HC Deb 15 June 1977 vol 933 cc384-6
31. Sir A. Meyer

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what he considers to be his principal achievement during his tenure of his Presidency of the Council of Ministers of the EEC.

Dr. Owen

I hope to publish in July a White Paper on community affairs during the period of our Presidency of the Council. I would also refer the hon. Gentleman to the speech that I gave in Brussels on 24th May, a copy of which is in the Library.

Sir A. Meyer

With his outstanding record in this area, is not the right hon. Gentleman dismayed at the way in which so many of his ministerial colleagues, in pursuit of the shortest-term popularity, have thrown away long-term British interests in Europe, have damaged the prospects for European co-operation, and diminished this country's reputation?

Dr. Owen

I must tell the hon. Gentleman that I come to a completely different conclusion. What has dismayed me more than anything else is that when Ministers have legitimately stood up for national interests, and constantly argued their case as they have every right to do and ought to do in Brussels, this has been attacked by the Opposition Benches as in some way being an illegitimate use of ministerial powers in the Brussels dialogue. I urge the hon. Gentleman to recognise that were we not to argue our case and put it vigorously and firmly in Brussels we would be undermining the whole essence of the European Community.

Mr. Roy Hughes

Is it not time for the Government to face the reality of membership of the Common Market, which has been an unmitigated disaster? Is it not now legitimate for the Labour Party to go into the next General Election with a specific promise in its manifesto that a future Labour Government will negotiate our withdrawal?

Dr. Owen

It is perfectly possible for the Labour Government to enter into an election on any manifesto that is agreed between the Cabinet and the National Executive. That is the normal way of drafting a manifesto. It is open to argument whether that would be a recipe for electoral success. In my view it would be a recipe for electoral disaster. I believe—this is a legitimate view, although hon. Members may not agree with it—that the British people do not like a Government or a party to change course only two years after having put the issue to them in a referendum. It may well be that the British people and this Parliament, as they have every right constitutionally to do, may wish to reassess the question of British membership. That is open to them at any time, but I believe that to do so after such a short period would be little short of disastrous.

Mr. John Davies

I return to the answer that the right hon. Gentleman gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer). Does the Foreign Secretary not recognise the difference between defending the national interest within the normal framework of discussion which exists in the Council and developing a situation in which the reaction to the behaviour of this country and the Presidency of the Council is little short of disruptive to our future comportment in the Community?

Dr. Owen

I recognise that I am as close as anyone in this House to the feeling in the European capitals. I do not believe they hold that view of the British Presidency. I challenge the right hon. Gentleman on that. He would have done the standing of the British Presidency better had he not started to say this after only a couple of months of that Presidency.

Forward to