HL Deb 24 November 1977 vol 387 cc1062-70

4.59 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the draft European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (No. 3) Order 1977, laid before the House on 3rd November, be approved. Your Lordships may recall that when in May last we debated draft Orders in Council, some noble Lords expressed concern that it had not been possible for them adequately to consider the draft Orders in Council on the basis of the information made available then for the debate. They were unhappy that details were not given about those aspects of the Treaties contained in the Schedule to the orders which might be considered to be directly applicable within the United Kingdom. The Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments had drawn the attention of Parliament to the difficulties of understanding this type of order from the information of that time contained in the orders themselves. I was able to assure Members that the Government were considering what assistance they might be able to give Parliament in assessing the implications of the Treaties to be specified.

The Government gave considerable thought to how this might best be done and decided that the most appropriate means was to expand the Explanatory Memorandum which is presented to the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments with each draft Order in Council. Notice of the Government's intention was given to your Lordships in response to a question put by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, on 25th July last. Noble Lords will therefore have come to this debate with the opportunity of being better informed of the contents of these draft Orders in Council than they were previously. The Government have done their best to give indications of which Articles of the Treaties being specified they believe likely to be directly applicable in the United Kingdom. That opinion, of course, is subject to the decision of the European Court of Justice which alone has jurisdiction to determine which Treaty provisions are directly applicable.

As the Explanatory Memoranda—the one relating to this draft order and the one relating to the draft order which we shall be separately considering—contained a considerable amount of information, I shall only deal briefly with the Treaties being specified. It is not necessary to discuss at length the details therein but I should perhaps set them in their political context. The House will recall that in 1974, after political changes in Portugal, both the Portuguese Government and the Community wished for closer relations to help alleviate the political, economic and social difficulties in Portugal. The Portuguese Government proposed modification of the agreement which had been signed between the European Economic Community and the Portuguese Republic on 22nd July 1972. The present Treaties are the result of subsequent negotiations.

The 1972 Treaty had dealt only with trade matters, but the new agreement allows the Community to give Portugal considerable help to overcome the effects of social and political change and to develop her economy. The rehabilitation of industry is being assisted by a delay in the dismantlement of the tariff for industrial goods which gives some additional protection (against Community imports); and simultaneously the Community, for its part, has encouraged traditional Portuguese exports by the reduction of tariff against some products more quickly than was originally planned. For example, on most industrial products duties have been unilaterally removed.

I trust that noble Lords will agree that the efforts being made by the Community to assist generally in Portugal's economic and social development are most welcome. The Community will assist in providing a basis for co-operation in the industrial, technological and financial fields through participating in financing measures to assist development in these sectors through the medium of the European Investment Bank and the EEC/Portugal Joint Committee.

The financial protocol provides a second tranche of aid; the first was an emergency provision which was agreed in October 1975, fairly soon after the new, and hopeful, political developments in Portugal had occurred. It will help the financing of projects proposed by the Portuguese development agencies. Assistance will be to small and medium sized businesses and economic infrastructure and also to agricultural processing and development. The Agreement also embraces social security and health care. It has been agreed that Portuguese workers will qualify for benefits within the Community free from discrimination based on nationality.

All the terms of the Treaties are intended to establish a closer relationship between Portugal and the Community and will provide significant assistance to Portuguese negotiations for membership of the Community. The Government, and I am quite sure all parts of the House, strongly support democracy in Portugal and welcome the Portuguese application for membership which represents a further investment in the democratic future of Europe. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (No. 3) Order 1977, laid before the House on 3rd November, be approved.—(Lord Goronwy-Roberts.)

5.7 p.m.

Baroness ELLES

My Lords, we are very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, for explaining the legal inplications of this draft order which is before your Lordships' House and the relevance of the additional protocol and financial protocol as specified in the draft order. I should also like to convey gratitude on behalf of my noble friend Lord Elton for the way in which his request was treated and for the courtesy of the Minister in seeing that his request was implemented. We are extremely grateful for the new form of Explanatory Memorandum which has undoubtedly been of great help. I am sure that if this form of Explanatory Memorandum is continued in the future it will be of benefit to both Houses when dealing with Definition of Treaties Orders.

The extension of the earlier agreement of 1972 to include provisions on social security and industrial and technological co-operation is to be welcomed, as the noble Lord has welcomed them, provided that the people of Portugal will be able to benefit economically and socially from these terms and conditions. Apart from the intrinsic merit of continuing to facilitate and, indeed, expand commercial links with our oldest trading partner and former EFTA partner, the people of Portugal are in urgent need of outside political support which the Community is undoubtedly able to give. What is questionable is whether the present Government of Portugal are able to use the advantages of these provisions for their people.

