HL Deb 18 July 1974 vol 353 cc1278-86

5.41 p.m.

THE PARLIAMENTARY UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE, FOREIGN AND COMMONWEALTH OFFICE (LORD GORONWY-ROBERTS) rose to move, That the Draft European Communities (Definition of Treaties) Order 1974 laid before the House on July 8, be approved. The noble Lord said: My Lords, there are five Treaties included in the Schedule to this draft Order, and the texts of all are available to the House either as a Command Paper or in the Official Journal of the European Community. The first Treaty listed—a decision of the member States of the E.C.S.C.—provides for the opening of tariff preferences for products covered by the E.C.S.C. and originating in Finland. Of course, in practice, since Britain has already removed tariffs on Finnish goods under E.F.T.A. rules, our obligation under this Treaty is limited to refraining from introducing new duties.

The second and third Treaties listed in the Schedule are both E.C.S.C. decisions which provide for tariff preferences and tariff quotas for certain steel products originating in developing countries. They form part of the Community's Generalised Scheme of Preference. As your Lordships know, Her Majesty's Government are seeking to secure substantial improvements in this field in the context of renegotiation, and these two Treaties are clearly desirable in themselves.

The last two Treaties listed in the Schedule are both protocols extending earlier agreements; one, the Wheat Trade Convention of 1971, and the other, the Food Aid Convention, 1971. Both the latter are incorporated in the International Wheat Agreement of that year. Both are, in fact, Community Treaties because they were signed by the Community as such as well by the Member States. Of course, both were negotiated in a much wider international framework than that of the Nine. Both of them are that kind of Treaty.

The draft Order follows the precedents set in December 1972 and July and December 1973. This Order is, as they were, wholly in conformity with the terms of Section 1(3) of the European Communities Act, 1972, and there is no doubt at all that all five items listed in the Schedule are new Treaties within the scope of that Section, nor any doubt that it is in the interests of this country that the necessary steps should be taken to enable effect to be given to them in the United Kingdom as Community Treaties within the meaning of the 1972 Act. None in any way conflicts with the Government's wider policy towards European Communities.

The form of the Order differs slightly from that used in the three previous Orders which were discussed at the appropriate times by your Lordships. The revised wording of Article 1 of the Order—and the resultant provision of two Parts to the Schedule—is designed merely to avoid unnecessary practical complications in relation to the date of designation for these Treaties, which are already in force for the United Kingdom on the date when the Order is made.

I think that Article 1 is, in fact, unwontedly clear on this point, and I sometimes think rather more clear than the paragraph that I drafted for myself in explanation. In a sense, a minor variation of wording, but a necessary one. However, I thought that I should mention that there is this necessary divergence between the wording of Article 1 in this Order and the wording in the appropriate Article in the three Orders which we have already discussed and approved. Therefore, I commend this draft Order in Council for the consideration of your Lordships' House, and I beg to move.

Moved, That the Draft European Communities (Definition of Treaties) Order 1974 laid before the House on July 8, be approved.—(Lord Goronwy-Roberts.)

5.46 p.m.


My Lords, I do not wish to detain the House by discussing this Order for more than a few moments. As the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, has already explained, this Order itself appears to be quite straightforward. However, it involves the important subject of the Food Aid Convention of 1971. The Command Paper 5624 and the protocol for the extension of the Convention do not state either in Article 3 or in Article 5 the precise roles of the enlarged European Community, and of this country, under the Convention. I understand that the amount of grain that was supplied during 1973 to 1974 by the Community following enlargement was increased by a quarter of a million metric tons to 1.29 million tons. Of this, 45 per cent. was paid for by the Community itself, and the remainder by the Member States. I gather that Britain's contribution was set at 120,500 metric tons of grain. I gather that the amounts to be supplied for 1974 to 1975 are still under discussion and, as I have already forewarned the noble Lord, I have some questions on this point.

Perhaps the noble Lord could tell the House how these talks are progressing, and what the Government hope the outcome will be. With the current fluctuations in world commodity prices it is important—and I think that the noble Lord will agree—to know the precise basis on which the grain is to be purchased. In future will the amount of grain to be contributed under the Convention be fixed with the cost fluctuating according to the price of grain on the open market, or will the financial commitment itself be fixed, with the amount of grain purchased varying according to world prices? In short, will the financial contribution be pegged or will the tonnage of grain to be donated to developing countries be settled beforehand?

