HC Deb 02 March 1977 vol 927 cc360-2
34. Mr. Spearing

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what arrangements he has made for Departments of Government to obtain updated proposals of the EEC Commission.

Mr. Judd

The EEC Commission very seldom puts forward updated proposals for Council legislation. When it does so, those proposals are made available to Government Departments in the usual way. They are also deposited in Parliament. No special arrangements are required to cater for this possibility.

Mr. Spearing

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Does he agree that, in pursuing proper scrutiny of the EEC proposals, it is necessary for this House to have available all the relevant documents? Although we know that the Government have done their best, it is clear that some documents are available to some citizens and bodies in this country—documents which the EEC will not allow to come to this House. If that is so and my hon. Friend can confirm the situation, will he make representations to the EEC to change that classification?

Mr. Judd

The Government recognise the force of my hon. Friend's remarks. Obviously the House wants to have at its disposal the fullest possible information as a basis for any debate, but documents produced in the framework of the Council are normally confidential. The United Kingdom, in common with other member States, is required to observe that confidentiality. If hon. Members obtain their own copies of such documents from other sources, that is not a matter for the Government. The Government will seek to ensure that full information is available to the House in time for debates on EEC documents.

Mr. John H. Osborn

Will the President of the Council of Ministers, in taking office next week—and I hope to be there to welcome him—bear in mind that the European committees as well as the House would welcome information on the proposals? We would particularly welcome the views of this House before we go into committees and into the Assembly. It is difficult to obtain an adequate correlation of information, and I very much hope that the Minister will take up this matter when he goes to Strasbourg next week.

Mr. Judd

I assure the hon. Gentleman that all Ministers concerned in this matter understand what is at stake. It has fully registered with us all. We shall be seriously examining the matter with our colleagues.

Mr. Raphael Tuck

Will my hon. Friend consider updating the proposal for stopping the disgraceful sale of subsidised butter to Russia or any other country? When we joined the EEC, were we not sold a pup?

Mr. Judd

My right hon. Friend has already dealt with that point, and the action taken by the Government this week shows how strongly we feel about this matter.

Mr. Ronald Bell

Does the Minister realise that the fact that occasions when the Commission comes forward with new proposals are so rare points exactly to the difficulty, namely, that the development of legislation and its redrafting are carried out within the Council of Ministers, without any new proposals emerging from the Commission, and that whereas new proposals from the Commission would come to this House, the process inside the Council of Ministers is confidential. What would the Minister say if the legislative process in this House were also secret?

Mr. Judd

I am sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman will accept from what has been said in all parts of the House that his point is well taken. The Government are concerned about this matter and are closely examining the situation. I am sure that he will recall that my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council told the House on 28th February, in reply to a Question tabled by the hon. Member for Broms- grove and Redditch (Mr. Miller), that he is now considering the problem and will provide the House with updated information on the progress of proposals for purposes of debate in this House.