HC Deb 13 February 1991 vol 185 cc837-9
3. Mr. Favell

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the intergovernmental conferences.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Douglas Hurd)

Both intergovernmental conferences were opened on 15 December, in Rome. The conference on European monetary union met again on 28 January, attended by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I attended a meeting of the political union conference on 4 February. Ministers' personal representatives are also meeting weekly. The United Kingdom is playing a full and constructive role in both conferences.

Mr. Favell

The EC conferences are about the future control of our economic, foreign and defence policies—the hallmarks of an independent state. Does it not strike my right hon. Friend as odd that at a time when, quite rightly, our troops are in the Gulf to restore independence in Kuwait, we should talk about giving away our own independence?

Mr. Hurd

I am not sure that the two situations are entirely comparable. So far as we are concerned, the two conferences are exercises to see whether we can co-operate more effectively with our partners in Europe. I am sure that my hon. Friend would not suppose that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor's plan for a hard ecu, or the ideas that I am quoting in the other conference for stimulating the role of national parliaments in controlling the Community and for more effective compliance by member states of European decisions that they have already accepted in theory, involve any sacrifice of independence on our part.

Mr. Shore

The Foreign Secretary has given an unusually bland and uninformative reply. He surely recognises the great interest that there is in the progress of the talks on the intergovernmental conferences—particularly that on political union, for which the right hon. Gentleman is more directly responsible. Will the Foreign Secretary keep the House informed as to the substance of the talks at the meeting on 4 February? Will he also ensure that, in future, a separate statement is made whenever the right hon. Gentleman returns from Brussels, Luxembourg, or wherever it may be, so that the House will be kept fully informed?

Mr. Hurd

I always try to ensure that the House is kept properly informed. On 4 February, we had a general discussion in the intergovernmental conference on the subject of foreign policy. I maintained the view that there is everything to be said for working together effectively, and in trying to agree a line and implementing it—but that would not be achieved by playing about with majority voting or procedures.

Sir Geoffrey Finsberg

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it has become clear from events in the Gulf that the intergovernmental conference ought not to come to any conclusion that the defence of western Europe should be handed over to the Community? Will he use his best endeavours to strengthen the Western European Union, which is the right organisation, as the European pillar of NATO?

Mr. Hurd

So far as we and most members of the Community are concerned, there is no question of trying to load on to the EC the responsibility for our defence that is shouldered by NATO. There is a question of how far we can build up the WEU, as my hon. Friend knows and approves, but the essence of our defence will continue to lie in the Atlantic alliance.

Mr. Robertson

Why, even at this late stage, with the intergovernmental conferences now involving weekly meetings of officials, do we still not have the Government's promised paper on the agenda for the political union conference? When it comes to the economic and monetary union conference, we have not only the Government's agenda but an alternative draft treaty, whereas we know little of the Government's views or negotiating position in respect of the political union prospectus. When it comes to matters of major substance affecting the future of this country, the House of Commons and the people of this nation should have a right to participate, rather than everything being left to faceless officials meeting in Brussels.

Mr. Hurd

I recall a debate in which I set out our proposals and ideas very clearly. I will refresh the hon. Gentleman's mind by sending him the relevant copy of Hansard.

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