According to yesterday's Press reports, the noble Lord's right honourable friend the Minister for Overseas Development is reported to have advocated to the Council of Ministers that food aid should be kept either at its present level or, so far as the non-associated developing countries are concerned, it should even be reduced. On the other hand, the Minister seems to be pressing for an increase in the technical and financial aid to be given under the Community's aid programme, on the basis that food aid is "charity" and financial and technical assistance is "developed." What firm commitment have the Government that the rest of our European partners will agree to such an increase or will even be in a position to implement it? How will the Government's desire to cut food aid affect the current round of negotiations under the Food Aid Convention? Lastly, will the noble Lord please explain to the House the thinking and the reasons behind the Government's apparent change of emphasis in their policy on the question of food aid?

5.50 p.m.


My Lords, of course no one would wish to raise a debate on these Treaties at this late hour, particularly as most Members of your Lordships' House have vanished from the scene, presumably on the assumption that these Treaties appear very innocent, innocuous and hardly worth debating. But I am not so sure about that. I suspect that the content of these Treaties is very subtle, that, gradually, what we are asked to accept is penetrating—I could use a harsher term but that will suffice—into our sovereignty; that, gradually, with the acceptance of these Orders, these innumerable Treaties, Regulations and the like, we are being denuded of our rights and privileges which are associated with our Parliamentary system. I will not pursue the matter now. I am certain that noble Lords are now weary after the protracted debates we have had since we began operations this afternoon. At this stage I merely want to ask a few questions. First, do any of these treaties, particularly those referring to steel operations, imply that there are to be restrictions in our production? The injection of tariffs and the like, which will gradually curtail our operations, will probably lead to some unemployment in order to benefit the other countries producing commodities of that kind. That is my first question. Secondly, I want to know whether the content and substance of these Treaties is definitive? In particular, I wish to know whether they are outside the prospect of renegotiation? The latter question is perhaps the most important, because the Labour Government have decided to engage in renegotiation.

I confess that when I read the reports in newspapers of the speeches and deliberations of some of my right honourable friends in another place, who make frequent visits to Brussels and to the Continent and engage in deliberations and discussions with their opposite numbers, and returning to the United Kingdom full of euphoria, it seems that at last they are coming to terms with their opposite numbers. Nothing creates more suspicion in my mind than that. I would wish it to be otherwise. I should be more content if they failed to display the usual enthusiasm after their return from Brussels. However, I do not propose to pursue the matter or to labour the point, but I suspect all this talk about renegotiation.

I hope that my noble friend Lord Goronwy-Roberts, for whom I have the highest regard because he is an old colleague of mine of much affection, will not regard what I am about to say as an offence. In any event, if it is regarded as such it is not an offence against him personally, but simply because there is a deep-rooted suspicion in my mind that all this talk about renegotiation is a charade. That is my opinion. However, time will tell. Meanwhile, my noble friend will content me—at least, I hope he will endeavour to do so—with his interpretation of these Treaties. Are they definitive? Is this the final word, or are they all subject to renegotiation.

5.56 p.m.


My Lords, may I address myself to at least some of the points which the noble Earl, Lord Cowley, made. I think I can deal with at least two or three of the major eight points he made in fairly brief fashion, by saying that there has not yet been discussion or negotiation of the terms of any successor arrangement to the Food Aid Convention which might come into force in July, 1975.

We are giving effect in this country to the Protocol which extended for a further 12 months the arrangement which had to end in July, 1974. Discussions have not yet started in any meaningful way on a successor arrangement beyond that latter term. The second point is covered by a fairly general remark. We would wish to examine proposals for any such successor arrangement very carefully indeed, in the light of what are estimated to be the needs of the developing world—not only in terms of food aid at a particular time arising from possible emergency, and a lack of availability resulting from climatic or harvest conditons, but also in the light of what would be the most efficacious aid in terms of development rather than purely charitable intervention. Charity there must be. But, at the same time, donor countries, of which Britain is proud to be one, must work very hard to enable, recipient countries over a longer term to develop their own indigenous capacities, particularly in agriculture.

