HL Deb 31 July 1974 vol 353 cc2311-6

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what further progress has been made with their renegotiation of the terms on which the United Kingdom joined the European Community; which aspects of this question are now regarded as fundamental; whether recent developments confirm that amendments to the Treaties will not be involved; and by what date it is the present intention to complete the necessary discussions and announce their outcome.


My Lords, Her Majesty's Government have been pursuing their renegotiation objectives on several fronts in the appropriate Council meetings. The issues covered were clearly set out in my right honourable friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary's statements to the Council of Ministers on April 1 and June 4, copies of which are available to noble Lords in the Library. My right honourable friend told the Council on June 4 that in Her Majesty's Government's judgment the proposals put forward, if accepted, would not require changes in the Treaties. My right honourable friend added that the Government will continue negotiations on that basis, though of course our reserve on Treaty amendments continues to stand. It is still too early to set a precise target date for the completion of renegotiation.


My Lords, while thanking the noble Lord for his reply to my Question, which seems to beg more than it answers, may I put one straight question to him. Why has collective Cabinet responsibility now been abandoned where this vital national question is concerned, with key Ministers not only openly opposing but actually sabotaging —and I mean that—Her Majesty's Government's declared official policy towards the European Community? Is not—


My Lords, if I may intervene, it is not the practice in your Lordships' House to put supplementary questions by reading them. Would the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, be kind enough to put this question in the normal, customary way?


My Lords, I apologise most sincerely. If I may just complete my supplementary question, is not the inevitable result of the opposition of key Ministers to the official policy of Her Majesty's Government the enfeeblement of the Community as a whole, and the creation of quite unnecessary uncertainty?


My Lords, I do not accept the implications of the first part of the noble Lord's question. As to the alleged enfeeblement of the Community, we are absolutely convinced that the acceptance of the major British proposals will not only be conducive to the greater prosperity of this country, but to the greater viability of the Community itself.


My Lords, would not the Government now admit that there was really no necessity to embark on any formal negotiations for modifying the terms of the Treaty of Accession, but simply to make use for this purpose of the existing machinery of the Community?


My Lords, progress already made on various aspects of renegotiation would seem to indicate that the noble Lord's view is not the correct one. We shall continue with renegotiation until we are in a position to report to the country on the results, and to seek the country's approval, or otherwise, for them.


My Lords, the noble Lord said he did not know when these negotiations would be concluded. Is he aware that a statement of the Foreign Secretary was leaked in a private, meeting of the Parliamentary Party, saying there was no prospect whatever of there being any conclusion for another twelve months? Is this correct or not? If so, is it because negotiation is difficult, or because it is better for the Labour Party?


My Lords, I do not think a leak was actually necessary in this case. My right honourable friend, when addressing a public meeting in London on July 2, indicated that he would soon need to indicate a general period within which negotiation should reasonably be expected to be completed and the position put to the country. He naturally declined to indicate what that period might be, but there has been some speculation that it might be somewhere around twelve months.


My Lords, would it not be true to say that noble Lords who have just spoken from the other side have not accepted the fact that this is another, different Government from the previous Government. Would it not be true to say that noble Lords on the other side are always saying that renegotiations by the people who are in Brussels are going on the whole time? Therefore their objections to the renegotiations of this Government seem to me to be utterly hollow.


My Lords, yes indeed. Despite the break which is inevitable during the August holiday, detailed discussions are proceeding and we look forward to intensive renegotiation beginning about the middle of September.


My Lords, I regret to put this question when we are about to part from this House for some time. I prefer that we should leave with a measure of harmony. May I ask whether it is true that Members of your Lordships' House—a majority on the Opposition side and a minority on this side—have an obsession with entry into the Common Market in spite of all the difficulties that have accrued since the Treaty of Accession? This obsession has done more to divide this country, and to create disunity than any other piece of legislation or policy.


My Lords, suffice it to say that that is certainly one point of view.


