HC Deb 25 January 1978 vol 942 cc1374-80
50. Mr. Mike Thomas

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what are the main subjects he expects to discuss at his next meeting with the other Foreign Ministers of the European Community.

Dr. Owen

A monthly written forecast of Council business will be deposited tomorow and my hon. Friend the Minister of State expects to make his oral statement on 30th January.

Mr. Thomas

Will my right hon. Friend expect to raise at the meeting of the Council of Ministers the question of Greek entry into the Community? Will he make a comment on the likelihood of that being finally agreed and sorted out by October, as Mr. Karamanlis expressed the hope in this morning's newspapers?

Dr. Owen

I shall be talking to Mr. Karamanlis this afternoon with the Prime Minister. I will be interested to hear his views. All of us support the principle of enlargement. For political, in particular, as well as economic reasons, we want to buttress the new democracies that are currently applying, which have been through a difficult period.

I do not wish to hide from the House the fact that there are difficult economic negotiations that have to be undertaken by all people who wish to accede to the Treaty. We have some way to go in regard to those in regard to the Greek application.

Mr. Walters

Bearing in mind that President Sadat's initiative does not appear to be achieving the success it deserves, will the Foreign Secretary discuss with his EEC colleagues the possibility of the Community playing a more active rôle in the Middle East than it has been doing in the last month or two?

Dr. Owen

It has always been discussed on every occasion when Community Foreign Ministers meet together, and the last Council meeting was no exception. It is often discussed privately. It is unwise to jump to the conclusion that the European member States, in their own different ways, are not having a quite important influence on the situation. But I do not think that it calls for public statements from the Community at present.

Mr. Gould

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the prospect of enlarging the EEC when it comes to the question of fixing a new date for direct elections? Does he agree that it would be perverse to hold direct elections a few months before the accession of the Greeks, who would no doubt wish to participate?

Dr. Owen

I am at one with my hon. Friend in believing that all relevant factors should be taken into account in considering the date for direct elections to the European Parliament.

Mr. Hurd

Following on the point made by the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Gould), can the Foreign Secretary shed light on the way the Community will decide the date for direct elections? Will it be the European Council, or will the Council of Ministers have a go first? Will he confirm the Press report that the Prime Minister said that he will not agree to any date for European elections in advance of our own General Election because he fears that the Labour Party might not do too well in it?

Dr. Owen

I cannot confirm the last statement. I should have thought that the opinion polls showed that that would be a most ill-advised statement to make.

As to the procedure, it has been agreed that first the officials would look at the whole problem of trying to match up the question of getting a convenient time for the nine member States because they have local elections, referenda and other matters to consider. This will probably be discussed in the Council of Foreign Ministers prior to a meeting of the European Council. It is thought that a decision will be taken at the next meeting of the European Council.

51. Mr. Henderson

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he next expects to meet EEC Foreign Ministers.

55. Mr. Skinner

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

56. Mr. Michael Stewart

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he will next be meeting the other Foreign Ministers of the European Community.

Dr. Owen

At the meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council on 7th February.

Mr. Henderson

Does the Foreign Secretary feel that it would be helpful to the Minister of Agriculture, who is going to Berlin on Friday to discuss other matters on the common fisheries policy, to make it clear to the Council of Ministers that he will raise a veto to prevent any enlargement of the Community until we have a satisfactory resolution of the common fisheries policy?

Dr. Owen

My right hon. Friend is going to a "green week", which is held there. I do not think that it is wise to assume that substantive discussions of the kind that the hon. Gentleman indicates necessarily will take place. But I think that the whole House has made clear its concern that we should have a fair and reasonable agreement over fishing.

It has been openly acknowledged that some progress has been made. My right hon. Friend and the Secretary of State for Scotland are vigorously pursuing the interests of this country with some considerable success. I believe that the whole House wishes them well.

Mr. Skinner

Did my right hon. Friend notice that the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Henderson) never mentioned Scotland in his supplementary question? He must be slipping. Will the Minister confirm that, with unemployment spiralling throughout Western Europe, the loss of production since we have been a member of the Common Market has been about half the national income of all the developing countries?

Is it not now apparent that we shall not resolve this problem either here or over there on the basis of the Treaty of Rome? It will be resolved on the basis of planning. Will my right hon. Friend tell the Common Market leaders when he sees them that the only way that they got another stage forward in the direct elections argument was by getting Ministers such as himself to come along to a meeting in a block vote? I almost thought that Arthur Deakin was leading them into the room to support the Prime Minister last night. That will not prevent some of us from voting against the guillotine tomorrow.