The whole point of the statements made by my right honourable friend the Minister for Overseas Development in the last few weeks has been that we are certainly ready to join with others in making provision for a continuation over a period of the arrangements under the Convention, and then of the Protocol. But that we look forward—and I think this is a consensus view in both Houses—to creating a system of effective aid which will enable recipient countries to fend for themselves more and more successfully, and in that way perhaps not become unduly dependent upon adventitious donations. I know that the noble Earl is concerned about this, and that his questions were directed to make clear the policy which is shared pretty generally by all Parties in both Houses.

The third and fourth points which he made concerned the question of the future size of our aid commitment. I would not wish to be tied down to specific sums. I find it very difficult indeed to do more than give certain estimates, which I know will not be brought back to me by way of recrimination if, in this world of changing costs and shifting values (but mainly of changing costs), some of the estimates prove to be inaccurate. I do not think they will, but I will put it in this way: it is estimated that in the financial year 1974–75 our participation in the Convention in both forms, which the noble Lord very lucidly described, relating to decisions taken under the Convention before its due date of expiry—that is June, 1974—will cost about £13.5 million.

The noble Lord was understandably concerned about 1974–75, and he quoted a total obligation of 1,287,000 metric tons. I think he made it 1,290,000 metric tons. Let us hope that the extra 3,000 is, in fact, available. I have no quarrel with that figure, but I am sorry to say that I cannot give an exact figure of the tonnage for which Britain will have financial responsibility. However, I think it is perfectly fair to estimate for the House that the total cost to Britain of Community and national action arising from the proposal before this House—this projects forward over the period which the noble Lord had in mind—will not exceed £14 million. These are estimates, although not as the two Houses are accustomed to having before them in the Parliamentary sense. They are assessments of what can be done.

This leads me to the final and very proper point which the noble Lord made as to our commitment. Our sense of commitment is very strong, of course—perhaps it is easy to say that—but it is necessary to say that the resources to be made available by the Government by way of aid are set at the level which they think right and possible in the circumstances of the country. That must be a maximum figure, and aid which the United Kingdom wishes to undertake has to be fitted in according to their priorities. I am very glad the noble Lord did not fall for the temptation of urging that there should be a separate provision for food aid. I know how emotive this may be, but one does not increase the capability of a donor country to make the maximum possible donation to developing countries by separating the donation into two categories, one of which may be at the time more emotive than the rest. Obviously, food has a compelling appeal to everybody; it conjures up visions of hunger and deprivation of children. But one does not increase the effectiveness, still less the size, of the contribution in that way. The size of the contribution must be subject to the capacity, the capability, of the donor country. On this point one can only say that we shall continue to do our very best.

My noble friend Lord Shinwell said that he did not want to detain the House, and for once, unusually, he sounded somewhat apologetic. I confess that, after a very long period of having the honour of knowing him as a friend, this is the first time I have heard him strike anything like an apologetic note. I think it was really a note of courtesy; and I appreciate what he said very much indeed. He is wholly entitled to his suspicions: I would prefer my noble friend's suspicions to many enthusiasms from other quarters. From his point of view, he is wholly entitled to regard with great suspicion whatever is done under the Act of 1972 to place Community Treaties in a United Kingdom context.

I can only repeat what I said in my opening remarks—and I mean this—that the Government are seeking to secure substantial improvements in this field in the context of renegotiation (that is, particularly in the field of aid to developing countries), and these two Treaties relating to developing countries are clearly desirable in themselves. I repeat that in regard to the Order which relates to the position of Finland.

The first Treaty is one of liberalisation of trade. In fact, it continues to assert the position which obtained among us, Finland and EFTA, to which I and my noble friend subscribed wholeheartedly, as indeed did the Party opposite when they were in power at that time. There is much to be said for the achievements of EFTA in the field of liberalising trade over a wide area. I will say this much to my noble friend. There is nothing in these five Treaties which will prejudice the renegotiating policy of Her Majesty's Government—nothing.

The second question was whether, in fact, these Treaties, and treaties like them, are themselves capable of renegotiation in the future. I would venture to say that they should be. Personally (and I do not think anybody in the Government would dispute this), I do not think that anything to which we agree now, even within the Treaty of Rome, is for ever and a day not amendable by due process, by agreement. Beyond that, nobody could go. I hope that those who regard with great distrust and dislike any movement, economic or political, into Europe will not assume that even the European Communities cannot be changed by courteous and effective argument among friends and partners.

On Question, Motion agreed to.