HC Deb 31 October 1984 vol 65 cc1319-34

5.6 pm

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Malcolm Rifkind)

I beg to move, That the draft European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (Change in Status of Greenland) Order 1984, which was laid before this House on 22nd October, be approved. Greenland, though geographically distinct from the continent of Europe, was at the time of Denmark's entry to the Community fully integrated with the kingdom of Denmark, of which it was and is a part. It was, therefore, obliged to join the Community with the rest of Denmark, although 70 per cent. of the Greenland population voted against membership in the referendum in which Denmark voted to accept membership. In 1979, however, there came an important change in Greenland's relationship with the rest of Denmark. She received a substantial degree of home rule, and in the elections in 1979 the Greenland party opposed to EEC membership won a majority.

Fisheries are Greenland's major economic activity, accounting for half her exports. Greenlanders have always seen disadvantages in the application of the Community's fisheries policy for which, as a territory remote from other member states and with relatively little industry or agriculture, they saw few compensating advantages.

In the referendum on the membership issue in 1982, Greenland opted for withdrawal by a small majority and sought associated status under the Community's arrangements for overseas countries and territories. In May 1982, the Danish Government therefore submitted a memorandum to the Council of Ministers proposing that Greenland should cease to be within the geographical scope of the treaties establishing the European Coal and Steel Community and the European Economic Community and be added to the list of overseas countries and territories in annex IV to the EEC treaty. As the treaties contain no provision for the withdrawal of a member state, or a part of one, the precise terms of Greenland's change in status had to be negotiated within the Community to provide appropriate amendments to the treaties.

During the negotiations it was agreed also that Greenland should cease to be within the geographical scope of the treaty establishing the European Atomic Energy Community. After discussion in the Council on a request from Denmark, the treaty referred to in the schedule to the order was signed in Brussels on 13 March 1984.

I should like to draw the attention of the House to the details of the treaty. The purpose of the treaty is to give effect to Greenland's wish to make the transition from membership of the Community—as a part of Denmark—to association with it. The treaty does that by removing Greenland from the scope of application of those provisions of the EEC treaty which apply to the European territory of members of the Community in general. The EEC treaty is amended by the inclusion of Greenland within its part IV, relating to the association of overseas countries and territories within the Community. In addition, the new treaty removes Greenland from the geographical scope of the treaties establishing the European Coal and Steel Community and the European Atomic Energy Community.

Annexed to the treaty is a protocol, which provides for duty-free access to the Community for fish and fishing products coming from Greenland in return for satisfactory arrangements for access by the Community to Greenland's fishing zones. The protocol provides also for the application to Greenland of the Community's detailed arrangements on tariff treatment and other matters for the overseas countries and territories in relation to products covered by both the EEC and the European Coal and Steel Community treaty.

Arrangements were also agreed between Greenland and the Community to provide for a framework fisheries agreement. This established principles governing Community fishing in Greenland waters, with a protocol setting the initial quotas for Community fishermen for the first five years. The Community's fishing opportunities under the agreement are to be balanced by the annual payment to Greenland from the Community budget of 26.5 million ecu—about £15 million. Greenland will not, however, receive aid from the European development fund by virtue of her OCT status, during the validity of the fisheries protocol. There is also provision for procedures under which the Community may act in the event of the overall agreement being disturbed. The regulations providing for these arrangements are not listed in the schedule to the order, but it is nevertheless right to mention them to the House, as they are intended to form one package with the treaty and protocol. The draft texts making up the complete package were submitted to the scrutiny of the Select Committee on European Legislation on 24 February 1984.

The treaty is to come into force on 1 January 1985 if all member states have ratified it by then. Otherwise it will come into force one month after the last state has ratified. Subject to the views of this House, we expect to have completed the necessary procedures for ratification by the 1 January 1985 deadline.

The House will be aware that the effect of the order is that the treaty with attached protocol will be able to operate in the law of this country in accordance with their provisions.

Before I conclude, I should say a brief word to the House about the agreement on fisheries to which I referred earlier. The agreement, which was laid before the House on 14 August, has several interlocking elements intended to balance the interests of Greenland and those of the Community. For its part, Greenland will continue to benefit from duty-free access to the Community market for fish and fishery products in return for her commitment to the fisheries agreement with the Community. Under the protocol to the agreement, taking into account catches by Greenland vessels, the basic quotas set for Community fishermen for the first five years represent an overall level virtually equivalent to the quotas set by the Council of Fisheries Ministers for all the major Greenland fish stocks. It is important to note that the Community is not being asked to alter its current fishing opportunties significantly. Any major reduction in current Community fishing efforts at Greenland would have led to claims for compensation from Community fishermen elsewhere in Community waters, and could have upset the entire balance of the common fisheries policy—established with such difficulty only last year. This has been avoided and the quotas between member states, including the United Kingdom, will be allocated in accordance with the normal procedures and criteria.

