. If they are not available, hon. Members cannot see what we are debating and we should therefore not proceed. It is as simple as that.
§ The Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)
Order. The points of order which have been raised are not matters for the Chair. What is a matter for the Chair is that if they are prolonged and the debate is not proceeded with, the time taken up by points of order will be deducted from the one and a half hours set aside for the debate.
§ Mr. John Davies (Knutsford)
Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The paper which members of the Scrutiny Committee may have is a working paper, whereas the Scrutiny Committee, normally speaking, is required to give its opinion on Commission documents, supplemented by explanatory memoranda. In this case there is no Commission document, but there is an explanatory memorandum, upon which the Scrutiny Committee has dwelt and made a report. The report has been made available through the Vote Office in cyclostyled form. I submit that the 1145 debate can proceed, and would usefully proceed, since there is great urgency that this matter be dealt with in the Council of Ministers.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Michael Foot)
The point that the right hon. Member has just made is of great assistance to the House and I hope that the debate can proceed on that basis on the Adjournment motion. I fully understand that hon. Members find the procedure unsatisfactory. As I said earlier today, it is extremely inconvenient for the House and unsatisfactory that we should have to deal with these matters in this way, but the Scrutiny Committee has had only a very short time to look at them. We thought that it was better that there should be a debate before the decision was taken rather than that we should have no debate at all. It is on that basis that we suggested that it should take place on the Adjournment.
I hope that the House, when it hears what the Minister and others have to say, will be better able to see how we should proceed. Certainly, having the debate on the Adjournment does no injury to the House. In future we shall have to find a better way of dealing with all these matters—I am fully in accord with that proposition—but that does not mean that it would be a disadvantage for the House to discuss the matter at this moment before a decision is taken in Brussels. The views expressed will be conveyed to my right hon. Friend there. I should have thought that that was the best thing for the House to do.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Rippon (Hexham)
Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do not understand why the Leader of the House says that the matter can only be proceeded with in this way. As I understand it, this matter arises under Protocol 18 of the Treaty of Accession, Article 5(2) of which provides:Appropriate measures to ensure the maintenance after 31 December 1977 of exceptional arrangements in respect of imports of butter from New Zealand, including the details of such arrangements, shall be determined by that Council, acting unanimously on a proposal from the Commission, in the light of that review.It was clearly intended that there should be a proposal of the Commission, which would be available and in the light of 1146 which the Council of Ministers would take a decision.
Of course I accept that it is part of the prerogative power of the Crown that Her Majesty's Government can enter into agreements without notifying the House in advance of the nature of those agreements. But the Leader of the House, who took part in debates on the European Communities Bill, will remember that when, on 8th March 1972, when we debated this matter, the present Secretary of State for the Environment said of any agreement that the Government might make:… we could not interfere with it, amend it, or reject it".I replied:One thing should be made clear. Of course, the House of Commons could debate it. There is no doubt about that. As we have made clear all along, any Government are responsible to the House of Commons. Therefore, if they entered, or allowed the Community to enter, agreements which could not be carried through this House or which were subject to a vote of censure, they would be open to great difficulty."—[Official Report, 8th March 1972; Vol. 832, c. 1580–1.]So of course he can say that the Government have a prerogative power to enter into this agreement, but it was clearly the intention all along that this should be debated in good time and that we should have regard to the special arrangements made.
§ Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)
What no one wants is that we should have no debate and that then the Minister in Brussels should reach an agreement and come back and present us with a fait accompli. Therefore, if we are not to have a debate tonight, I hope that we can first have an assurance from the Government that the Minister will not finally and irrevocably commit himself in the Council of Ministers on this issue.
§ Mr. Foot
I regard the procedure as highly unsatisfactory, and we shall have to devise a way of dealing with these matters in the future. Many of the difficulties in which the House is now encoiled were prophesied, and we shall have to find a solution.
When I was confronted on Thursday afternoon, Friday morning and again this morning with the certainty that negotiations would be taking place in Brussels tonight and tomorrow morning, I had to 1147 decide whether to make facilities available for discussion in the House. I took into account the representations made by the Chairman of the Scrutiny Committee, who asked for a debate, although admittedly he said that there was a possibility that we could have a debate later. I also took into account what I thought would be the strong feeling on both sides of the House that it would be reprehensible to deny the possibility of a debate.
However, if the House does not want the debate tonight we could abandon it. I do not think that that is the best way to proceed. It would be better to hear what is the position. Hon. Members may give their views, some of which can be conveyed to my right hon. Friend who will be concluding the negotiations tomorrow. No doubt the House will want to know the decision that is made in Brussels, and when that is reported to the House perhaps we could—
§ Mr. Foot
It is no good my hon. Friends saying it is too late. That is the procedure to which the House agreed when the European Communities Bill was before it. On this occasion we are trying to carry out as faithfully and responsibly as we can the Scrutiny Committee's recommendations. I think the right hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies) will agree that that is what we have sought to do on every occasion. We are seeking to do it on this occasion, to give the House a chance to discuss the matter before it is decided in Brussels tomorrow. What the House may wish to do after tomorrow is another matter.
I suggest that it is better to have the debate now, but if the House does not want it I shall not force the debate on the House. I am offering the time to the House because I think it better to have the debate before the decision is taken.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I have already proposed the Question, That this House do now adjourn. If there should be a debate, all the time taken on points of order will come out of the one-and-a-half hours allocated to the debate. I appeal to hon. Members to allow me to 1148 call the Minister of State. The original point of order was concerned with the absence of papers, but since then there has been a shift in the contents of the points of order.
§ Mr. John Mendelson
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Because of the importance of the principle, may I put this point to the Leader of the House? Neither this afternoon when he was first questioned on this matter, nor tonight has he explained why a debate is essential after such short notice—he says from last Thursday. The decision must be reached tomorrow, according to the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon), who was the responsible Minister at the time of the negotiations. If there is to be a unanimous decision by the Council of Ministers before any effective action can be taken, surely it is possible for the Government to declare tonight that they will instruct the Minister who is attending the ministerial meeting not to take part in a decision tomorrow, and advise the House to adjourn the debate until more facts are available. In that way we can safely adjourn the debate without losing anything we might gain from a perfunctory debate tonight.
