HC Deb 15 June 1977 vol 933 cc380-3
29. Mr. Skinner

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he next expects to meet other EEC leaders; and if he will make a statement.

Dr. Owen

The next meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council, which will be the last one under the current United Kingdom Presidency, will be held in Luxembourg on 21st June.

Mr. Skinner

When my right hon. Friend meets this motley crew, will he tell them that there is a massive majority among the British people who are against Britain's continuing in the Common Market, especially now that it has been revealed that the EEC is to lay its hands, in an emergency, on at least 10 per cent. of British oil? Will he point out to them that on the question of direct elections we find that Common Market democracy is at such a low ebb that in Britain Ministers are gagged on a supposedly free vote and in France they are not even to be allowed to vote?

Dr. Owen

When I speak to my colleagues in the Foreign Affairs Council—eight of them are elected Members of their own Parliaments and are far from being the motley crew that my hon. Friend describes—I shall be prepared to tell them that this country decided by an overwhelming vote in a referendum that Britain would remain a member of the European Community. I shall tell them that although we may be having disagreements on some issues, such as the common agricultural policy and the common fisheries policy, we shall pursue our disagreements within the framework of the European Community, that we shall uphold our national interests as we have every right to do, but that we shall play a full part in the European Community for many years ahead.

Mr. Reid

When the right hon. Gentleman next attends a meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council, will he initiate discussions on Scotland's future links with the Communities? In particular, will he tell his European colleagues that when Scotland regains her independence there can be no question of England's carrying on as the United Kingdom's successor State and that both partners in the present Union will have to renegotiate?

Dr. Owen

Like the majority of Members in this House, I believe in the United Kingdom and I shall continue to speak for it in Brussels or anywhere else.

Mr. Loyden

Will my right hon. Friend accept from me that describing the CAP as a difference that can be ironed out is to make the understatement of the year? Is he aware that the CAP has been the cause—not exclusively, I agree—of the price increases that housewives in this country must pay, and that it is a situation such as that that has developed a strong anti-Market feeling throughout the country?

Dr. Owen

I do not deny that one of the reasons for the dissatisfaction with the EEC that is reflected in the opinion polls relates to the effect on food prices. However, I was grateful to my hon. Friend for putting the issue fairly. Not all the food price rises are the result of the CAP, although some of them are. This was always one of the liabilities that we accepted on entry, although we did not accept them as a permanent fact but accepted that we would try to reduce that liability. Most of us always felt that we would prefer a policy other than the CAP. We would have preferred the traditional system introduced in this country in 1947, but we accepted that we would work within the framework of the CAP to try to reform it.

Mr. Blaker

How will the Foreign Secretary explain to the other Foreign Ministers of the EEC that it is consistent with the British Government's promise to use their best endeavours to secure direct elections for the European Assembly next year that Government Ministers should be allowed to vote against such elections?

Dr. Owen

It is my view that this will give us a better chance of getting the legislation through the House of Commons. [Interruption.] I mean that quite seriously. This is a constitutional issue for which I suspect there is a majority in this House. That has obviously yet to be proven. I believe that by allowing Members of Parliament to exercise their own independent, free judgment on this issue there is more chance of this legislation being carried through to the statute book. I have no objection to that. I argued within my own party for a free vote on this issue in 1972. I regret that there was not one then, and I am happy that there should be one now.

Mr. Raphael Tuck

What plans has my right hon. Friend for pressing the EEC leaders to make vital changes in the CAP, which so far has been a disaster for this country, as President de Gaulle forecast it would be?

Dr. Owen

My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, who is also responsible for food, has vigorously pursued a policy of trying to get a reform of the CAP. He has done so with my full support. I think that has had some success, but my right hon. Friend would be the first to say that this success is only limited. What we need is a three-to-four-year structural plan for reform, particularly as it affects surplus commodities—milk products, wine, and a number of other things.

Mr. Hurd

Will the Foreign Secretary elaborate on his extraordinary, obscure and tormenting answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker)? How can he expect his own efforts, which I acknowledge, to be taken at all seriously inside the Community if Government Ministers are allowed to speak, and now, we understand, vote, against Government policy?

Dr. Owen

The hon. Gentleman talks as if a free vote on this issue is a constitutional innovation. I remind him that when his party was in Government it used a free vote on this issue. I do not know whether it was a genuine free vote or a disguised free vote. I was under the belief that it was a free vote. [Interruption.] If we are now told that it was a free vote for everyone other than Ministers, we can now understand the true status of that vote.

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