Mr. Robin Cook (Livingston)

Will the Minister repeat the assurance given to the House in July that the United Kingdom quota which will emerge from the process will be no less than that which Great Britain has hitherto enjoyed in Greenland waters?

Mr. Rifkind

Yes, the division of quotas between the various member states of the Community is being allocated on the basis of the historical share of Greenland waters. Great Britain's historical share is relatively low, but my understanding is that it will amount to what what we have enjoyed traditionally.

All in all, the Community's fishing opportunities in west and east Greenland waters, including those quotas which may be allocated to Norwegian and Faroese vessels under the relevant reciprocal fisheries agreements, amount to some 100,000 tonnes of cod equivalent—mainly cod, red fish, Greenland halibut and shrimps. These opportunities are balanced by the annual payment to Greenland to which I referred earlier. The Community's fishing rights in Greenland waters will not, however, end at the beginning of 1995. Although the agreement is concluded for 10 years, there is provision for successive six-year periods, thus providing a solid basis on which Community and Greenland fishermen can plan for the future.

I hope that I have given the House sufficient general explanation of the background to the order and its objective for the order to commend itself to the House as representing a fair and balanced deal for the Community and for this country.

5.13 pm
Mr. Eric Deakins (Walthamstow)

I rise with some trepidation. I was unaware that I might be one of the few Opposition speakers. I draw attention to the symbolic significance of the order.

I shall concentrate on three points. The first is that the order and the treaty which is embodied in it prove conclusively, if there had been any doubt, that it is possible for a territory to withdraw from the Common Market. Many of us were in no doubt about that because that is what the referendum campaign in 1975 was about. I accept that we lost it, but there were still people at that stage who thought that it was impossible for any territory or country, once having signed the Treaty of Rome, to withdraw. If the referendum campaign had not convinced them of that, this order must knock on the head for ever the belief that it is impossible for any country legally to withdraw.

Secondly, the order and the treaty which it embodies prove conclusively that it is possible for a country or territory which withdraws, or seeks to do so, to negotiate satisfactory and mutually beneficial arrangements to cover the period after the withdrawal. Although Greenland's problems are tiny, perhaps, in proportion to the withdrawal of a larger country such as the United Kingdom, nevertheless, there is no doubt that it is possible to negotiate. Given good will on both sides it should be possible for Great Britain to do the same.

My third point is seen in article 2 of protocal 2. It is a new feature, one that I confess I had not realised when the Foreign Secretary made his statement to the House on 14 March reporting the Foreign Affairs Council on the previous day, which had approved the treaty. Article 2 makes it clear that not all the negotiations affecting the future relationship of a state or territory which withdraws from the Community and the Community need be settled and finalised before the withdrawal becomes accomplished legally. Article 2 makes it clear that there are to be continuing negotiations on a number of issues. That is a useful parallel for Great Britain if any future British Government should decide to withdraw.

I do not wish to delay the House as there is all-party agreement on the order. It should be borne in mind that what the Minister said about Greenland finding few compensating advantages for the disadvantages of Community membership, in the opinion of many of us applies to Great Britain. While it may be thought that that is a partisan statement or a reflection of political positions which have been taken up over a number of years—certainly in my case—I invite the attention of the House to the recent report of the Select Committee on Trade and Industry and the current investigation by the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee, in the latter case to the economic benefits of Great Britain's membership of the EEC and in the former case to the trade benefits. It was clear from the report of the Trade and Industry Select Committee that it could not find any of the compensating trade benefits for the cost of the common agricultural policy which were promised when we joined.

I do not wish to draw any further parallels because that would be inappropriate when we are discussing a fairly narrow order. The occasion should not pass, however, without our recording our appreciation of what has happened in the case of Greenland. We should send a message to our colleagues in the House and to the country that this is an example which, if the British people and a future British Government wish, we can follow.

5.18 pm
Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

As the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Deakins) said, this is a non-controversial order. It would be a mistake to draw wider conclusions from it. There is now a growing acceptance in Great Britain that for Britain membership of the Common Market has brought about an appalling loss of jobs, has had a disastrous effect on our trade and caused a major reduction in our freedom. I understand that the Government would not be willing to accept any manuscript amendment to add the words "United Kingdom" to the order.

I am sure that all of us would wish to join in congratulating the people of Greenland on freeing themselves from the appalling burdens and stifling bureaucracy of the Common Market. They have, of course, until recently, been subject to the common agricultural policy which seems to have given them high prices without any compensating advantages. It has given them high steel prices which have unfortunately had a severe effect on the public works which are developing there.