§ Mr. Foot
I must preface every intervention I make with the utterance that I do not regard this procedure as satisfactory. None the less, we are faced with it. The House will hear more fully the facts of the situation if they allow my hon. Friend the Minister of State to speak. If a decision is not reached tomorrow in Brussels the agreement may be jeopardised. The agreement is a valuable one from the point of view of the New Zealand Government.
As I indicated briefly in my previous remarks—and as my hon. Friend will illustrate if he gets the chance—I am not saying that this is a satisfactory way of proceeding; but this is what the House decided when it said that we should have this system of legislation operating. It is all very well for the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) to shake his head; he assured us that we would not have these difficulties, but now we are landed with them. Those who gave full warning to the House that these things might happen have every right now to ask the House 1149 to show some patience in dealing with the matter, because we are trying to solve the problem created by the Conservative Party.
This is a matter of great importance to New Zealand. I ask my hon. Friends to listen to what my hon. Friend the Minister has to say, and then to listen to what is said by my right hon. Friend when he returns from Brussels. If the House then says that we must have a debate, we must have it; but I must tell the House that under the procedures arranged it is not always possible to ensure that a decision is made by this House before decisions are made in Brussels. That is part of the parallel system created by the right hon. and learned Gentleman.
The right hon. Member who is the Chairman of the Scrutiny Committee has done his best to enable us to escape these difficulties and has given us advance warning, but he will agree that in this case much less time was available. That is a further reason why we are in these difficulties. However, I ask the House to listen to what my hon. Friend the Minister has to say on the merits of this issue. Then let us hear what is said by other hon. Members; then let us deal with the situation that develops from Brussels. We shall no doubt have to have further debates on this matter. This illustrates that this House of Commons must take further steps in the future to try to clear up the mess left by our predecessors.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I remind hon. Members that the arguments now being advanced were all made during the course of the right hon. Gentleman's statement this afternoon. They were all a rehash of what I heard this afternoon. The case that the right hon. Gentleman has put was the case that he put this afternoon.
§ Mr. Rippon
Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Leader of the House is wrong in saying that this procedure derives from the European Communities Act. We were careful to ensure that the procedures of this House were not bound or fettered in any way. That is why we rejected an amendment designed with that purpose in mind. The procedures of this House are entirely within the control of the House. The Leader of the House has the responsi- 1150 bility for providing time for discussion. If the Government hereafter enter into agreements of any kind on which they have not allowed full discussion in this House they must take full responsibility. They will have to bring their decisions to the House and carry them through here.
§ Mr. Marten
I want to make a proposal that may help the House. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) mentioned Article 5(2) of Protocol 18, under which the Council of Ministers is required to act on a proposal of the Commission. What we have before us—those who are lucky enough to have the draft proposal —is a series of blanks, which is absurd. If a proposal can be made in a blank form we have the absurdity that a blank piece of paper can be argued as a proposal. That is an important point of principle.
But if this is regarded as a draft proposal the Council of Ministers fills it in and sends it back to the Commission, which then resubmits it with the blanks filled it. It goes to the Council of Ministers for signature, when it becomes law under the regulation.
My point is that between the time when it goes back to the Commission for the figures to be filled in and the time when it again goes to the Council of Ministers it should be discussed in this House. I suggest that the Minister of Agriculture can negotiate ad referendum in this House. That is done in international affairs. I suggest that he does not agree to anything until this House has finally decided on the precise details that have been provided by the Commission.
§ Mr. Foot
I am not prepared to give the House an undertaking which I am not certain I can fulfil. I cannot say that I could fulfil an undertaking in those terms. I have said that if the House wishes to debate any statement that is made by my right hon. Friend when he comes back, we will consider it, and I would think it right that we should have a debate. But we have not yet devised a procedure by which we can be certain of having debates in this House to settle matters before they are settled in Brussels, and we shall have to apply our minds to 1151 it. Meantime, I suggest that we proceed to discuss this question now.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (South Down)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am not sure that the Leader of the House has fully appreciated the point made by the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten). The hon. Gentleman raised the proposition that the Council of Ministers is in no position to come to a decision, and that the Minister of Agriculture consequently will not find himself, certainly need not find himself, in any way obliged to participate in such a decision, for it is clear from Protocol 18 that the Council of Ministers can only act in this matter on a proposal from the Commission, and it is equally clear that there is no proposal from the Commission before the Council of Ministers, nor will be tomorrow, since we are assured that, in the proposal, the quantities which are the material subject are left blank, although the brief goes on to state the intention as being that they should be decided by the Council of Ministers.
It cannot, therefore, within the terms of the protocol, be regarded as a proposal from the Commission, which alone can be the basis of a decision of the Council; it cannot be contended that a document from which the crucial matters are missing is a proposal of the Commission. It may well be that the Council tomorrow can discuss the form in which it would like a proposal subsequently to reach it from the Commission, but I suggest—and this may be of material assistance to the Government as well as to the House—that, in the terms of the protocol—that is, of the treaty by which we are all bound—a binding decision cannot be taken by the Council of Ministers on the basis of which regulations are made in the present state of affairs, since there is, within the meaning of the protocol, no proposal from the Commission before the Council.
§ Mr. Foot
If the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) and the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) are correct, there will be another opportunity for the matter to be debated. If that is the case, we will seek to make provision for it. But that is not a reason for the House not to debate the matter before the question is discussed in Brus- 1152 sels tomorrow. We shall have to see whether the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Gentleman are correct on the subject. If they are correct, it may relieve the situation in some degree, but I am making no undertaking, because I wish to know whether their interpretation is correct. In any case, the House will obviously wish to return to the matter when my right hon. Friend returns. I suggest that the best course the House can adopt, in order to take the best advantage of the time still left, is to hear my hon. Friend the Minister of State and make any comments it may wish to make on the merits of the matter.
§ 12.55 a.m.
§ The Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Edward Bishop)
I can appreciate the concern of the House on this matter. I will do my best to be sensitive in my comments and to deal not only with the merits of the case before us regarding the position of the New Zealand butter imports in the three years under discussion but also with the procedural difficulties which face us this evening.
The House will be well advised to follow the guidance given by the right hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies), who is Chairman of the Scrutiny Committee, as well as that given by my right hon. Friend.
