HC Deb 09 November 1977 vol 938 cc661-4
36. Mr. Arnold

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he is satisfied with the progress being made towards enlargement of the EEC; and if he will make a statement.

42. Mr. Moate

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the progress of negotiations relating to the enlargement of the EEC.

Dr. Owen

Negotiations are in progress on Greek accession. The procedure under the treaty is that the Portuguese and Spanish applications have been referred by the Council of Foreign Ministers to the Commission and its opinion is expected early in 1978.

Mr. Arnold

Do the Government recognise that the usual transitional arrangements for five years may need to be modified in the case of Spain, Greece and Portugal? Is it not the case that the Spanish Government have been talking about a transitional period of up to 15 years, and is not that quite reasonable?

Dr. Owen

I think that the Spanish Prime Minister, Senor Suarez, made clear only a few days ago that Spain was looking for a normal transitional period. Whether that can be achieved is difficult to judge without seeing the Commission's assessment. But no one should doubt that the Community, in making a decision to enlarge from nine to 12, will face some formidable problems of adjustment, not least in the economic issues and the whole question of common agricultural produce for the Mediterranean.

Mr. Moate

Does the Foreign Secretary accept that there will be widespread agreement for the statement in the Prime Minister's letter to the General Secretary of the Labour Party that there will be far less danger of an over-centralised, over-bureaucratised, over-harmonised Community with 12 member States than with nine? Will the Foreign Secretary confirm, therefore, his full support for the principle of the earliest possible membership of Spain, Portugal and Greece, and that there will be no question of any free membership preparatory period as has been suggested in the case of Spain?

Dr. Owen

I certainly declare my unequivocal support for enlargement from nine to 12. I believe that it is crucially important in order to buttress the democratic and political elements for which I believe the European Community stands most strongly.

Over-centralisation and over-bureaucratisation are criticisms which are made of the Community in its existing form, and which are frequently made in this House. I have considerable sympathy for them. The Prime Minister was making clear that, in increasing the membership to 12, one will not want the sort of detailed harmonisation that some people want. That in no way means that by going from nine to 12 one would be weakening, the Community. Taking such a political decision would, I believe, be strengthening the Community.

Mr. Sillars

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that if the Community were enlarged through Scotland gaining independent representation at Council of Ministers level, that independence would not be equal to separation?

Dr. Owen

There is a great deal of regional and even national autonomy within the Community. There is no doubt that Britain, when discussing the devolution of Scotland, will insist on the unity of the United Kingdom. That is central for us all, and that is central to the devolution Bills now before the House. That principle will apply in all areas of foreign and international relations.

Mr. Dykes

Was not the Foreign Secretary a little reckless in suggesting in his last but one answer that much harmonisation should be put aside as a result of enlargement? Is that not tantamount to saying that many of the precepts built into the treaty—the constitution of the Community—should no longer be followed by the Commission in drafting legislation?

Dr. Owen

The House itself takes views on these issues and I believe that the Scrutiny Committee recently drew attention to the question of harmonising doorstep salesmen in the Community. It is that sort of harmonisation and over-bureaucratisation that both critics and supporters of entry unite in condemning and consider unnecessary. The Commission would be well advised to put aside that sort of thing now.

Mr. Raphael Tuck

Have the Government done anything to persuade Spain to give better treatment to Gibraltar as a condition of the Government's consenting to Spain's joining the Common-Market?

Dr. Owen

No. Her Majesty's Government's attitude to Spain and Gibraltar is clear. It is to welcome Spanish entry to the European Community for wider political and democratic reasons. It is also to make clear to the Spanish people that any community which involved political, economic and all the other responsibilities of membership would find it difficult to have a situation in which, for example, we could if we wished—though we do not, because of the new improved climate between our two countries—have the existing restrictions condemned, say, in the Belgrade conference. We are aiming to improve Spanish relations with this country and, at the same time, with the Gibraltarian people so that this issue can be resolved between democratic States and democratic peoples, giving full account to the views of the people of Gibraltar.

Mr. Hurd

May we pin down the Foreign Secretary a little on the general point? Does he now agree with us that, contrary to the impression given in the Prime Minister's letter to the General Secretary of the Labour Party, he sees enlargement not as a way of weakening the Community but as an opportunity to reopen for discussion some of the methods and workings of the Community which have proved unsatisfactory?

Dr. Owen

One of the aspects that might come out of enlargement is that the decision-making structure of the Community is looked at. Some feel that the whole of the common agricultural policy should be examined. I think that one of the "fall-outs "of enlargement is that some of these problems can be concentrated on. However, I feel that we should treat the applications for enlargement on their merits and not with preconditions. If we were to allow every member State to make its particular hobbyhorse a precondition of enlargement we should not get on with that process. We stand strongly and firmly for enlargement and we believe that it will strengthen the Community. It will, however, change the Community. A Community of 12 will be different in political shape, structure and content from a Community of nine.