The people of Greenland have been subject—this has cost a great deal of bureaucratic time—to stifling bureaucracy. It sometimes appals us to see the volume of legislation which pours out of the Commission, applying to the United Kingdom, Greenland and others. I saw two recent examples in the European papers. One was the final decision relating to the noise made by lawn mowers. My hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for consumer affairs advised me only yesterday of a new Common Market directive which is affecting jobs in the Midlands. It regulates the contents of stink bombs. That kind of bureaucracy undoubtedly has a very serious effect on a free country, and to that extent we should congratulate Greenland on freeing itself of an unnecessary burden.

As the Minister rightly said, Greenland has had to pay a substantial price for getting out of the Common Market. It has had to agree to give a very substantial amount of the fish within its waters. The best estimate I have is that the amount, at 1982 prices, was equivalent to 60 million ecu, which is about £35 million. For that, Greenland is being paid about £15 million per annum. Although the hon. Member for Walthamstow said that satisfactory terms were negotiated, I think that the Minister who replied to the debate in July was right to say that it was a very satisfactory deal for the rest of the Common Market countries, because they are effectively taking £35 million worth of fish annually for a payment of only £15 million.

There are five specific questions on which I should greatly appreciate the Minister's observations. The first is the only general one. In view of the great problem that we have had in going through this legislative procedure since the people of Greenland again voted to leave the Common Market in February 1982, would it not be possible for the Ministers in the Common Market to find an easier and less complex way for countries or parts of countries to leave the Common Market if they wish to do so? I do not think that it adds in any way to the dignity or the development of the Common Market to have an organisation that is so difficult to get out of. It compares very unfavourably with that superb organisation the European Free Trade Association, with only 19 civil servants, based in Geneva, no agricultural policy, no regional policy, and no nonsensical Socialist bureaucracy, and which simply concentrates on getting trade barriers down and promoting political co-operation.

My four specific points are rather more detailed. First, could the Minister again say that the Greenland people will have unimpeded preferential access for their fishery products to the rest of the European Community? The Minister was absolutely specific about that in his speech, but in July, when EC document No. 5063/84 was discussed, there seemed to be some reservations and restrictions. Page 5 of a letter issued in Brussels on 17 February 1984 said that preferential access was among the advantages on Greenland's side, hut that they depended on the preferential margin actually granted as compared with the rates accorded competing non-member countries."—[Official Report, 20 July 1984; Vol. 64, c. 678.] I said at the time that I did not know what on earth that meant. Unfortunately, the Minister was not able to explain it in detail. It would help if the Minister would simply repeat that it is unimpeded access and not subject to any reservations whatever.

My second specific question relates to how precisely the agreement on fishery quotas is to observed. The Minister will know that one of the issues in the Greenland referendum, which we all followed closely, was that Greenland considered that the Common Market agreements were not being strictly observed. We know that to be a fact from our own experience. There was, for example, the ridiculous agreement on reducing steel production within the Common Market. We slashed our steel capacity. Unfortunately, some other members of the Common Market increased their capacity, and we fared very badly. Similarly, we all agreed to cut our milk production. In the past three months, Britain has reduced its output by 7.5 per cent. while four other members of the Common Market have increased their milk output. Obviously, that is part and parcel of what happens with Common Market agreements.

As Greenland will no longer be in the Common Market, I think the Minister has some kind of duty to say, on behalf of the Community, precisely how the fishery quotas are to be observed. Although there is a limited quota allocated to the United Kingdom, the Minister will be well aware that we did not take up those quotas because the amount was tiny and Greenland was very far away.

The only people who fish Greenland waters are the Germans. The Germans have a substantial quota allocated to them, worth about £30 million a year. In what way are we to ensure that the quota is observed? The Greenlanders will see German vessels coming into their waters in substantial numbers, but how can they in any way ensure that the Germans will keep their deal? The Germans, the French and the Italians have a particularly poor record in keeping Common Market agreements when the interests of other countries are affected, and I wonder whether it is fair for us not to have some kind of guarantee that the quotas will be kept.

My third detailed question is about Euratom. As a member of Euratom, there was an obligation on Greenland to go ahead and mine for uranium, whether it wanted to or not. The Minister will be aware of the very significant opinion in Greenland which takes the view that uranium should not be mined at all. Will the Minister say whether Greenland is now free not to mine uranium, and has not accepted any obligation to mine uranium whether it wants to or not?

My fourth detailed question relates to the rights of Greenlanders as members of an overseas territory. I am very confused about the rights given to overseas territories. For example, in relation to hospitals in Southend, guidance has been given by the Department of Health and Social Security that I find very strange. If someone appears at Southend hospital with a broken leg and says, "I come from Guyana", the immediate question that the hospital authorities have to ask that person, before he can be given consideration, is, "From which part of Guyana do you come?" If he comes from British Guyana, he has to pay £90 a day for his treatment. If he comes from French Guyana, he gets free treatment, because French Guyana is classified as an overseas territory of the Common Market, and the people are thereby entitled to free treatment. The same principle applies to countries such as Martinique and other French overseas territories, but not to British overseas countries.