Following the statement this afternoon by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, I am sure that the House is grateful to him for finding time at such short notice to debate this matter. I have no doubt that it will be helpful to hon. Members to be able to debate this question before decisions are taken in Brussels. I can give an undertaking now that points made this evening will be conveyed to my right hon. Friend who is attending the Council of Ministers.
I do not wish to minimise the difficulties which have been created by the short notice and I share the concern of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that the arrangements we are operating under are by no means satisfactory. In spite of these difficulties it will, however, be useful to hear the views of hon. Members tonight.
As the House knows, this debate arises from a recommendation of the Scrutiny Committee. This point was made clear 1153 by the right hon. Member for Knutsford and my right hon. Friend. The subject is not a new one. Indeed, this matter was considered at length during the renegotiations, and my right hon. Friend the then Prime Minister made a statement in the House on 12th March last year which included the question of New Zealand butter after the Dublin meeting of Heads of Government. The Commission Report, Document R/2099/75, on special arrangements for New Zealand butter after 1977 was considered by the Scrutiny Committee as long ago as last September. Therefore many Members will be familiar with the issues before us tonight. It will no doubt be convenient to the House if this debate also takes in Community Document R/1025/76, available in the Vote Office, which is a factual report on the operation of the Protocol 18 arrangements during 1975.
§ Mr. Marten
Are we also debating the document which is not available in the Vote Office but which some of us have because we are members of the Scrutiny Committee?
§ Mr. Bishop
I am referring to Document R/1025/76, which I got from the Vote Office this afternoon and which is available to hon. Members. Throughout the lengthy considerations given to this problem, the Government's aim has always been to secure arrangements which are satisfactory both to the New Zealand Government and to ourselves. But the issues are complex, and, even though slow progress was made in the early stages, matters have moved more quickly in the last few days. I gather from the response of hon. Members that the matter has moved too quickly for our procedures. Some of the difficulties we face tonight will be the basis of a debate which I understand will be held in the House in a few days' time, when the procedural difficulties can be dealt with. It will be helpful if I briefly review the background before coming to the latest proposals which are being put before Agricultural Ministers at this week's Council meeting in Brussels.
It has long been accepted by successive Governments that because of the vital importance of the British butter market for New Zealand, arrangements to allow her to continue to trade with us are essential. It was for this reason 1154 that the previous Government secured the inclusion in the Treaty of Accession of Protocol 18. This protocol specifies the precise quantities of butter that may be imported from New Zealand in each of the years 1973 to 1977 and the arrangements under which these quantities are to be imported into this country.
As to the position after 1977—the matter we are discussing tonight—the protocol in Article 5 required the Council of Ministers during 1975 to review the situation—that is, the working of the protocol concerning butter—taking into account the world market situation and New Zealand's progress towards diversification of its economy and exports referred to in Doc. R/1025/76, to which I referred a few moments ago.
In the light of this review, the protocol states thatAppropriate measures to ensure the maintenance, after 31 December 1977, of exceptional arrangements in respect of imports of butter from New Zealand, including the details of such arrangements, shall be determined by the Council, acting unanimously on a proposal from the Commission".When the Heads of Government considered this question in Dublin in March last year, during the renegotiation of the entry terms obtained by the previous Government, they called for a Commission report and also for a Commission proposal on the arrangements to apply after 1977.
The Dublin meeting also observed that the quantities to be established after 1977should not deprive New Zealand of outlets which are essential for it. Thus for the period up to 1980, these annual quantities depending on future market developments could remain close to effective deliveries … in 1974 and the quantities currently envisaged by New Zealand for 1975."—[Official Report, 12th March 1975; Vol. 888, c. 521.]The House is aware of the statement by the then Prime Minister following the meeting of the Heads of Government in Dublin, where these matters were discussed. The Heads of Government also observed that provision should be made for appropriate adjustment of prices.
The Commission's report and its outline proposal, made in the light of the guidance given by the Heads of Government, are contained in Doc. R/2099/75, which, as I have mentioned, was con- 1155 sidered and noted by the Scrutiny Committee last September. The Commission's preliminary suggestion contained in that document was that the annual quantities might be i29,000 tons in 1978, 121,000 tons in 1979 and 113,000 tons in 1980.
The Council of Agricultural Ministers has discussed this question on a number of occasions but no agreement has been reached either on the quantities or on the conditions under which they would be imported.
It is quite clear that a decision cannot continue to be postponed. Protocol 18 called for the review to be made in 1975 and arrangements decided upon in the light of this. It is now nearly the middle of 1976. Also, from New Zealand's point of view, she needs to know where she will stand from 1977 onwards, in order that she can plan her investments and exports accordingly. These are other factors which show the pressing need for a decision to be made as soon as possible. My right hon. Friend has been pressing for many months for final resolution of this matter, and at the last meeting of the Council of Ministers on 5th and 6th April—despite hesitation by other member States—he was able to secure that at this week's Council meeting an attempt should be made to come to a decision.
§ Mr. Bishop
As for recent developments, the Commission produced last week a draft of a Council regulation, and, although the formal text has yet to be received, an explanatory memorandum has been considered by the Scrutiny Committee, of which the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) is a member. The draft regulation leaves blank the reference to quantities of butter for each of the years 1978 to 1980. This is because the Council of Agricultural Ministers will have to decide on these taking account of the guidance given at the Dublin meeting and starting from the figures proposed by the Commission which I mentioned earlier. Clearly, I cannot prejudice my right hon. Friend's negotiating position by giving more details now. The fact is that the formula was quoted in the statement to the House on 12th March of last year.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)
Order. If the Minister remains on his feet, other right hon. and hon. Members must resume their seats.
§ Mr. Bishop
The House has very little time in which to debate the matter, and it is important that we should hear the views of hon. Members after my opening statement on behalf of my right hon. Friend.
As regards other provisions which are necessary—
§ Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrewshire, West)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. When your colleague was in the chair earlier, the point was made by the Leader of the House that we should allow the Minister to speak so that we might understand the position. The purpose of these attempts to intervene by the right hon. and learned Member for Hex-ham (Mr. Rippon) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) is so that we might understand the position.
