HC Deb 13 July 1977 vol 935 cc426-32
36. Mr. Arnold

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he was satisfied with the progress made towards greater European co-operation during the United Kingdom's tenure of the presidency.

40. Mr. Dykes

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will outline the progress made by the Council of Ministers in promoting agreed Community policies under his chairmanship in the six-month period of United Kingdom presidency which ended on 30th June.

Dr. Owen

A full account of progress made in the Community during the United Kingdom presidency will be given in the White Paper which the Government intend very shortly to lay before Parliament and which will provide an opportunity for a debate on the subject.

Mr. Arnold

Compared with what was said at the beginning of our tenure of the presidency, do the Government believe that they have achieved any improvements in the Community's legislative procedures? What areas offer the most scope for future progress in this regard? Is there a case for strengthening Coreper—and, if so, how?

Dr. Owen

I do not think we have made any improvement in legislative procedures. I have always hoped that it might be possible to separate legislative activities from political discussions. But this has so far proved difficult to do because there are genuine difficulties. As for Coreper, at the last Council of our presidency we made an experiment by referring more of the detailed amendments to Coreper and we asked the Commissioners to attend. Having assessed the general policies coming before the Foreign Affairs Council, I think that it was considered a success; indeed, the incoming Belgian presidency said that it intended to follow the same pattern.

The danger is that, in legislation, detailed regulations must come before the Council. It is this mix of legislation and political discussion that makes Council meetings difficult to handle, long and complex, and raises considerable cause for concern in the legislatures of member States.

Mr. Skinner

Is it also correct to say that in this period, despite my right hon. Friend's starry-eyed endorsement of the Common Market, all the recent opinion polls have shown that the majority of the British people want to get out of the Common Market? When he gets back across there, will the Foreign Secretary leave a message with that other Eurofanatic, Roy Jenkins, and tell him that the more he makes arrogant speeches in this country attacking those of us who voted the other night on behalf of the British people, and the more he lies about the success of the Common Market, the more the British people will come to understand that he is the man who has lined his pockets all the way to Brussels?

Dr. Owen

I resent that—

Mr. Faulds

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it proper—

Mr. Speaker

Will the hon. Member raise his point of order after Questions?

Mr. Faulds

I will raise it now, Mr. Speaker. Is it proper for an hon. Member to use the word "lie" about a most distinguished ex-Member of this House, who is serving his country abroad?

Mr. Speaker

Order. I shall deal with the matter quickly. The word would be absolutely out of order if applied to an hon. Member of this House, and it is distasteful when applied to somebody outside.

Mr. Heller

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will you explain what is distasteful about the statement made by my hon. Friend, who said that certain people had gone to the Common Market with huge salaries?

Mr. Speaker

Taste is an individual matter, but to refer to somebody as a liar when he is not here to answer for himself is, in my judgment, and only in my judgment, distasteful.

Dr. Owen

The views of my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) about the Common Market are well known and I respect them. My views are also well known, and I think that my hon. Friend respects them, too. I think that, on reflection, when he reads what he said in Hansard, he will agree that it is better not to make such statements in this House under the guise of privilege in relation to a man who has served this House and the country with great distinction. My hon. Friend may hold different views, but it is not worthy of him to make such comments. I ask him to consider the words he used and to withdraw them.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

Will the Foreign Secretary disregard the contemptible words used by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), who is pursuing the normal line he takes, based on ignorance of the Common Market and on complete and utter prejudice? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree, however, that in the last six months of British presidency the Council of Ministers has not had the greatest success and that our reputation in Europe continues to fall because of the behaviour of Ministers who lower the standard of this country and impede our ability to achieve what is needed in the Common Market? Is it not true that only now, after we have given up the presidency, is there any chance of the JET project coming to the United Kingdom?

Dr. Owen

I completely reject the hon. Gentleman's comments. I do not believe that that is the view of Europe. The hon. Gentleman and some of the British Press have been totally misled by some of the reports coming out of Brussels, which are highly partial and totally geared to the Commission's point of view.

During its period of presidency this country has upheld key national interests in some important areas and we shall continue to do that. My hon. Friends and I may disagree about the principle of entry to the Common Market, but there is no disagreement about our right and duty to uphold British interests. We shall do that—and it is right that we should—as a loyal member of the Community who disagrees from time to time.

One of the troubles of the British presidency was that it followed the presidencies of a number of smaller countries. It is natural and inevitable that one of the larger countries in the Community will tend, on important issues, to push points of difference to a limit that others may find difficult to take. That is an inevitable fact of political muscle. However, the issues at stake are the common agricultural policy and the common fisheries policy, both of which are highly contentious in this country and on which the British have a strong case.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I bow to the ruling that you made a moment ago when you said that you would rather have points of order raised after Questions. However, you gave way to hon. Members who raised points of order then, even against your wish and desire. I therefore want to raise the matter on a point of order at the later time that you suggested.

There was an incident a moment ago when one of my hon. Friends, as he is entitled to do by the rules of the House, expressed his views upon a person who is not an hon. Member. He explained his views openly and forthrightly. Many of us agree with those views. I did not wish to raise this matter during Question Time—as my hon. Friend did—so I put down an amendment to a motion tabled by other hon. Members. My amendment was on all fours with the comments of my hon. Friend, that is, a condemnation of not one but a number of former hon. Members of the House who are lining their pockets at the expense of the British taxpayer and are receiving large incomes, and yet who claimed, when they were here—

Mr. Faulds

What about my hon. Friend's trip to Paris?