My Lords, the question I would put to the Government in all friendliness is prompted, or at least reinforced, by certain words of the noble Lord the Leader of the House a few minutes ago when he used the phrase, "Parliament is the mirror of democracy". To what extent do the Gov- ernment realise how Labour Party colleagues have been missed in the European Parliament by their own potential colleagues who sit there—Conservatives, Liberals and Independents; whether they have any kind of measure of the additional influence that those Labour Members of Parliament would have brought to bear within the British presence in that Parliament, and whether they realise the extent to which other member countries and the Socialist groups from those countries are bewildered by the fact that out of the three main institutions of the Community—the Council of Ministers, the Commission and the Parliament—the present Government have chosen to neglect the Parliament?


My Lords, I am very pleased to take full note of what the noble Lord has just said.


My Lords, obsessed or not, may I thank the noble Lord who speaks for the Government on these questions for continuing to say nothing in such a friendly way, and may I ask him whether Her Majesty's Government will, at the end of renegotiation, issue a White Paper saying whether the Government approve or disapprove of the terms that have been renegotiated?


My Lords, the noble Lord's assumptions are broadly correct. A White Paper, or some form of official publication, will contain the finalised conclusions with an indication of what the Government of the day think of them.


My Lords, will the Government remember that we are still full members of the Community while the renegotiations are going on, and will they undertake to observe all the terms of the treaties and take a positive role in the policies being pursued in the European Communities, and not upset every other Member State in the process of these so-called renegotiations?


My Lords, I think it is fairly generally agreed that despite our reservations about the terms negotiated by the previous Administration we have genuinely and full-heartedly co-operated with the ongoing business of the Community. Those accusations, when I think it is accepted that we have acted in full bona fides, are not helpful to the present position. Regarding the other point raised by the noble Baroness, I can assure her that the policy of co-operation within our membership pending the results of renegotiation will be faithfully followed.


My Lords, will not the noble Lord agree that when the Conservative Party was in power it recognised that membership of the Community was a continual process of negotiation, but that the difference between the two Parties is that we do not threaten to pull this country out if we do not get what we want?


My Lords, both sides are agreed that negotiation or renegotiation is inevitable and right, so I do not see how much divides us on this issue. If we on our side indicate rather strongly how deeply we are concerned on the point of renegotiation, perhaps that is the difference between us.


My Lords, arising out of the reply of the noble Lord the Minister to the first question put to him by the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, may I ask him whether he is in a position to deny the Press reports that, because of the negotiations now being pursued by the Government, no full applications or complete applications for benefits from the Regional Development Fund are being made by the Government, with consequential loss to United Kingdom institutions or bodies?


My Lords, I would not care to comment on Press reports, but on the very important question of the Regional Development Fund I should like to make it absolutely clear that through no fault of this country those negotiations have not made the progress that one would have expected them to make.


My Lords, will the noble Lord bear in mind that a former Leader of this House helped to secure the passing of the Act embodying union in the E.E.C., with the promise of large funds from the Regional Development Fund which he described as being his reply to my plea on behalf of the old 'uns of England; would he note the old 'uns continued interest in this matter, and further, is the European development financial year 1973 still running?


My Lords, the position in regard to the Regional Development Fund is that wholly inadequate progress has been made, for the reasons I have just given. I should add another reason, in fairness, that in various Member States of the Community there have been internal difficulties which have somewhat delayed these negotiations. As to the need for a strong and viable development fund on the lines which my noble friend has described, we on this side of the House regard this as fundamental to any significant membership of the Community.


My Lords, could the noble Lord the Leader of the House, before any further questions are put on this matter, advise that the reading of Hansard during the debate on the E.E.C. should be prescribed reading for every Member of your Lordships' House?


My Lords, the noble Lord has drawn my attention to the question that is before the House at the moment and, looking at the time, I wonder whether this might be the right moment to proceed to the next Question.