§ Mr. Bishop
I am not insensitive to the feeling of the House on this matter. But it is important that my right hon. Friend should get to know the views of the House in the debate which is to follow my opening remarks.
As regards other provisions which are necessary, such as the fixing of special levies and marketing arrangements, these follow the system laid down in Protocol 18. These have worked satisfactorily from our point of view and, I believe, also from New Zealand's. What is more, specific provision is made for the adjustment of the price of New Zealand butter, which was agreed at Dublin in the course of renegotiation, and general provision will also be made for the longer-term—namely, after 1980.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. It is clear to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that the Minister is not giving way. In those circumstances, the Minister will continue his speech.
§ Mr. Bishop
Very well. I will give way, first to the right hon. and learned Gentleman and then to my right hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Rippon
I am obliged to the Minister. This is of some importance. As the protocol was signed in the interests of New Zealand, on behalf of Her Majesty's Government will the Minister assure the House that the Government will not enter into any agreement tomorrow which has not the approval of the New Zealand Government?
§ Mr. Bishop
The reply to that question is a topic to which I was about to come. We are in very close contact with the New Zealand Government, and they are as anxious as we are that a decision should be arrived at tomorrow.
§ Mr. Jay
As this whole issue relates to events which will take place after the end of 1977, though no doubt a decision has to be reached soon, why does it have to be reached this week? Why cannot it 1158 be postponed for 10 days, or two weeks in order to give this House time to reach a conclusion on the matter?
§ Mr. Bishop
I have been stating very clearly in the last few minutes—despite interruptions—the reasons for urgency in this matter. At the Council meeting on 5th and 6th May, my right hon. Friend got an assurance that there was the possibility of an agreement this week.
We do not want this put in jeopardy, and that is why it is so urgent and why the Scrutiny Committee was given memoranda. They gave the Committee some evidence which hon. Members could discuss and on which they could make recommendations to the House.
In considering this proposed regulation in the Council of Ministers, our position is quite clear. It is to safeguard New Zealand's position, built up over many years, as a reliable and important supplier of butter to our market. Therefore, we shall aim to secure provision for quantities in each of the three years 1978 to 1980, which are in accord with the statement following the Dublin Council.
We shall also aim to obtain satisfactory arrangements as regards prices and levies so that the quantities specified can be effectively marketed here on terms fair to New Zealand; and finally we shall aim to ensure that it is understood—and that there is no doubt about this—that provision is made for New Zealand butter after 1980.
These are the terms we shall be seeking. We have kept the New Zealand Government informed of developments during the long period of negotiations on this matter, and the aims I have outlined are, I believe, fully acceptable to New Zealand.
Also, these terms faithfully interpret the important conclusion reached by Heads of Government at the Dublin Council, which was that the arrangements after 1977should not deprive New Zealand of outlets which are essential to it.It is now necessary that the Council of Agricultural Ministers should come to a decision, as the uncertainties created by further delay would frustrate New Zealand's investment plans and, therefore, the whole purpose of the arrangements.
1159 I realise that many hon. Members wish to speak in this debate. We want to hear the views in order that they may be transmitted to my right hon. Friend. Therefore, I do not want to take up more time over these opening remarks. The importance of the debate is that hon. Members should be given a chance to speak, and I have tried to summarise the main developments which have taken place over the past year and concentrate on the issues about which my right hon. Friend will be negotiating in Brussels this week.
I can assure the House that I shall see that the views expressed are put to the Minister before final decisions are taken in the Council of Ministers.
§ Mr. Marten
The Minister of State has said that the draft regulation is not available in the Vote Office, but I have seen a letter in which the Minister of Agriculture says he had the draft regulation in the Ministry on 12th May. Today is 18th May. Why have we still not got the document about which we are talking?
§ Mr. Bishop
This is a draft regulation which is not officially tabled. The memoranda produced on 10th May and today interpret as faithfully as we can the views which will be put by the Commission.
§ 1.14 a.m.
§ Mr. Francis Pym (Cambridgeshire)
The House is in an intolerable situation over this matter, but there is one thing on which we are all agreed—the need to negotiate satisfactory arrangements for continued supplies of New Zealand butter.
However well intentioned the Leader of the House may be, the procedure under which we are holding this debate and the circumstances in which it arises put us in a most difficult situation. It could almost be described, especially after the past three-quarters of an hour, 1160 as something of a parliamentary obscenity. There is not a proposition before us. We are not discussing the firm proposition put by the Commission to the Council of Ministers. We do not know the nature of the agenda or the data. The Commission document is full of blanks. I do not see how we can have a meaningful debate when it is full of blanks.
The Leader of the House has said that it is very important for this debate to take place before decisions are taken in Brussels. But what is it that we are discussing? What is the proposition that is being discussed in Brussels? Surely it is peculiarly awkward for us to take the matter further in the course of the Minister's negotiations.
I take it that the Minister's negotiations began today and have not been concluded. We do not know what stage has been reached, or what discussions have already taken place. When the Minister of State was pressed he ventured to say that he could not possibly prejudice the Minister's negotiating position. I understand that. As I have said, it is difficult to make a meaningful contribution given that the debate is being held tonight.
It is unfortunate that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food seems to be rather unlucky in these negotiations, especially in their timing. He seems to be accident prone at the moment. He laughs it off very cheerfully, but it is rather a serious matter. As we all know, he got into great difficulty over the skimmed milk powder negotiations. We do not know what he will come back with tomorrow and we do not know what proposition he is making.
The Leader of the House has said that what the House wishes after tomorrow when the negotiations are concluded is another matter. But that is what the debate is supposed to be about, as well as to give advice.
Is it quite right for the Leader of the House to say that this is a question of short notice, that he suddenly discovered on Thursday afternoon that there had been some discussion in the Scrutiny Committee about arrangements with New Zealand? Was that the first that the right hon. Gentleman heard about the matter? Certainly the discussions reached 1161 the Scrutiny Committee at very short notice as its roneoed report makes clear, but as the Minister of State made clear in opening, it is by no means a sudden matter for the Government to have to consider. The Minister said that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food had been pressing his colleagues in the Council of Ministers for many months. He talked about discussions having taken place last September. There were reports in the Press some weeks ago about the amount of butter that might be offered and negotiated by the Community to New Zealand. There cannot be any question of surprise in that context.