Will the Minister say whether, under the special status of overseas territory, Greenlanders will be afforded the same opportunities as residents of countries such as French Guyana, which are classified as overseas territories? I find it particularly offensive that we discriminate against members of the British Commonwealth while at the same time giving costly health treatment free to members of France's overseas territories.

If someone from French Guyana looks for employment in Southend, the restrictions are very limited, but only recently, a firm in Southend was instructed to get rid of an Australian, although he had shrapnel in his leg from flying with Fighter Command in the war.

In relation to Greenland, can the Minister say whether we are adding to the number of overseas territories which will be fully entitled to hospital treatment and to the help of the welfare services at low cost? It is generally an unsatisfactory arrangement. I think that the view of most sane people in the House of Commons is that we should either make provision for our Commonwealth friends and some others as a whole, or treat all foreigners alike. I find it very difficult to see why we should regard people from Greenland or French Guyana as having greater entitlement to free medical services in Britain than our friends from Australia, New Zealand, Zimbabwe and other parts of the Commonwealth.

I hope that the Minister will clarify the points that I have mentioned. I make it abundantly clear that I am asking the questions only for clarification and not because I wish to oppose the order.

Although there is a relatively small attendance, we are this afternoon witnessing the removal from the Common Market of half the land mass of the Common Market—in fact, of the second largest island in the world. The only larger island is Australia. Greenland is indeed a very large island. Its people have fought hard to regain their freedom. They have battled with the Common Market's bureaucracy for no less than three years and now they see an opportunity to rid themselves of the appalling interventionist policies of the EEC, the stifling bureaucracy and the enormous economic burdens. I am sure that, although Greenland has a small, independent-minded population, it would be the unanimous wish of the House to wish the people well on having freed themselves from those burdens and on entering a period in which they can enjoy more freedom and independence.

5.30 pm
Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Cleethorpes)

I agree with the remarks made by the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Deakins) and my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor), because they both drew attention to the significance of this event. I am delighted to see that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is listening to the debate. Who knows that he may look forward to the day when, true to his conscience, he will be at the Dispatch Box moving a similar order for this country? We all know where his true feelings lie on the issue.

The order makes it clear once and for all that it is the right of the people of any country to decide that they want to be a member of the Common Market in one year and their right, through their Government, to decide in another year that they want to change their minds. We must make sure that the people in this country are aware that final sovereignty over us being a signatory to a treaty and a member of an organisation such as the Common Market is and must always be, here in the House of Commons.

The order shows that there would be nothing wrong in a political party being elected to power upon the basis that it wanted to renegotiate the Treaty of Rome and put before the House of Commons, with a mandate from the people, an order along those lines. That must be stressed. I hope that one day in years to come, a Conservative Government might feel themselves capable of putting forward such an order. However, we must recognise that it is absolutely right and proper in our democracy for it to be stressed that a member country, with the democratic votes of its people, has the right to change its mind.

I am speaking in favour of the order because of the reason given by the people of Greenland for deciding that they were no longer at home in the Common Market. The principal reason that drove them to renegotiate their position in the Common Market was the deal that they got out of the common fisheries policy. I represent the town of Cleethorpes, which adjoins the fishing port of Grimsby. I am sure that I shall have the support of the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) in what I am about to say. If, in a referendum, the people in his and my constituencies judged the Common Market purely on the basis of the fishing deal that came out of the common fisheries policy, they would probably arrive at the same decision as the people of Greenland.

In moving the order, my hon. Friend the Minister of State drew attention to the fact that, for Greenland in particular, there were no other compensating benefits from membership and that Greenlanders were so heavily dependent on their fishing industry that they found themselves in this situation. The people of Grimsby are virtually dependent on their fishing industry and see little compensating benefits from membership of the Common Market. That is why the hon. Member for Great Grimsby takes such a strong stance on the Common Market.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

Are my hon. Friend's constituents reassured that, through Common Market funds, we are supplying 167,000 tonnes of cheap food each week to the Russians to alleviate starvation?

Mr. Brown

I do not think that the people of Grimsby would see it in that light. My hon. Friend characteristically illustrates the reasons why so many people are unhappy about the present situation in the Common Market.

I conclude by welcoming the order and stressing once again that, at the end of the day, it must always be the right of any sovereign country to change its mind. There must be many hon. Members on both sides of the House who are deeply committed to the principle of the Common Market, but they should recognise that it must always be the right of any Government, with the backing of the people, to change their minds and be able to renegotiate their position within the Common Market to the extent that such an order can be brought before their sovereign Parliament.