Dr. Owen

My hon. Friend is in danger of becoming the very mirror of the Euro-theologians, whom he attacks so frequently, in Brussels. The sooner he realises that the Treaty of Rome is not an absolute and binding framework within which the European Community develops and evolves, the better. The sooner he sees this as a flexible organisation of nine member States working together in the interests of achieving both industrial and economic policies which will help the member States at a time of a very difficult world recession, the better.

Mr. Stewart

At the forthcoming meeting, if there is discussion of the possible entry of Greece into the Community, wilt my right hon. Friend bear in mind that one further advantage to be obtained from that entry could be an improvement of the relations between the Greek Government and NATO?

Dr. Owen

It is a very fair point to make that when we take into account the Greek application we should take into account all the relevant political circumstances. It is in the overall interests of this country that, at a time when Greece wishes to do so, it should come back into full membership of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. But the two are not linked. There are many applicant countries—Spain is one—in which people will be in favour of becoming members of the European Community but not necessarily members of NATO. Therefore, it is an indirect consequence, and it is not absolutely linked.

Mr. Dykes

On the new democracies—Spain in particular—would it not be a good idea for the Foreign Secretary to discuss with his opposite numbers in the EEC the prospects and methods of nationals voting overseas—or, rather, abroad—in any particular country? Is it not a remarkable fact that in the case of Spain, in their first General Election, several million Spaniards overseas voted, in a country in which they are not used to elections? Should we not emulate that example, at least in the European direct elections, to start with, and consider the repercussions later for our own national elections?

Dr. Owen

We can have such discussions. They are envisaged. That shows that many people are beginning to realise that before Europe is ready two member States have problems over direct elections. We need a little time to get a reasonable preparation before the direct elections take place

Mr. Wigley

In the context of Spain's application, will the right hon. Gentleman say whether there has been any discussion between himself and his colleagues of independent Basque representation within the EEC? In particular, has France made any representations to try to block Spain's entry because of the uncertainty of the Basque question?

Dr. Owen

No. I think that everyone considers that that is a matter for the Spanish people themselves to decide. Certainly that is my view.

Mr. Roper

What does my right hon. Friend expect to discuss on the subject of Spanish and Portuguese membership of the Community at the next Council meeting?

Dr. Owen

We are awaiting a Commission opinion on the Portuguese application, which I understand is unlikely to reach us before March. We are hopeful that we shall get a Commission opinion on Spain towards the end of the year. I hope that it will not be delayed beyond then. Then I think that the Community as a whole will want to look at the whole question of enlargement. We must look at each individual application on its own intrinsic merits. But I am in favour of a Community of 12. The sooner it can be enlarged to a Community of 12, the better.

Mr. Peter Walker

Does the right hon. Gentleman think that he might be in any way embarrassed by the fact that the Minister of Agriculture has today complained about delay on the part of European Ministers agreeing on the devaluation of the green pound, when a few months ago when the Danes applied for devaluation of the green pound he was the person who demanded that there should be a delay for consideration?

Dr. Owen

That was on a technical point about. MCAs. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, in the spirit of sportsmanship for which he is famed, recognising that he had lost in the voting, immediately came to the Dispatch Box and said that he would fall in with the view of the House, and, the decision having been taken, in Brussels he feels it incumbent on him to carry it out faithfully on the basis of his long-held belief that Parliament is sovereign.

Mr. Heffer

When my right hon. Friend next meets the European Ministers, will he tell them that the British Government will not be slavishly following the United States in regard to the internal affairs of countries such as France and Italy, that it is a matter for those countries to decide how to deal with their own problems, and that we do not follow President Carter's interference, which is as bad in some respects as the interference of the Soviet Union in relation to Czechoslovakia?

Dr. Owen

My hon. Friend and I have been engaged in newspaper columns in certain discussions about our views on Euro-Communism and its development, but on that particular issue I think that he and I agree. I said this in my lecture at Cambridge, and my hon. Friend will have noted the way in which this matter has been handled by the British Government.

Mr. Hurd

Following immediately on that point, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether anyone is at work in the Community on drafting a declaration for Heads of Government, so that they can make clear in April to existing members and to applicants that respect for basic political freedoms is a condition for membership of the Community?

Dr. Owen

That is already in the Copenhagen statement. It is a fundamental principle that membership of the Community is based on an adhesion to democracy. On this there can be no compromise. Were any country to go against the democratic spirit, I personally believe that it would not be eligible for membership of the Community. As for the practical suggestion to Foreign Ministers that there should be a declaration which should make this clear, I think that a declaration would be one of the ways in which that could be done.