Surely it is not quite right for the Leader of the House to say that it is all the fault of the European Communities Act and all prophesised at that time. There are the questions of how the negotiation has been handled, the time when the matter was presented to the Scrutiny Committee and the consideration that the Government have given it. They have known about it for weeks. I do not find myself persuaded that the Government were altogether surprised.
§ Mr. Foot
If the right hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies), the Chairman of the Scrutiny Committee, will permit me to quote from the letter he sent to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, I may be able to clear up the matter. I do not wish to quote it if the right hon. Gentleman does not wish me to do so.
§ Mr. Foot
This is the letter that the right hon. Gentleman sent on 14th May in reply to a letter sent by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I think it disposes of all the accusations that the right hon. Gentleman for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) is making. The letter reads:In my view"—this is the right hon. Member for Knutsford, the Chairman of the Scrutiny Committee—this situation has arisen because of a fault in the Commission's machinery. If the Council agreed the line on 5th-6th April, it is difficult to imagine why the document did not appear before 12th May—particularly as it still does not specify the amount of the quotas".1162 I think that that helps to dispose of some of the charges of the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire. I add that it is certainly the fact that I first heard about this matter on Thursday. As it is my responsibility to try to ensure that debates take place in the House before decisions are made, I thought that we should have to make arrangements for a debate, and especially because of the representations of the right hon. Member for Knutsford. It is true that the right hon. Gentleman said that it might be better to have a debate afterwards. However, we thought it would be necessary to carry out the obligations we have to the House to have the possibility of a debate beforehand.
§ Mr. Pym
I have no doubt that if my right hon. Friend the Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies) catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, he will wish to comment on the exchange of correspondence he has evidently had with the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
I would not presume to criticise the Leader of the House for arranging this debate now, in the light of the fact that he himself discovered the reality of the situation on Thursday. I do not dispute that for a moment. However, I think that he should have known. I think that the Government machine should have worked in such a way that he, being the head of the Government legislative machine and knowing what was coming through the pipeline, should have been aware of it. It should have been possible for the Scrutiny Committee to look at the matter earlier. This matter could have been handled in such a way that the debate for which the right hon. Gentleman has now provided time could have taken place at a more reasonable time in advance of the current negotiations. One thing that has emerged from the exchanges this evening is that the Government and New Zealand want the negotiations to be completed now, and therefore the proposition made by the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) that this matter be put off for a fortnight does not sound very helpful.
§ Mr. Pym
That may be perfectly true. I am not competent to pass a judgment on that, but I would not deny that. The Government have links with Brussels every day. They have a permanent staff at the Commission. They know what is going on. There are communications. They have been talking about this butter deal with New Zealand for months. It has been on the agenda for a long time. It could not have come as any surprise to the right hon. Gentleman.
I do not accuse the right hon. Gentleman personally of any failure. I say simply that the system as I understood it and as it used to work should have provided him with advance notice of this matter.
§ Mr. Bishop
On this point, which does not concern procedure so much, may I say that I am assured that the information which was given in the memorandum was available to the Ministry only on the day on which we gave it to the Scrutiny Committee? This is a very important point. The information was phoned through to us from Brussels. We thought that the Scrutiny Committee should have the information at the earliest opportunity.
§ Mr. Pym
I feel sure that that is right. Obviously there is a flaw here. Everybody agrees about that. All that I was saying was that, after all that has been said, particularly by the Minister of State, it is not a very credible proposition to argue that suddenly last Thursday out of the blue everybody was taken by surprise.
We cannot debate the substance of the matter in any meaningful sense. The Minister of State has indicated that the proposition was put forward tentatively some time ago as a basis of discussion. I have no idea whether these figures hold in the current negotiations. In the light of supplies from New Zealand in 197475, the figures the Minister of State quoted, beginning with 129,000 tonnes in 1978, do not seem to be unreasonable. They seem to be on the right lines. Last year more than a quarter of the butter imported into the United Kingdom came from New Zealand. That is a trade we wish to continue. I might add that it 1164 is cheaper butter as well and the British consumers are very grateful for that.
It is fair to remind the House that on 12th April the Prime Minister of New Zealand, when he was talking about relations between his country and the European Community, said this:New Zealand does not seek the dismantling of the common agricultural policy of the EEC … New Zealand can produce and ship across the world food products and market them here"—that is, in the United Kingdom—in a strikingly competitive fashion. It is in the interests of both the Community and New Zealand that there remain the widest scope possible for us to sell our meat and dairy products here … It is simply a matter of maintaining a productive and balanced two-way relationship. What is good for us is we suggest also right for Europe.New Zealand is keen to maintain that trade, and both sides of the House are keen to maintain it. There is our Minister tonight in an embarrassing position and we have to rely on him at this stage to come back with a deal that the House will regard as satisfactory.
One of the things that were incredible about the negotiations over the milk surplus was that when the Minister came to the House he was not himself prepared to defend it, let alone find anybody else who was prepared to defend it. I hope that when the right hon. Gentleman comes back with a deal tomorrow—if a deal is made—he will be prepared to defend it, even if nobody else is. I do not think, after the early lesson, that he can be in that position again. What we want him to do is to complete a satisfactory negotiation which the whole House will feel is satisfactory.
To be fair to the Minister of Agriculture, he of all people has taken a great deal of trouble about trade with New Zealand. He has interested himself in that country. He has been there, he has helped the New Zealanders and done everything to support them, and we are justified in thinking that he will do the best that he can. But it is not the right hon. Gentleman's keenness and enthusiasm for New Zealand that will guide matters but the relationship between himself and his colleagues in the councils of Europe. One of the problems is the comparative weakness of the Government in the councils of Europe compared with the situation under the previous Conservative Government, and that 1165 is unfortunate. That is very much my view.
§ Mr. Marten
This is important, because the Minister has promised to transmit the views of the House to the Minister of Agriculture in Brussels today. The Leader of the House referred to the letter from my right hon. Friend the Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies) who did not object to its being read, but he did not read the last paragraph, and that is what I should like to do. My right hon. Friend said:May I suggest to you that the best way forward would be for you—that is, the Minister of Agriculture—to go forward with the negotiations next week but not to give final agreement to the instrument until you have made a report to the House and a debate has been held. Presumably this could be done quite quickly.That is the message from the Chairman of the Scrutiny Committee that ought to go through the Leader of the House to the Minister in Brussels. Would my right hon. Friend agree to that?