5.35 pm
Mr. K. Harvey Proctor (Billericay)

I should like to join the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Deakins) and my hon. Friends the Members for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) and Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) in congratulating Greenland on bringing to a conclusion its withdrawal from the European Economic Community. My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East said that Greenland was a large land mass. We should wish it well in its associate status with the EEC. All Back-Bench Members who have spoken hitherto have congratulated Greenland on taking that action and wished it well for the future.

I should like to know from my hon. Friend the Minister of State what his Department's attitude is. Have similar congratulations and good wishes been sent from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East said, from Her Majesty the Queen herself? It would be right and fitting on this last day of our parliamentary Session to ensure that those at the Foreign Office at senior levels of Government sent a telegram tonight, perhaps after Prorogation, to the leaders of Greenland, expressing the good wishes of this sovereign Parliament for Greenland's future and congratulating them on the action that they have taken.

As all those who have spoken in the debate mentioned, this may be the opportunity for paving the way for other members of the European Community either to leave the Community at a future date or to leave and acquire associate status. My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East said that it was a little too late in the day for my hon. Friend the Minister to accept today what he described as a manuscript amendment to the order. My hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes spoke of the possibility of parliamentary time being found in future for a debate on whether the United Kingdom should stay in the EEC——

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Order. Whatever the merits of such a proposition, it is not for the House to debate it today. We are talking about the membership of Greenland, not that of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Proctor

I am grateful for that advice. I was only paraphrasing what other hon. Members informed the House. I was not expressing——

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is pushing a little further the license that I allowed previous speakers. I hope that he will not seek to exploit my tolerance further.

Mr. Proctor

I am grateful for your advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I should like to refer to specific questions arising from the order about differences that might apply to other states leaving the Community. I should like my hon. Friend the Minister to comment on that. As I understand it, if any member country other than the United Kingdom wished to leave the European Community, the correct procedure would be to table an order similar to that now before us relating back to the European Communities Act 1972. My interest is in whether the same procedure would suffice if this country wished to follow the same path. I presume that in those circumstances the Government would say that primary legislation would be required to repeal the 1972 Act, which puts this country in a position different from that of Greenland or any other member country. I should be grateful if my hon. Friend the Minister would clarify that point.

In conclusion, I remind the House of what was said in the Government document that was pushed through our letterboxes during the 1975 referendum campaign.

Mr. Robert Rhodes James (Cambridge)

Which side were you on?

Mr. Proctor

My hon. Friend asks which side I was on. I am happy to declare my interest. I was on the side of the United Kingdom and its interests and against membership of the European Community. Having worked at that time for the group of Members, including the present Leader of the House, who opposed EEC membership at that time, I voted and campaigned against membership.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I hope that other hon. Members who are waiting to speak will not be tempted to try to convert this into a depate on Britain's membership of the EEC. We are discussing an order relating to Greenland's membership. I hope that the hon. Gentleman and the House will stick to that.

Mr. Proctor

I apologise profusely to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was attracted, or provoked, by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mr. Rhodes James). I was actually coming to the end of my speech. I wish to conclude by quoting from the documents that were pushed through letterboxes in 1975.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

References to letterboxes in Greenland might be in order, but not references to letterboxes in Cambridge.

Mr. Proctor

In that case, I shall refer to letterboxes in Greenland as it is in Greenland that a democratic decision has been taken. We were told in 1975 that continuing membership of the European Community relied upon the continuing consent of Parliament and People". Greenland has now taken its decision. We shall no doubt take ours in due course.

5.42 pm
Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

I am pleased to follow the eloquent comments of my hon. Friends. I hope that I shall riot stray from the straight and narrow path of order if I say that, unlike them, I do not seek Britain's withdrawal from the Community. Nevertheless, I have strong views on the subject.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) said, Greenland is the biggest island in the Community. We are probably the second biggest. Greenland has a very large land mass indeed. When this measure is passed, as I am sure that it will be, with good will, the Community will be deprived of a significant proportion of its land mass. Size, scale and territory are matters of significance because they mean resources. The Community must therefore consider seriously its future size and scope, especially its land mass and its geographical and geological resources, in the interests of future generations. Will the loss of the great land mass of Greenland be balanced by the accession of Spain and Portugal? Will that accession take place and, if so, when?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Spain and Portugal are a long way from Greenland. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will turn his attention northwards.

Mr. Marlow

I fully accept your remonstrations, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As we are losing a part of the Community, however, some members will no doubt wish to seek compensation by gaining territory in other areas. We are losing the resources, geology and scope of Greenland. In the overall context of the Community, therefore, in economic terms and perhaps potentially in military terms, it is important to assess whether those losses will be balanced by compensating gains in other areas. I put it to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the accession of Spain and Portugal and whether and when it is to come about are matters of concern arising out of the order.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is entitled to his opinion, but in this matter it is the opinion of the Chair that counts. I hope that he will turn his attention away from Spain and Portugal and towards the order before the House.

