HL Deb 27 October 1975 vol 365 cc11-4

3.8 p.m.


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 conclusions were reached at the Paris preparatory meeting for the proposed Summit conference on energy and raw materials.


My Lords, the preparatory meeting reached agreement on arrangements for a Ministerial level Conference on International Co-operation, to take place in Paris from 16th December. I am arranging for a copy of the final declaration adopted by the preparatory meeting to be placed in the Library of this House.


My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether it is not the case that there was a serious difference of opinion about British representation at the Summit, and whether this may threaten the meeting of the Summit itself? Will Her Majesty's Government consider a proposal to enlarge the representation all round? Even if this meant delay, it would be better than a repetition of the April failure.


My Lords, I do not think the success of the Summit will be endangered by disagreements at this stage. Apart from representation, this is essentially a procedural issue. We hope and expect that there will be agreement on this point before the December Ministerial meeting, leading to the success of the Summit. As to the specific proposal made by my noble friend, I am quite sure that my right honourable friend will be glad to consider it, and indeed any other proposal leading to an agreement with our friends in the Community.


My Lords, is it not the case that only 20 days are now available for a decision to be reached between the British Government and the EEC upon this matter? Is it not also the case that at present those differences are very serious, and that if they are allowed to continue the Conference in December may be endangered?


No, my Lords I think it is a longer period than 20 days. The Ministerial Conference will he held on the 16th December, which means that between now and then we shall of course be talking to our friends and partners in the Community, seeking a Community mandate which, in turn, will have proper regard for British interests.


My Lords, can the noble Lord say what vital British interests would be secured or protected by separate representation which could not equally well be secured and safeguarded if we were not separately represented at this conference?


My Lords, without attempting to engage in, not a mini-debate but an elongated debate, on the large question which the noble Lord has raised, may I say that there are, of course, British interests involved here. We have a two-fold objective, as the Foreign Secretary explained in another place; that is, to see that British interests, particularly perhaps in regard to energy, are properly put forward and protected, and also to ensure the success of the conference. We hope and expect that this two-fold objective will be achieved. Between now and the Ministerial meeting on 16th December there will, of course, be discussions leading, as we expect, to agreement.


My Lords, would not the Minister agree that, if there really are serious differences between the people who are to take part in this conference, it would perhaps be better that it should be put off or that it should wait until agreement has been reached?


No, my Lords; I think we should persist with this Summit. It is a very valuable suggestion from the French President that not only the rest of the Community but very many countries in the developing world have welcomed. We will do our best to make it a success. However, I take the point implicit in the suggestion by the noble Baroness; namely, that it would be helpful to get a European mandate on these matters within which national considerations are properly protected. We are naturally concerned about our position on oil. All countries seem to have a problem of (shall we say?) liquidity; if it is not oil perhaps it is wine.


My Lords, is the Minister prepared to see me rise in my place in order to point out that Questions have been going on for 26 minutes?

The Earl of ONSLOW

My Lords, is it not in the British interest to keep oil prices high, as we have borrowed so much money on North Sea oil? If, by chance, the OPEC cartel collapsed and oil prices went down—as perhaps they should do in a slump—North Sea oil would be valueless.


My Lords, if the noble Earl means that we should prudently gear our price system to our amortisation policy, the answer is, yes, of course.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that there is very widespread sympathy with the attitude of the Government towards this matter of securing separate representation from this country, which, after all, is in conformity with pledges given by the Foreign Secretary in the course of the Referendum campaign, and which is expressly referred to in the Government White Paper following the renegotiations in Dublin? Is he further aware that it might be highly inimical to British interests if she were not separately represented prior to a common energy policy being achieved?


My Lords, my noble friend is a member of the European Parliament. I do not know whether he had been appointed in time to be present when no less a person than M. Simonet spoke on very similar lines, giving assurances equal to those quoted by my noble friend.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware what evidence is available to any of my noble friends who are pursuing this Question that increasing the number attending the Summit Conference would be a better means of reaching a settlement than the form of representation already agreed for attendance at that Summit Conference?