§ Mr. Pym
Basically I would. Nobody who has not been involved in the negotiations week after week, as the Minister of Agriculture has been in the Council of Ministers, can know precisely what has been said, what stage the discussions have reached, or where we are. And that goes for my right hon. Friend the Member for Knutsford and my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten). How can they know the state of play in the Council of Ministers? They cannot do so, but the Government and the Leader of the House can. The right hon. Gentleman can know because he has only to ring his right hon. Friend and find out, and that is how it ought to work.
If it were possible in the context of that and the Council of Minister's negotiations to do what my right hon. Friend has suggested, namely, to come to a conclusion but not seal it, bring it back to the House and, hopefully, obtain agreement and then go back and have it endorsed, without putting a satisfactory agreement at risk, that would be the right thing to do. but what we want out of all this, apart from a change in our procedure, about which the Leader of the House was forthcoming, is a satisfactory deal for New Zealand for the supply of butter. [Interruption.] Hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway are getting very 1166 excited. There is no reason why the Minister of Agriculture should not negotiate a deal that will be regarded as satisfactory, and that is what we must hope he will achieve tomorrow.
§ 1.29 a.m.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
Many of my hon. Friends will not have much sympathy for the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) because long ago he was told that we should be in difficulties of this sort. I leave the right hon. Gentleman and go to my hon. Friend the Minister of State.
The memorandum to which my right hon. Friend referred in his speech also refers to the important document R/2099/75 dated 31st July 1975, which contained the first thoughts of the Commission on this matter. Indeed, it is the only document that the House has before it on the response of the Commission to the Dublin agreement.
In his explanatory memorandum to R/2099/75, which was, incidentally, undated, despite requests made for the dating of signatures, my hon. Friend tells us that in 1978 we can expect 129,000 metric tons of butter from New Zealand; in 1979, 121,000 metric tons; and in 1980, 113,000 metric tons. The report recognises the difficulties which New Zealand faces in finding alternative markets, in diversifying, and the need for continuing access to the United Kingdom market in line with the Dublin communiqué.
Why is it that this document R/2099/75 has been substituted by a document we have not seen? Why is it necessary for a 40-page document which goes into this very fully suddenly to be swept away, apparently since last Thursday? Apparently this has been the initiative of the Commission.
But there is something more important than that. My hon. Friend referred to Hansard of 12th March 1975 relating to the Dublin agreement. It says,these annual quantities depending upon future market developments, could remain close to effective deliveries under Protocol 18 in 1974, and the quantities currently envisaged by New Zealand for 1975."—[Official Report, 12th March 1975; Vol. 888. c. 521.]What were those quantities "currently envisaged by New Zealand for 1975?" 1167 For once the Commission is helpful. The document states in paragraph 36:New Zealand envisaged sending about 125,000 metric tons in 1975.As I have just read out from the Dublin communiqué, that is the order of the figure we may expect in the future. The communiqué sayscould remain close to effective deliveries, and the quantities currently envisaged by New Zealand.My hon. Friend has said the Minister will see that New Zealand is all right. But will he say whether the Minister will accept figures less than those in the document R/2099/75, and are they less than the 125,000 metric tons envisaged by New Zealand in 1975? He owes it to the House to tell us what is in his mind. It is not a matter of giving way on negotiating rights because these figures are in the document. If necessary my right hon. Friend should be prepared to use the veto written into Protocol 18, because that Protocol requires unanimity.
These are matters to which my hon. Friend should reply, because they are matters of honour in the discharge of the Dublin renegotiations to the people of New Zealand who send us good butter at about half the price of that from the EEC.
§ 1.33 a.m.
§ Mr. John Davies (Knutsford)
I do not want to detain the House very long, but there are two matters which I want to raise—a procedural matter, and the problem of New Zealand butter.
On the procedural side, it is right to say that the Community system as it applies in most other domains is certainly differently handled in relation to the agricultural matters. Because of the nature of the discussions in the Council of Ministers of Agriculture there is great freedom of action allowed to disuss the issues embodied in the Commission's proposals, which are subsequently adopted. That is the defect of the Commission system.
Having said that, the truth is that the Minister on his own admission, in his letter to me, agreed that on 5th and 6th April a broad understanding was reached at the meeting currently taking place and that a conclusion would be arrived at in the knowledge of the way in which that Council works. It would have been open to the Minister to make, there and then, 1168 an explanatory memorandum to the House of Commons. Then it would have been possible for the Scrutiny Committee to take advice from the Minister in the form of evidence. The evidence then would have been available of the Minister's view of the whole discussion, and the House would have been able to have a meaningful debate in good time to get the view of the Minister.
§ Mr. John Roper (Farnworth)
I take it that the right hon. Gentleman is aware that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, in making the Business statement to the House at the end of April about what was to come before the Council of Ministers during May, put imports of New Zealand butter in 1978–80 at the top of the list of subjects coming before agriculture Ministers. Therefore, the House—as distinct from the Scrutiny Committee—has known since the end of April that this subject was coming before the Council this month.
§ Mr. Davies
That is correct, but that is not my point. My point is that the House could usefully have had a clear indication about all the Ministers' views on this proposal. It would then have had the means to debate the subject and something positive to discuss.
There are many experts in the House about imports of New Zealand butter, but it is hard to imagine that many hon. Members could adequately forecast the likely level of butter or cheese imports in 1978, having regard to the then state of the world market in those products and this country's requirements of them, with or without the current consumer subsidy.
The reality of the figures can be interpreted only in the light of the Minister's own view of them and his observations upon them. The House does not have that. This procedural aspect is clearly important because in matters where the Commission does not work in the normal way as I have described it, it is incumbent upon the Government to make sure that the House is possessed of enough information to be able adequately to debate these matters. At present we are having a debate largely in the void, and that is valueless because in those circumstances the House cannot convey its views in any real sense to the Government Front Bench.