Mr. Marlow

Yes, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The debate is entirely about Greenland and you are quite right to tell me that that is the case.

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister has picked up the tone and import of my message. I very much look forward to his reply.

5.45 pm
Dr. John Marek (Wrexham)

I shall be brief, but I believe that it is right that another Opposition Member should congratulate Greenland on the courageous decision that it has taken, albeit by a small majority. I wish the people of Greenland every success on the course that they have decided to map out for themselves in the future.

I echo the words of the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) in asking the Minister whether arrangements similar to those mentioned for French Guyana and Martinique will be available to Greenland after its withdrawal from the Community. This is certainly a bone of contention. I visited St. Helena in the summer and discovered that for St. Helenians a month's stay in hospital costs about £1,500 in Capetown but £5,000 in the United Kingdom. Many people there are upset at the advantages apparently enjoyed by some dependent territories of Community countries vis-a-vis others. Comparisons were frequently made with Martinique. I hope that the Minister will address himself to that and let us know exactly what the position will be for Greenland.

Having said that, I congratulate the people of Greenland and wish them every success.

5.47 pm
Mr. Robin Cook (Livingston)

I should set the Minister's mind at rest from the outset by saying that the Opposition do not intend to divide the House on this order. Nevertheless, we have had a pleasing debate and it would be wrong to let it end without a formal response from the Opposition Front Bench.

It is only about a dozen sitting days since we last debated Greenland's withdrawal from the Community and there was a certain similarity between the comments made by the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) on that occasion and today, but they were none the worse for that as it was a vigorous speech.

I think that the hon. Member for Southend, East will agree that today, as in July, there has been a surprising lack of enthusiasm in the House for Greenland's membership of the Common Market. Indeed, a curious feature of the seven or eight debates on the Common Market that have taken place during the year in which it has been my duty to turn up at the Dispatch Box on such occasions has been the total absence in the House of any enthusiam for anyone's membership of the Common Market. These who took us into the Common Market on their prospectus have not attended the debates in which we have discussed the consequences of membership.

My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Deakins) rightly referred to the Select Committee report on the trade consequences. It would have been interesting to have a response to that from at least one of those who in previous years urged that the consequences would be quite different.

The significance of this debate is one to which every speaker has drawn attention. That is that here we see the withdrawal from the Common Market of what is a small population—one that is less than the population of virtually every constituency represented in the Chamber—but a very large land mass. Greenland's loss effectively halves the total land area of the Common Market. The significance of this step is that it shows not just that there is now a legal precedent for negotiating withdrawal, but that it is politically and diplomatically possible to negotiate withdrawal.

The Greenland Government managed to get an attractive deal as a result of the process of negotiation and have secured the equivalent of £300 per annum for every man, woman and child in Greenland for each of the next 10 years, an agreement that is renewable at six-yearly intervals thereafter. One is tempted, although I shall not be so tempted for fear that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will draw me sharply to order, as you have done with previous speakers, to expand on the contrast between what the Greenlanders are getting for withdrawing from the Common Market and what we are continuing to pay to stay in it.

Mr. Eric Forth (Mid-Worcestershire)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is an interesting contrast between that line of argument and the fact that Socialist Spain believes that its people might benefit from coming into the EEC? Is not the weight of argument on that side, simply because of the number of people involved, much stronger?

Mr. Cook

We await with interest and eagerness the outcome of the negotiations between Spain and the Common Market and Portugal and the Common Market. One cannot but notice that within the past week an additional difficulty has been placed in the course of the successful conclusion of these negotiations. I have some sympathy, which I had better keep a fairly covert sympathy, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in view of your strictures, with the point made earlier by the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow). I suspect that when 1 January 1985 arrives, we shall find that Greenland has left the Common Market, but I shall be surprised if, on 1 January 1986, we find that Spain and Portugal have managed to get in.

The hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth) would be wise not to press his point too far because if he does he will find that the getting in of both countries depends entirely on the terms of getting in, and those terms depend entirely on sustaining the rickety structure of the common agricultural policy, which the hon. Gentleman, among other hon. Members, wishes to see knocked down.

Mr. Marlow

The hon. Gentleman, vis-a-vis Greenland, has raised the point of the accession of Spain and Portugal in 1986. He will understand the great significance of that, which is that any increase in own resources is justified only on the basis of that accession.