So far as I am aware and so far as Press reports are concerned, and I haw only the Press reports to go by, the IMF have withheld assistance from the Portuguese Government until some assurances have been given on the economic measures to be taken by the Government. I repeat that this is knowledge that I have gained only through the Press; I cannot confirm it officially. Does the Community, therefore, also ask for some assurances before parting with money from the European taxpayer? This is a legitimate question to ask. Also, can no pressure be put on the Portuguese Government, if assistance is to be given particularly to the agricultural sector of the economy, to ensure the implementation of revised legislation on the disastrous agricultural land reforms which followed the July 1974 uprising?

The world welcomed, as indeed our Government and country did, the return of Portugal to a system of pluralist democracy, but the domestic economic situation has worsened since that date, the agricultural output being less than in 1974; the trade balance, which was in surplus between 1966 and 1973, being now in deficit to an amount somewhere in the region of one billion U.S. dollars; and the enormous unemployment being due largely to the influx of about half a million refugees from former Portuguese African States. The refugee problem alone is a monumental problem for Portugal to handle, and sometimes it must be questioned whether or not a degree of financial concern and responsibility ought to be taken by United Nations' agencies, considering the importance and influence of resolutions taken consistently over the years in the United Nations for decolonisation, regardless of the consequences to the physical and economic survival of thousands of human beings. Nobody questions the policy, but I do question the results of a policy which has resulted in half a million refugees having to go not to Portugal but, in the vast majority of instances, to a country which was alien to them.

This consideration is of relevance since the additional protocol provides for the non-discrimination of Portuguese nationals working in the Community, and I should be grateful if the Minister could give an assurance that these articles under Title 2 of the additional protocol do not imply that they will be interpreted as meaning free movement of labour from Portugal to Community countries, but that the articles do just provide for non-discrimination of treatment in work and social security on a reciprocal basis.

I was somewhat worried by Article 12, which refers to the question of treatment of families and the receiving of benefits for Community nationals in Portugal because it refers to Article 11 (1) and (4) and omits subsections (2) and (3). The Explanatory Memorandum in paragraph 9, however, includes the fact that the family allowances should be paid to the nationals of Member States in the Community. I am not sure whether I have any right to be worried by this interpretation, but I think the matter should be clarified because in the normal circumstances I should have thought that in the third line Article 12 should read: "In Article 11 (1) to (4)". I may be wrong about that, but I should be grateful for a clarification at some stage, perhaps in a letter after the debate.

The continuing of democratic processes in Portugal is of course essential for the West as a whole, and the first step of closer integration, warmly welcomed, was of course the membership of Portugal in the Council of Europe. I hope the Minister and noble Lords will forgive me if I welcome Spain to the membership of the Council of Europe, since it is happening today. As it is part of the Iberian Peninsula, I hope I may be allowed to extend the discussion, just to state from this Dispatch Box our welcome to Spain into the Council of Europe.

Conditions in Portugal are such that the economic situation may lead—and we hope it will not—to a worsening of democratic processes. Therefore great responsibility lies within the consultative and monetary monitoring machinery included within this protocol, to ensure that the assistance given by the European Community does contribute to the objectives of economic and social improvement for the Portuguese people in a democracy. I have pleasure from these Benches in supporting the draft order for the approval of the House.

5.15 p.m.


My Lords, right away I should like to concur in welcoming Spain to the Community and I am glad that the noble Baroness made that point.

I shall be brief. I think this Statutory Instrument is of much more economic and historic importance than the man in the street realises and, while the noble Baroness hinted at the social and economic position, one must remember that under this Statutory Instrument there shall be no discrimination between Portuguese and Community workers in respect of conditions, employment or remuneration. In Britain already all our migrant workers enjoy full equality but, as I think the noble Baroness was hinting, we ought to see that there are likewise the same sort of opportunities for workmen and their wives who may migrate to work in Portugal. But as the position is now, there is no first-class legal social security system anywhere near the British system, and the reality should be pointed out to the man in the street that, while Portugal has the problem of migrants from Angola—and there is massive unemployment there—we cannot, by our own laws, prevent Portuguese workers coming into Britain, offering contracts to local authorities or even to the Government.