1169 Equally, I believe that it would be possible for the Minister in absolute good faith to carry forward his negotiations virtually to finality at the current Council of Ministers meeting in Brussels. It would have been well understood that the House, which has shown consistently over many years such a great interest in the outcome of negotiations on this issue, would wish to be kept informed and to make observations before the final curtain dropped on the matter.
My experience of dealing with the Council of Ministers tell me that such a request would not have been treated as extraordinary or abnormal. It would have been treated as normal in the circumstances, and that was why in my letter to the Minister I suggested that that was the best formula to follow. I regret that he found that impossible because otherwise we should not have been having this debate now. I do not think that in the circumstances it would have been damaging to the negotiating position of the Government to take that view. They could well have risked it on the basis of the well-known interest of the House in the outcome of the negotiations. Perhaps in considering the matter further the Leader of the House will be prepared on subsequent occasions to consider such a formula should it ever be necessary. I hope that it never will. The arrangement which we have tonight seems totally undesirable. We have to debate the subject without knowing what has happened in the Council. For my part, I deplore this because I think that the procedure is wrong. I also deplore it because it is so easy to give the wrong impression from the point of view of New Zealand. Our interest is that New Zealand should have a good deal in this arrangement.
I very much hope that the tone of this debate is not allowed to reach the Minister or any outside body in a way which suggests that the House is critical of the desire to get an adequate and consistent agreement for New Zealand.
§ 1.41 a.m.
§ Mr. John Mendelson (Penistone)
There is no time to make any comment on the procedural matter with which the Leader of the House has promised to deal, except to say that there is a need to do so and that he will have the co-operation of 1170 right hon. and hon. Members in attempting to do so.
I would confine myself to the issue concerning New Zealand and the interest, both of New Zealand and the people of this country, in the continuation of imports of butter and other dairy products to this country. It follows naturally from what the right hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies) said that the anxiety which he expressed is shared by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Agriculture, the Government and all hon. Members. One understands the feeling that there might be some danger to this agreement because of the unfortunate circumstances which have led to this unsatisfactory state of affairs this evening. I say this because I am almost as critical as are any other hon. Members at what we face, constitutionally speaking.
But this has impressed upon me not to demand the postponement of the debate, because anything which might jeopardise the conclusion of the agreement, to the detriment of both New Zealand and the people of this country, would be a serious matter.
I think the House must insist upon the Government making a clear distinction between the kind of negotiations which go on all the time between agricultural ministers where they are, in fact, acting as a legislative agency—the Council of Ministers being both the legislative and the executive organ of the Common Market at one and the same time—as well as acting as a meeting of Ministers. That is the problem. It creates all the difficulties because, naturally, Ministers feel that when they are negotiating, everything must be very confidential. It is the sort of carry-over from the negotiations normally engaged in by Foreign Ministers. Therefore, if everything is to be termed "confidential" the later one tells the House of Commons the better.
But that is exactly the wrong recipe for the discussions now taking place with the Common Market. The attitude must be the exact opposite. It must be that the earlier one tells the House of Commons, the better, and the more one brings the House of Commons into one's confidence, the better.
I would echo something already hinted at by my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay). Let us 1171 make a start on what is possibly the most important example which the House has faced so far—imports from New Zealand. If we can do so without jeopardising the agreement, let us say to our Government that they should ask the Council of Ministers not finally to conclude the agreement tomorrow. Let the views expressed in the House of Commons be conveyed to the Minister representing the British Government, as suggested by the Leader of the House earlier tonight and yesterday afternoon. Let it be done genuinely and not as a diplomatic facade. Let our views, concern and desire be known and then let the Minister, having taken note of those views, ask that the final decision be postponed by a few days, so that on this important example we should have exercised the rights of the House of Commons to take part in the process of concluding an important agreement which involves both the people of this country and those of another country, which is particularly close and dear to the people of Great Britain. That is the most important aspect of this debate.
For the rest, the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) will have to be more modest in making accusations on these occasions. Tonight is not the time to remind him and his right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) and their colleagues about the warnings given to them when they were in Government when the House was asked to approve our entry of the Common Market. He should not make accusations about my right hon. Friends being weak and feeble in the negotiations. All these things were predicted when the lines were laid down by him and his right hon. Friends.
But all that does not matter much. What matters tonight is finding the right approach, to make the right message available to the Minister who is negotiating and to try to make the best use of the difficulties we face tonight.
§ 1.46 a.m.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
I join the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) in the hope that the course of action indicated by the right hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies) —a course of action which I believe to be legally as well as practically possible—will be followed and that the one message 1172 which will be sent, if the electric telegraph is still working, to the Minister is in the sense of the words used by the right hon. Gentleman.
The Minister repeatedly said that the purpose of this debate and of all such debates is to enable the views of the House to be known to the Government. It is what the right hon. Member for Knutsford commended which is the sole view of the House that could emerge from this debate. For of course there is an essential difference between the view of the House, which properly speaking can be ascertained only when there is a proposition before the House to which the House either assents or dissents, and the views of individual Members who may happen to be called. It seems to me that we should never fall into the trap of confusing the views of individual Members with the view of the House, which is something with a definite and constitutional meaning.
The invitation which was addressed to the House by the Minister was one with which it was impossible for the House to comply in any sense of that invitation. The Scrutiny Committee, at its meeting, gathered from the Ministry of Agriculture that the instrument which would be put before the Council of Ministers recommended three quotas—129,000, 121,000 and 113,000 tonnes. It is the size of those quotas which are the subject matter of the whole debate and the subject on which a view would fall to be expressed by the House.
But in a footnote, we read:The Committee have since learned that the working document concerned contained no figures as to the recommended quotas.The Committee therefore understood… that the annual quotas proposed are not necessarily those that the Council will in fact consider.So for the Scrutiny Committee, the whole basis of a decision for the House was knocked away before its report could reach the House.
But for good measure, the latest updated memorandum from the Ministry of Agriculture informed the House:The quantities are left blank in the proposalwhich will go before the Council,the intention being that they should he decided by the Council.So it was at all times impossible that this House should express a view, since 1173 the subject on which it was to express a view was withheld from it and was not placed before it.