Mr. Cook

That is a valid and important point and one that we shall no doubt have an opportunity to examine when the House debates the increase in own resources. I think that the Government will be in great difficulty when that time comes in sustaining such a move as being necessary to pay for an enlargement that looks unlikely to happen by the date of the increase in own resources.

The hon. Member for Southend, East raised a matter that concerns me, that of enforcement. It is undoubtedly the case that what prompted the Greenland people to vote, by an adequate majority, to withdraw from the Common Market was not the fisheries regime but the country's frustration at being unable to police and enforce the fisheries regime, and its clear perception that the fisheries regime was flagrantly and frequently violated by other countries that were ostensibly its partners in the Common Market.

The House should have some sympathy with that point of view because we experienced similar problems and discrimination ourselves. The hon. Member for Southend, East made the comparison with the steel regime, but it is not necessary to look at any other regime besides the fisheries regime. It has adequate illustration that we are experiencing the same difficulty in obtaining enforcement and adherence to the fisheries agreement that the Greenlanders have experienced in the past five years.

For example, only two years ago one of our partners in the Common Market claimed extra restitutions on the export of a volume of mackerel caught in British waters that exceeded its annual quota, and obtained a subsidy from the Common Market on the export of that volume although it plainly, in claiming that sum, was admitting to having broken the quota agreement. The hon. Member for Southend, East made the point that it appears that there is only one other country in the Common Market that is even attempting to impose milk quotas. We, as one of the two countries respecting the agreement on milk quotas, might ask ourselves why it is that the agreement has not been more adequately enforced.

Against that background, we must have some sympathy with the considerations that have moved the people of Greenland. Here, I come to the point raised by the hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Proctor). He asked whether the Queen would be sending a message of congratulation and felicitation to the Greenlanders on their withdrawal from the Common Market. As I understand it, the Government's position, to use the term that they employed on the last occasion that the House debated the matter, is that they respect the decision of the Greenlanders. I feel that it would be desirable to go beyond that. The Opposition understand their position and wishes, and we wish them well in the brave experiment on which they have embarked. We shall be watching closely to see how they prosper in their new, independent state.

5.56 pm
Mr. John David Taylor (Strangford)

This brief debate is important to the United Kingdom because it makes it clear that a precedent has been created. The people of one member nation within the EEC can, by their own decision, withdraw from membership of the Community. It is an interesting precedent, which will be noted throughout the nation.

One specific point arises from the departure of Greenland from the Community, to which I should like to draw the attention of the Minister. It is the weird constitutional relationship that Greenland had with Denmark. Originally one thought that Denmark and Greenland had joined together in 1973 as one nation within the EEC, and that a certain number of seats within the European Assembly had been awarded to the nation of Denmark, including Greenland. Then it emerged that Greenland got one of those seats in the Assembly, which is not in itself a democratic institution. It is certainly not elected on the basis of one man, one vote, because a few thousand voters in Luxembourg have six seats, while 40 million voters in the United Kingdom have 81 seats. Likewise, a few thousand voters in Greenland had only one seat.

Now, Greenland is leaving the EEC and can do so separately from Denmark. What is happening to the one seat allocated to Greenland? Is it disappearing, or will Denmark now gain an extra seat? Will this seat go to the Arabs on the coast of Morocco, who apparently will now join the EEC with Spain? Is it going to the Azores, or could we give it to Gibraltar, which is the only part of Europe that is still not represented in the Assembly, for purely political reasons?

5.58 pm
Mr. Rifkind

It is appropriate to welcome the warm words of appreciation for this order that have come from both sides of the House. It is pleasant to see such a rare degree of unanimity on matters affecting the European Community.

The hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Deakins) and a number of other hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), referred to what they described as a precedent for the withdrawal of a country or part of a country from the European Community. What has happened on this occasion has been the requirement to renegotiate a treaty. The order is the consequence of negotiations which involved the unanimous agreement of all the member states, and it will require the ratification of all the member states. That is the appropriate way in which to deal with such matters.

My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr Taylor) raised a number of detailed points. He asked for an assurance that Greenland would have unimpeded access to the European Community for its own fishery products. That matter is dealt with specifically in article 1 of the protocol agreed earlier this year, which gives Greenland equivalent access to the Community for its own fishery products, to take account of the right that the Community will continue to exercise in Greenland waters. My hon Friend also asked—as did the hon. Member for Livingston whether there were safeguards as regards the enforcement of the Community quota arrangements in Greenland waters, given the difficulties which Greenland has faced in the past. I refer my hon. Friend and the hon. Gentleman to articles 3 and 5 of the agreement on fisheries between the Community and Greenland. Article 3 states: The Community shall notify the Greenland authorities of the name, registration numbers and other essential characteristics of fishing vessels which may be authorised to fish within the area of jurisdiction of Greenland. Article 5 states: The authorities responsible for Greenland may take, within their area of jurisdiction, such measures as are necessary to ensure compliance with the provisions. Such measures would presumably involve the Danish navy, because of Greenland's continuing association with Denmark in matters of external relations.

