HL Deb 09 July 1985 vol 466 cc128-31

2.54 p.m.

Baroness Elliot of Harwood

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will make a statement on recent proposals to establish a foreign policy secretariat for the EC.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Young)

My Lords, as part of our proposal for a binding agreement on political co-operation we have suggested that a small secretariat be established in Brussels. This would assist the presidency in managing political co-operation, help to maintain continuity when the presidency changed and strengthen links between political co-operation and the Community.

Baroness Elliot of Harwood

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. In the light of the recent terrorist activities which have been going on in Europe, much to our sorrow, I should like to ask the Minister to what extent the new secretariat would involve itself in the common security of Europe.

Baroness Young

My Lords, this is simply a proposal that a small secretariat should be established, but among the areas of political co-operation we would see terrorism as being a suitable subject for close political co-operation in Europe.

Lord Gladwyn

My Lords, do the Government recall that under the Treaty of Brussels of March 1948, constituting what is called the Western Union, not only a secretariat but a secretary-general functioned entirely successfully in London until NATO got going, and quite often formulated a common foreign policy, notably as regards the conduct of the cold war? Do noble Lords not also think it is rather paradoxical that NATO, which has no supra-national content whatsoever, has both a large secretariat and a secretary-general while the European Economic Community on the political side (which is supposed to further European union) has had nothing of the kind up to now? Will the Government now put all their interests, in spite of any objection on the part of the Commission, behind the establishment in Brussels of not only a very small political secretariat but a proper political secretariat with a proper secretary-general?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I am quite certain that the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, will have studied our proposals, which have been in the Library of the House for some few days. I am glad to tell him that they have been generally welcomed. They are currently under discussion.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, will the noble Baroness agree that it is thoroughly undesirable to build up—

Noble Lords

Lord Broxbourne!

Lord Broxbourne

My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Lord for his characteristic courtesy. Can my noble friend the Minister confirm that, however desirable such a step may be in principle, it does not fit into the mechanism of the EC as at present constituted? Will it not require amendment of the treaty under Article 236 with its prescribed procedure?

Baroness Young

No, my Lords. My understanding on the particular subject of this Question is that it concerns the establishment of a small secretariat. This is something which could be established and which we think would be helpful, for the reasons I gave in my original Answer.

Lord Oram

My Lords, will the noble Baroness explain more fully the proposed status of this secretariat? For example, would it speak collectively for the EC in other international forums, perhaps, for example, on such a subject as sanctions against South Africa, or is it merely a co-ordinating mechanism that is in the proposals?

Baroness Young

My Lords, as I understand the current procedure, each president of the Community will have his own staff. When the presidency changes, so the new president uses his own staff. The object of this exercise would be to establish a small permanent secretariat so that there would be continuity of policy. We believe it would give political co-operation a permanent base, maintain the continuity between presidencies and strengthen links with the community. The decisions on policy would of course rest with member countries.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, would it not be undesirable to go ahead with this proposal at a time when one of the major parties in this country, the one that may indeed form the next Government—in spite of the laughter to my left (and he who laughs last laughs most)—has a certain attitude? I suggest that it is undesirable to build up the Common Market at a time when the party which hopes to come to power is dedicated to its dismantling.

Noble Lords

Is it?

Baroness Young

My Lords, if indeed that is the policy of the Labour Party (I was not aware that it was) I think it most unlikely that it would achieve power.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that we on these Benches warmly welcome what she has said and give her our total support?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord for that.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, when the noble Baroness refers to "the president" in her answers, to whom is she referring? Is it the president of the Council of Ministers? The European Economic Community. so far as it has hitherto been known, has no president—has it?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I apologise to the noble and learned Lord if I have used language that was less than precise. I am referring to the presidency, of the Council of Ministers.

Lord Northfield

My Lords, is it not the case that this co-ordination of foreign policy in the EC has been proceeding quite happily for six years or more? Most noble Lords will be aware of that fact. Has this not led quite happily to the presentation of a co-ordinated EC view on specific issues of foreign policy, sometimes in such forums as the United Nations, with very good effect? Is it not to be welcomed that the Government are now proposing that this arrangement, which has been going for half-a-dozen years or more, should now be made slightly more effective by having a common secretariat?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. We believe that political co-operation has been a considerable success in the Ten. We think it is time for another step forward and we put forward proposals at Milan for a binding co-operation agreement incorporating this small permanent secretariat and for closer co-operation on security.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, will the noble Baroness clarify the position a little further? The Question on the Order Paper refers to a foreign policy secretariat, whereas the reply of the noble Baroness referred to political co-operation. Will she kindly enlarge a little more precisely on the question addressed to her by her noble friend Lord Broxbourne about the article of the Treaty of Rome under which the establishment of such a foreign policy secretariat becomes possible? Is she further aware that the accession treaty of 1972 did not alienate the sovereign control of British foreign policy away from the United Kingdom?

Baroness Young

My Lords, as the noble Lord will be aware, there has been a committee, known as the Dooge Committee, which has been sitting and looking at the institutions of the Community. In Europe: the Future it was stated that the objective should be the progressive attainment of a common external policy—that is, of the Community. The United Kingdom is firmly committed to a strengthened foreign policy co-operation among the Ten for the reasons that have been given and reasons which have frequently been advanced in your Lordships' House. But I can confirm that sovereignty for foreign policy matters rests firmly with member governments.