HC Deb 06 March 1996 vol 273 cc336-8
11. Mr. Win Griffiths

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how many officials in his Department are currently working on matters related to the IGC. 117268]

Mr. Rifkind

We set up an intergovernmental conference unit last January. It has a staff of nine, including support staff. A number of other FCO officials in London and at European Union posts spend part of their time on intergovernmental conference issues.

Mr. Griffiths

I thank the Secretary of State for his reply. Are any of those civil servants considering whether there should be a commitment in the IGC White Paper to a referendum on a single currency? If so, does he agree that such a commitment should be made and does he, therefore, support the rabid right of his party in demanding the sacking of the Chancellor?

Mr. Rifkind

The intergovernmental conference is concerned only with proposals to amend the treaty; therefore, questions relating to European monetary union will not arise.

Mr. Redwood

Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that there is growing anger in Britain about the judgments and powers of the European Court of Justice? Will he make it a priority area for the IGC and will he introduce proposals urgently for the House of Commons and House of Lords to assert their rights against the ECJ, bearing it in mind that the German constitutional court limits ECJ judgments in Germany?

Mr. Rifkind

I very much agree with my right hon. Friend that, in the terms expressed by my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food yesterday, it is clearly important to respond to the very unwelcome judgment that was made in the Factortame case. We have a number of ideas for improving the working of the European Court of Justice that we will submit to the intergovernmental conference. We are also willing to consider other ideas whereby both Houses of Parliament can have additional influence in seeking to ensure that the fundamental traditions and requirements of our country are taken into account.

Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones

The Foreign Secretary made a number of interesting points in his speech in Paris yesterday. They included the idea that there should be a European Union figure to represent foreign policy. As he supports that view, is it the Government's view and will it be proposed at the IGC?

Mr. Rifkind

I said in my speech, and am happy to repeat, that on issues where British foreign policy coincides with that of other countries—for example, in the middle east, Hong Kong and other parts of the world—it is sensible to use the added weight of the European Union in furthering our interests. When 15 countries have committed themselves to a single foreign policy objective, it is necessary to co-ordinate that policy on a day-to-day basis. That is why we believe that the appointment of a civil servant or official to assist Foreign Ministers would be a useful innovation.

Mr. Dykes

As senior Ministers have promised yet again to become more enthusiastic about our membership of the European Union, instead of leaving it to the Chancellor of the Exchequer or occasionally the Deputy Prime Minister, is it not important that my right hon. and learned Friend puts the record straight on the European Court of Justice, bearing it in mind that in the latest dispute on fishing matters, in order to dampen down the temperature of some of our colleagues, we should remind the public that many Spanish fishing boats are owned by British companies?

Mr. Rifkind

That is as may be, but there is a widespread belief which I am sure is shared on both sides of the House that the purpose of national quotas was to benefit national fishermen. In so far as that has not been the case, as a result of the decisions of the European Court of Justice, it is right and proper that the Government should give priority to seeking to rectify the position and ensuring that national quotas operate in the way that was clearly intended by the Council of Ministers when the policy was first introduced.

Mr. Robin Cook

May I commend to the Foreign Secretary the excellent leaflet by the Chemicals Industries Association entitled "Why Europe matters to you"? It warns that, if we are to keep chemical factories and jobs in Britain, we must take a positive role in Europe. Does the Foreign Secretary endorse that conclusion? If so, will he recommend another reading of the pamphlet to the hon. Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor), who ripped up his copy when it was presented to him? On the verge of the IGC, will the Foreign Secretary take this last opportunity to advise some Conservative Members that it would be better if they rip up their prejudices before they break up Britain's business links with Europe?

Mr. Rifkind

I have not had the pleasure of reading that leaflet, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I will not tear it up before reading it. I will withhold judgment on what to do with it until I have read it.

On business links with Europe, the hon. Gentleman should consider the damage that would be done to our business interests by the imposition of the social chapter, as advanced by the Labour party. A couple of days ago, I was interested to read in the press that the Labour party is now in secret discussions about limiting its commitment to implement the social chapter. It is clearly beginning to recognise the intense damage that the social chapter would do to British jobs. We hope that there will be an early opportunity for the hon. Gentleman to explain to the House why the Labour party is now admitting what it has spent the past year trying to deny.