But there is more to it than that. The Minister tonight declared that it was no intention of his to disclose what was his right hon. Friend's negotiating position. In other words, not only was the House not told the proposals of the Commission to the Council, but the House is not to be told what the Minister of Agriculture wishes to obtain because, says the Minister, that would prejudice his negotiation. So there is no reality from either point of view in the notion that we are being invited to express a view to the Government or that there is any ordinary sense in which the Government can listen to our view.
All this is, as I suggested earlier on a point of order, at variance with the clear procedure laid down in the Treaty of Accession, a procedure which runs right through the Treaty of Rome and which one might almost call the constitutional provisions of the European Economic Community. That is that, not always but generally and certainly in this matter, the Council has to act on a proposal from the Commission. Consequently, the Council cannot legislate suo motu; it has to legislate on a written proposal which is before it, and there is provision for what is to happen if the Council disagrees with that proposal. If it disagrees, the proposal has to come back to the Commission so that it can be resubmitted in a form which will eventually be accepted by the Council.
No procedure could be more orderly, nor could there be any other procedure which affords to this legislature or the legislatures of the other member States the opportunity of participating in the work of the Community and exercising control over their respective members of the Council. It is that procedure which in this case has been abandoned, whence I deduce that a lawful regulation cannot be made tomorrow by the Council. I also deduce that if that procedure is followed in future this House and the other legislatures in the Community will have before them in advance that which it is proposed that their representatives in the Council should assent to.
1174 Lest I should appear to suggest that by following the procedures embodied in the Treaty of Accession and the Treaty of Rome we shall escape from our difficulties, let me say that of course the Minister was speaking the truth when he talked about the right hon. Gentleman's negotiating position. I remind the House that there is no ultimate reconciliation between the Council of Ministers acting as a single body upon collective responsibility, on one hand and, on the other hand, the ultimate power of the House to call to account, to give directions to and to admonish Her Majesty's Minister who takes his place in the Council. Ultimately, the two structures are irreconcilable, and ultimately the House and the country will have to make up their mind which it is to be; whether it is to be governed in a unitary European State by the common responsibility of its organs of government, or whether we are to continue to exercise our responsibilities on behalf of those who sent us to this place.
§ 1.54 a.m.
§ Mr. Neil Marten (Banbury)
I realise that we have only eight minutes left and I merely wish to put one point to the Minister. Many points have been raised in the debate to which we do not expect immediate answers. Indeed, I do not think that the Minister knows the answers to many of them. All that my hon. and right hon. Friends want the Minister to say is what message will be passed to the Minister tonight. Is it the message that my right hon. Friend the Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies) put at the end of his letter—that the Minister should come to this House and let us comment on what he has negotiated? Or is it the message that almost the whole House has recommended?
I imagine that that is the only message that the Minister can transmit—that he will not agree to anything tomorrow without this House having a chance to debate it. Will the Minister please give the House an assurance that that is what he will do?
§ 1.55 a.m.
§ Mr. Bishop
The House has had a useful debate. Its purpose was in keeping with the wish of the Scrutiny Committee that the matter should be debated before being decided in Brussels.
§ Mr. Bishop
If the hon. Member is saying that the House should not debate the matter before the Minister considers the matter in Brussels, he should say so. Thanks to my right hon. Friend and the recommendation of the right hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies) the House has had the opportunity, at very short notice, to debate this matter.
The debate has been a useful one in giving the views of the House on the matter following my opening remarks in relation to the procedure and other aspects of the case. We have said that it is in New Zealand's interests that the matter should be resolved in the light of the Dublin Declaration.
When the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) spoke about the Government's undertaking in terms of the Community I drew attention to the fact that on 12th March last year my right hon. Friend the then Prime Minister acquainted the House with details of the European Council meeting which had been held in Dublin, where he was responsible for the present Government taking the necessary safeguards to protect the New Zealand butter interest. My right hon. Friend said thatOn New Zealand dairy products, the Heads of Government were concerned not with the detailed arrangements for access after 1977 but with laying down the political guidelines on which the decisions on these matters are to be prepared. These represent a substantial improvement on the existing protocol. First, it was agreed that annual imports of butter for the first three years after 1977—from 1978 to 1980—may remain close to deliveries in 1974 and 1975."—[Official Report, 12th March 1975; Vol. 888, c. 511.]These are the guidelines, and it is because my right hon. Friend negotiated that position before the referendum that the House is able to debate this matter tonight and the Minister is able to hold the other members of the Community to the assurances given on that occasion. If these negotiations had not proceeded as they did, the New Zealand position would have been in great doubt.
But we are concerned not only with the position from 1978 to 1980; we are concerned with the period beyond that. The figures that I have quoted—the guidelines laid down, which are part of 1176 Protocol 18—are the basis on which the negotiations are proceeding at present.
When hon. Members say that there is no hurry about this, I remind them of the points that I made in my opening remarks—that at the meeting of the Council of Ministers on 5th and 6th April of this year my right hon. Friend secured the assurances of his fellow Ministers in the Community that a decision could be reached at the Council meeting that is taking place at present. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), among other points, asked about the status of the document—R2099/75—and why it was replaced. I remind him that the document represented the Commission's report, required under Protocol 18, to which I have referred and to which the Dublin communiqué referred, which provided the basis for a settlement after 1977. So, when the right hon. Gentleman talks about the weakness of the Government, I remind him that it was the strengh of the Government in the negotiations which gave the basis for the assurances which can now be made.
The right hon. Member for Knutsford raised the question of the availability of the information. I remind him that the information on which the memorandum dated 10th May was based was obtained only the day on which it was made available to the Scrutiny Committee. I have stressed that the Commission was aware from the date of the negotiations in Dublin in March last year that these arrangments had to take place. It is unfortunate that the Commission was unable to resolve the situation sooner than it did. It was the availability of the memorandum before the Scrutiny Commitee last week which gave that Committee the opportunity to consider such information as was available and the House the opportunity to consider the matter tonight.
The points raised tonight can be debated later this week when the House considers the statement which may be made by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture.
§ Mr. Marten
The hon. Gentleman has not told us what message is to go to the Minister of Agriculture today. That is the whole point of the debate. We want to know precisely what the Government are to tell the Minister. Will 1177 the hon. Gentleman come clean and tell us?
§ It being one and a half hours after the Motion had been entered upon, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.