HC Deb 07 December 1977 vol 940 cc1382-4
49. Mr. Gould

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what progress has been made in explaining to the other member States of the EEC the propositions for reform set out in the Prime Minister's letter to the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party.

Dr. Owen

Copies were sent out to our eight partners in the Community and the issues raised have been discussed on frequent occasions since then.

Mr. Gould

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if we are to avert misunderstandings, both here and in the EEC, about our seriousness of purpose in achieving these reforms, it is important that we should put forward specific proposals as quickly as possible? When might we expect that to happen?

Dr. Owen

The most important thing is that we should negotiate against the background of firm, well-worked-out policies. Changing the common agricultural policy will not be done overnight, but one needs to know where one is aiming to be in three or four years' time if one is to achieve sensible reforms in the day-to-day negotiations that go on throughout the Community. We are fundamentally in negotiations the whole time in doing Community business.

Mr. Budgen

Will the right hon. Gentleman make plain to all the Ministers in the EEC that the British Government are wholly opposed to any progress towards economic and monetary union and that, indeed, economic and monetary union in the EEC is wholly inconsistent with control by the British people of their own economic affairs?

Dr. Owen

That is too simple a presentation of a very complex problem. There is no doubt that the divergence of the economies of the Community of the Nine is not in the interests of Britain or of the whole Community and that ways of achieving, sensibly and step by step, over time, a greater convergence of the economies of the Community, is a thoroughly beneficial policy, which we shall support.

Mr. Wrigglesworth

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the ways in which the reforms outlined in the Prime Minister's letter may be pushed through the Community much more rapidly is to have the closest possible contact with other Socialist and Social Democratic Parties in Europe? Will he press the Labour Party International Committee and the National Executive to work in the closest possible way with sister parties in Europe to achieve those ends?

Dr. Owen

I certainly believe that political relations across countries are a very important force which can be harnessed to the good of national interests as well as the political beliefs of the various parties. The Socialist grouping in the European Community and the European Assembly is very strong—in fact, the majority grouping. Therefore, I would welcome these changes.

Mr. Watt

Will the proposals for reform include a proposal for reform of the common fisheries policy? Will the right hon. Gentleman point out to our Danish partners that unless they stop forthwith their wasteful industrial fishing methods there will be no fish stocks left for any of the partners in the EEC?

Dr. Owen

My right hon. Friends the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Secretary of State for Scotland have been battling for reform of the common fisheries policy for some months. That preceded the Prime Minister's letter. It is a central plank of our policy that we wish to have reforms in the common fisheries policy.