Mr. Speaker

Order. Hon Members should realise that I want to hear the point of order. Will one hon. Member in particular who has a strong voice—he is not even listening—please co-operate and allow me to hear?

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Each of those four or five former hon. Members all claimed to be always in favour of a prices and incomes policy—while it never applied to them.

My point of order is that my amendment has been rejected by the Table because I was told that I was attacking hon. Members. I purposely referred in my amendment to those who had taken jobs with the EEC, to their friends and their relatives and to former Ministers. What are we coming to if my hon. Friend and I are to be prevented from making attacks—whether justified or not—on former hon. Members? I therefore ask you, Mr. Speaker, to look at the matter again, because, with great respect, it is a dangerous practice for hon. Members to be prevented from doing this, because it may set a precedent. I am not concerned with just this one issue. There is a general issue about what happens when an hon. Member ceases to be an hon. Member for various reasons and hon. Members on both sides of the House wish to attack him. Hon. Members on all sides should have the opportunity to attack a person once he has ceased to be an hon. Member.

Mr. Speaker

Our privilege in this House, which has been protected for centuries, enables us to carry out our duties as hon. Members of this Mother of Parliaments. There are strict rules about what may go on the Order Paper, not only concerning hon. Members but concerning people outside the House who are unable to answer. Our privilege should be guarded carefully and used jealously. However, I undertake to look at what has been said by the hon. Gentleman. I hope that we can now leave the matter there and not pursue it.

Mr. Marten

Further to what you said, Mr. Speaker, I should like to raise a point of order about what was said by the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds). The hon. Gentleman said that Roy Jenkins had left the House to serve his country. In fact, that is the one thing that he has not done and that he should not do because he should be serving the Community. That is an important point—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is now really pursuing an argument. As Pilate said a long time ago, truth is open to many interpretations. That is a paraphrase.

Mr. Faulds

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I accept the slight correction, and I add the words "and the Community" to my phrase. I should also like to make a correction, because I was incorrect in saying that the last swanning of the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis) at the expense of the British electorate was to Paris. It was actually four days in Antwerp.

Mr. Crouch

Fur her to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. As I understand it, if you make a ruling from the Chair it is not within our capabilities, capacities or even good luck ever to consider questioning what you say. When you describe something that has been said in the House as "distasteful", we must accept that. I hope that you will not consider it necessary to explain what you considered to be distasteful, which was so obvious to everyone else.

Mr. Biffen

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The incident encompasses a matter of some principle, namely, whether it is in order for an hon. Member to describe someone outside the House as a liar, to use the Anglo-Saxon four-letter preference of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), or to use the phrase "a terminological inexactitude" as the more modest of us would suggest. It would be helpful if you, Mr. Speaker, having considered the matter, would make known to the House your considered ruling on whether one may describe the actions of those outside the House as lies.

Mr. Speaker

I must say to the House at once that on the day that the House did me the honour of electing me to the Chair I said that what undermines the dignity of the House also undermines its authority at the end of the day. I shall, of course, look at this matter because we are all enjoined to use parliamentary language, however strongly we may feel, in referring to each other. I should expect the same parliamentary language to be applied to those outside the House.

Mr. Heffer

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker, about those outside the House being categorised as liars, self-seekers or whatever by hon. Members. I agree that it is quite wrong for hon. Members to use such terminology on a regular basis. However, if hon. Members genuinely believe that certain people are liars or crooks, they ought to say so in the House. I have always understood that hon. Members have that right and are protected by privilege in exercising it.

Mr. Speaker

I shall deal with that point later.

Mr. Lee

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Surely the matter has to some extent been predetermined. For example, it is surely in order to call Mr. John Stonehouse a liar, because the House of Lords, in its judicial capacity, has already ruled that he is by its dismissal of his appeal. Surely I am right to regard Richard Nixon as a liar, a crook and a person who has polluted American life in every way, bearing in mind that he was told to resign or be impeached.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am astonished at the number of hon. Members who wish to contribute to this matter.

Mr. Christopher Price

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Although "Erskine May" has rules about the sort of language that it is proper to use in the House about the Royal Family and the judiciary, many of us on the Government Benches would be disturbed if, by your ruling, you added to that list the Commission of the European Communities. I ask you to take that fully into account in any considered ruling that you may give.

Mr, Speaker

As we leave this subject, I hope that everyone realises that those of us who are here now are merely transitory trustees, for this generation, of the good name of the House and that we should use language that is worthy of the dignity of this House. Even when, to take up the point of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heifer), an hon. Member feels that he has something that he can reveal only in this House and uses our privilege to do so, right hon. and hon. Members should be careful in their choice of language.

Mr. Channon

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As the hon. Member who had the next Question on the Order Paper, may I suggest that it would be better to revert to the practice of hon. Members, even those with loud voices, raising points of order at the end of Question Time rather than in the middle?

Mr. Speaker

I am dependent upon the House in this matter. As a rule, when I ask hon. Members to leave a point of order to the end of Question Time, they have the courtesy to do so. However, if an hon. Member is boiling over it is understandable that he will not wish to do that, and we usually get rid of the issue quickly.