Therefore there is much more in this Statutory Instrument than meets the eye of the man in the street and, without quoting from the Treaty, Articles 23(9), (10), (11), are directly applicable to the British position. Consequently, I hope that while people may be enthusiastic about the Common Market, the implication of these Statutory Instruments, which we have not the possibility of debating (and there is no system of Parliamentary representation anywhere near the British system, at Brussels or anywhere else in Europe) is that most of these Directives are coming from the Commission and are likely to be bureaucratic rather than democratic. I do not want to denigrate the Treaty, but it seems to me that something ought to be said, in the way I have said it tonight, so that people are much more aware of the realities of joining the Common Market than they are at the present moment.

5.17 p.m.


My Lords, I wish first to express my appreciation of the graceful way in which the noble Baroness has referred to the improvements that have been made after consultations with the Bench opposite, and indeed with the House as a whole, which has led to the improvement in the presentation of these not always easily debatable orders. The noble Baroness raised a number of important points. The last one I can deal with at once. I agree with her that the question of social security and family allowances is best examined by a considered communication to her which she may then decide could, through the normal processes of the House, be given a more permanent life in the Official Report.

I will now pass quickly to the other important point she made. I think it is a sound point to raise, that despite our very strong sympathies with the Portuguese people in emerging from 40 years of non-democracy into the great testing time of unaccustomed democracy, nevertheless we need, by advice and perhaps some measure of guidance, to see that funds which are made available to them are properly and usefully spent. There are of course in the original Agreements between the EEC and Portugal—the Agreements of 1972—provisions for this. A Joint Committee was established which is responsible for the administration of the agreement and its proper implementation. The European Investment Bank and the Joint Committee have not yet discussed specific projects which may form the subject of loans to Portugal from the funds to be allocated. I should expect that both the EIB and the Joint Committee will wish to discuss purpose and programme in regard to every proposal put to them.

The noble Baroness quite frankly raised the question of the attitude of the IMF. I understand that the Portuguese authorities do not regard those negotiations as having broken down. The present suspension of the talks provides an opportunity for Prime Minister Soares to consult the other parties and to seek the necessary support for his economic policies. I understand that the talks are due to resume in early December and I think we all hope that it will be possible for the negotiations to be successfully concluded.

As to the question of the movement of labour raised by the noble Baroness but, I quite agree, without over-pressing it, the position is that in this order as in the next order which we shall be considering, the Agreements relating to the movement of labour might amount to a granting of free movement—that is the right to enter and reside in any other Member State in order to seek or take employment. I can give the assurance that free movement of labour still only applies to EEC nationals. The general position for workers from Portugal, and indeed the Maghreb—and I am sure I am not abusing the practices of the House by referring to a forthcoming order relating to the Maghreb countries—is that they need a work permit if they wish to take up employment here, and they will still continue to do so. The present Agreements relate not to movement of labour but to conditions of work; that is, conditions of work for migrants already working in the Community or the Maghreb or Portugal, as the case may be.

This brings me to the point made by my noble friend Lord Davies of Leek, who asked about reciprocity. This is absolute, but conditioned, of course, by the state of social legislation in the respective countries. It is an exchange of whatever facilities there are in the two countries according to the level that those facilities have reached. Like him, I would hope that those facilities will reach an equally high level, not only in these countries but throughout Europe, in all respects. But on the point he made, that there is no discrimination based on anything like nationality but rather a global reciprocity based on the availability of benefits and services, I think I can give him an absolute assurance.

Baroness ELLES

My Lords, would the noble Lord allow me to intervene? He was commenting on the statement made by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, who seemed to be assuming that it was only because they might be Members of the Community that they would be getting equal treatment. Is it not the case that any foreign national working in this country always receives equal treatment, regardless of where he comes from?


My Lords, the noble Baroness and I can speak for our country in that regard. As I said last night, comparisons are sometimes odious. We are very proud of that fact. That is the position so far as we are concerned. I do not know about other countries, but I do know that this country follows that policy. The noble Baroness is absolutely right.

I think both the noble Baroness and the noble Lord mentioned the question of the relationship of these orders with Parliamentary control. We have not yet perfected this process by any means. I think we have made great strides in the last two or three years. The Government's view on the signing of Agreements before the European Parliament has had an opportunity to discuss the financial implications is that, certainly at this stage, this is a matter to be raised between the President of the Assembly and the President of the Council of Ministers. This is not a finally satisfactory answer, I know, but this is the state of progress at the moment. I think we have made progress, not enough perhaps; but the noble Lord's point is well taken, and I can assure him that Her Majesty's Government are fully apprised of its importance.

On Question, Motion agreed to.