European Communities (Treaties)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 17th December 1973.

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10.13 p.m.

Photo of Mr Anthony Royle Mr Anthony Royle , Richmond (Surrey)

I beg to move, That the European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (No. 2) Order 1973, a draft of which was laid before this House on 3rd December, be approved. This is the third time that such an order has been laid before the House by me. The schedule to the draft order lists each of the treaties to be specified. The texts of all are available to the House either as Command Papers or in the Official Journal of the European Communities.

The first treaty listed, a decision of the member States of the ECSC, provides for the opening of tariff preferences for products covered by the ECSC and originating in Norway. The exchanges of letters with Norwegian and Finnish representatives, shown as items 2 and 7 of the schedule, are ancillary to the main European Community agreements with those countries and concern the opening of duty-free quotas for imports of paper products over the period 1974–83 inclusive.

Items Nos. 3 and 4, both agreements with the Lebanon, are interrelated. The first, a protocol of 16th May 1973, provides for the United Kingdom, Ireland and Denmark to become contracting parties to an earlier agreement on trade and technical co-operation between the EEC, and the original six member States, and the Lebanon. The second, which is in the form of an exchange of letters, renews that earlier agreement until 30th June 1974.

The making of this Order in Council will enable the United Kingdom to give notification that the necessary national procedures have been completed. Neither treaty can enter into force until all the parties have given such notification.

The provisional location of the European Monetary Co-operation Fund in Luxembourg is dealt with in item No. 5 of the schedule. The parent instrument establishing the European Monetary Cooperation Fund is Council Regulation No. 907/73. But because decisions on the seat of Community institutions are, by virtue of Article 216 of the EEC Treaty, to be adopted by common accord of the member States, the question of the location of the fund could not be dealt with by the regulation. No other aspect of the fund's establishment or operation is affected by decision now specified.

Lastly the schedule includes, at item 6, the ECSC agreement with Finland, concluded at the same time as the main agreement between that country and the EEC. The ECSC agreement, unlike the main EEC agreement, was signed by the member States as well as by the ECSC, and thus under Section 1(3) of the European Communities Act this Order in Council is required to give the agreement the status of a "Community treaty".

My few remarks have been immensely complicated. They were not meant to be so. I hope I have explained to the House the details of this small order. It is an important order. It is the third one which I have introduced.

The draft order follows the precedents set in December 1972 and July last and is in conformity with the terms of Section 1(3) of the Act. There is no doubt that all seven items listed in the schedule are new treaties within the scope of the section.

10.18 p.m.

Photo of Mr Peter Shore Mr Peter Shore , Stepney

The House will be grateful to the Minister for his admirably brief and lucid exposition of the seven treaties which are dealt with in the order. They are the seven treaties named in the schedule. The Government—and, I am sure, the Minister—will be glad to acknowledge a duty to explain to the House the significance and the justification of these treaties, even those which are of a relatively minor status.

Equally the House has a duty to be vigilant when treaties are being signed and new agreements entered into between the Community and other countries. Before turning to some of the matters which are covered by the treaties, I shall risk one reflection. There is what I have come to feel to be a great anomaly. We have the opportunity, because of the contents of Section 1 of the Act, to debate and, in the last resort, to vote against certain treaties. While these are not matters of no importance, the House will recognise that these seven treaties are matters of lesser importance rather than of first importance.

Earlier today we debated the subject of trade between this country and the Third World—that is, the trade of this country as it will be changed by adopting the Generalised Preference Scheme of the enlarged EEC—yet no opportunity or procedure is available to enable us to discuss this major matter which affects the whole relationship of this country with a great part of the developing world.

Although we may hope in time to find procedures which might partially mitigate the effects of this kind of self-enacting Community legislation, I can only say how much I regret that provision was not made in the European Communities Act, at the time when it was being hammered out and fashioned, for the House to consider important matters—which is undoubtedly what the future Generalised Preference Scheme of the enlarged Community is—as well as what appear to be, so far at any rate, the minor matters covered in these definition treaty orders.

Turning to the assortment of treaties listed in the schedule, I propose to select one or two for further questioning or comment. One that stands out from the seven as being, as it were, on its own is the treaty which agrees to the location of the European Monetary Co-operation Fund in Luxembourg. Hon. Members will recall the gallant and protracted effort by the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs to have that fund located in some other part of Europe. Indeed, it must have occurred to the right hon. Gentleman and to some of the Community Ministers too that it was just conceivable that the headquarters of a monetary fund dealing on behalf of the Community with intervention in markets, questions of reserve currency matters generally, and so on, might be located in London, which could be considered as having some advantages compared with Luxembourg. But that is not to be. As we know, it is to be located in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.

I think that there are practical problems about this proposal. I am not sure whether the authorities have enough telephone lines to be constantly in operation if such a fund ever becomes really active in terms of monetary intervention in world markets. I am not sure whether air transport from this country and from other parts of Europe to the Duchy of Luxembourg is as good as it is to some other cities. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman need not become quite so touchy.