My hon. Friend also asked about the implications of Greenland's withdrawal from. Euratom. Membership of Euratom has not involved any obligation to mine uranium. It has simply required that any uranium that might be, mined should be shared with and made available to other members of the Community. That particular obligation will no longer apply to Greenland. Greenland will be free to determine what mining it wishes to engage in.

My hon. Friend and other hon. Members also referred to Greenland's proposed status as one of the overseas countries and territories. Certain questions were asked about the implications of that status. My hon. Friend sought to suggest that there was some significance in the fact that French Guyana enjoyed certain advantages deriving from OCT status which are not available to the territory which he described as British Guyana. As the House will know, there is no longer any territory which can be referred to as British Guyana. There is an independent republic of Guyana. It is an independent state within the Commonwealth. French Guyana on the other hand, is still administered as part of France and has therefore, to be treated in a distinctive way.

In general terms, Greenland will continue in future to enjoy the rights available to other countries of OCT status—not only the French territory to which my hon. Friend referred but also a substantial number of British territories including Bermuda, the Falkland Islands and various other islands around the world.

Despite its membership of the OCT group of countries, Greenland will not be entitled to benefit from the European development fund. Greenland has a relatively high income per capita compared with most developing countries. It was, therefore, agreed that it would be inappropriate that Greenland should have access to a fund intended for Third world developing countries. There is a precedent for that decision. Brunei does not have access to the fund either, although classed as an OCT country.

Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)

What will happen to the seats of the representatives from Greenland in the EEC? Will those vacancies revert to Denmark?

Mr. Rifkind

The right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) raised the same question. When the allocation for Denmark in the European Parliament was determined, the total population of Denmark was taken into account. Although Greenland will no longer be associated with Denmark for the purposes of the European Parliament—I believe that the total population of Greenland is only about 100,000——

Mr. Cook

It is 45,000.

Mr. Rifkind

It is even less than I had suggested. Denmark's overall entitlement to seats, therefore, will not be affected It has always been for Denmark to decide how to allocate its seats, just as Parliament decides how to allocate seats among the various parts of the United Kingdom.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (South Down)

The hon. Gentleman may, inadvertently, have misled the House about the circumstances in which the United Kingdom and three other states came to have 81 seats instead of 80, which was the original allocation. In Northern Ireland only, under an agreement arrived at by a previous Administration, there was to be election by proportional representation. That required three seats. An additional seat, therefore, was given to the United Kingdom by the EEC, which, of course, also gave an additional seat to the three other countries with parity. It is not strictly correct to say that the EEC has not influenced the internal distribution of seats in part of one of the component nations.

Mr. Rifkind

The right hon. Gentleman has made a valid point, which I unreservedly accept.

There will be no change in Denmark's own representation, and the Danish Government may make their own arrangements about the allocation of the seats. They will remain entitled to their present allocation on the basis of the population of metropolitan Denmark.

Speaking on behalf of the Opposition, the hon. Member for Livingston suggested that Greenland had achieved a very good deal in that it was being given £15 million to leave the Community. That is not an accurate description of what has happened. The £15 million is not compensation for leaving the Community. It is a payment specifically in respect of the access which the Community will continue to have to Greenland waters. The arrangement is very similar to arrangements already existing between the Community and many third countries, whereby a sum of money is paid in return for access for Community fishing vessels. Greenland will, of course, continue to have access to the Community for its own fishing products.

Mr. Cook

Could the Minister explain what financial compensation the United Kingdom receives for having granted the Common Market access to British fisheries?

Mr. Rifkind

That is a somewhat foolish question. We are dealing with the withdrawal of Greenland and the Community's entitlement—which it was anxious to maintain—to fish in Greenland waters. If the Community wishes to fish in waters which are not part of the Community, it is right and proper that there should be some quid pro quo. The hon. Gentleman may speculate about the implications of that for other territories that might wish to withdraw from the Community, but such speculations are not relevant to the order.

Until now, Greenland has received £19 million from the European development fund. Overall, therefore, less money will be spent on Greenland after its withdrawal.

Mr. Marlow

Many of my hon. Friends are worried about the loss of territory involved in Greenland's withdrawal. When does my hon. Friend believe that we are likely to see any new territories—such as Spain and Portugal—joining the Community?

Mr. Rifkind

Negotiations with Spain and Portugal are at an advanced stage, and we hope that the proposed date of January 1986 for their accession will be adhered to.

I hope that I have responded to the points which have been raised. I commend the order to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered, That the draft European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (Change in Status of Greenland) Order 1984, which was laid before this House on 22nd October, be approved.