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

Mr. J. Selwyn Gummer (Lewisham, West) rose

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

As the right hon. Gentleman—

Photo of Mr Edward Mallalieu Mr Edward Mallalieu , Brigg

Order. As the right hon. Member who has the Floor is not giving way, the hon. Member must resume his seat.

Photo of Mr Peter Shore Mr Peter Shore , Stepney

I must not for a moment allow myself any possibility of humour in the presence of the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Selwyn Gummer).

There is a reference in the schedule to the provisional location of the fund. Does "provisional" mean that this decision will come up again for consideration in the foreseeable future, or has this been decided for all reasonable time in the future?

That apart, the substantial treaties, the treaties between the Community and the countries outside, number six. As I understand it, two deal with Norway, two with Finland and two with Lebanon. The Lebanon treaty raises no questions of great interest. It is a small amount of trade which is involved. It is simply the application of an existing trade and technical co-operation agreement. Regarding Norway and Finland, I note that in the case of the paper products—this applies to Norway and Finland—there is to be a duty-free quota for the years 1974 to 1983. Does this relate to the transitional period which those countries have negotiated with the EEC? Does it mean that at the end of the period, in 1983, there would be a nil tariff anyway between those countries and the Community? Is that the significance of the period 1974–83 in which these duty-free quotas are to be in force? Will there, after that, be no tariffs from the EEC in relation to those countries and, therefore, no longer any reason for a tariff-free quota?

On the ECSC arrangement, which again affects both Norway and Finland, is it the case that no trade in iron and steel products which were previously free of tariff between Britain and Norway and Finland—Norway as a member of EFTA and Finland as an associate member—is to be brought back into tariff as a result of these treaties with the enlarged Community? I think we would all agree that it would be a very retrograde step if any tariff was imposed on goods traded between Britain, Finland and Norway when we had successfully got rid of those tariffs under the EFTA arrangements many years ago.

I hope that the Under-Secretary will give reassurance on these questions. If that is given, the Opposition will feel that they have nothing to do but simply to take note of these treaties.

10.27 p.m.

Photo of Mr Tufton Beamish Mr Tufton Beamish , Lewes

The Opposition do not look very much as though they are in a dividing mood, in spite of what the right hon. Member for Stepney (Mr. Shore) has said. I have listened with considerable surprise and astonishment to what he has had to say. I cannot help remembering that he was a leading member of the previous Labour administration, which applied to join the Common Market and which accepted in toto the common commercial policy. The right hon. Gentleman did not think that that was a resigning matter. He thought it entirely proper to remain a member of that Government and to continue to draw a fat salary, because he recognised that the common commercial policy of the European Community was part and parcel of the Community's apparatus. I find it astonishing, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman should make this sort of protest tonight.

I am equally surprised that the right hon. Gentleman should describe these treaties between the Community and Norway, Finland and the Lebanon as relatively minor. They are not relatively minor at all; they are very important. The first trade agreement that the Community made with any Arab country was the commercial agreement into which it entered with the Lebanon, which has recently been renewed, as the right hon. Gentleman said. This is a significant and important treaty, which is highly valued in the Lebanon.

It cannot have come as a surprise to anyone in the House that that treaty has been renewed. It is part of the common commercial policy of the Community, which has commercial treaties now with all the countries that border the Mediterranean, I think with the exception of only one, and that is Libya. I have no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman, with all his experience, has been following these matters very closely indeed and must have studied them when he was a leading member of the administration which applied to join the Community and accepted the common commercial policy.

As for Norway and Finland, it was clear when the Labour Government applied to join that we should have to accept the common commercial policy towards those EFTA countries which either did not wish to join or which, for one reason or another, did not join the Community. This applies slightly differently to Norway and Finland. Norway, of course, applied to join, and when it did not join we had to enter into trade relations with her through the Community under the common commercial policy. For many months the question of Finland has been in limbo, in the deep freeze, so to speak, because there was doubt about ratification there. The right hon. Gentleman and the Labour Party had ample opportunity to study this treaty and to raise any aspect of it that they wished.

I do not want it to be thought that I am not in favour of a system of national Parliaments scrutinising, filtering and influencing Community legislation of all kinds, including the entering into of treaty arrangements. I am entirely in favour of that. We have before us and will be debating after the recess the recommendations of the Foster Committee, which have a lot to be said for them—although I do not go along with them all the way. I could not agree more with the Labour Party and some of my hon. Friends that we should have ample opportunity to scrutinise and influence these things.

We already have some opportunities to do so and they are not insubstantial. I am myself a member of the External Economic Relations Committee of the European Parliament. I shall be leaving on Wednesday evening—if the Labour Party will give me a pair, instead of making things so difficult for me—to discuss trading agreements with other countries. I am in close touch with the Department of Trade and Industry and I get a good brief from it. I am seeking to influence these things in British interests by taking full account of the interests of the Community as a whole.

Les absents ont toujours torts. Why is the right hon. Gentleman making this protest from the Front Bench, with apparently no support behind him, instead of sending a delegation to the European Parliament? Why is the Labour Party skulking on the sidelines? It is ridiculous to see a right hon. Gentleman who was a leading member of the Labour administration that applied to join the Community and accepted without question—we have only to read their White Paper for confirmation of this—the common commercial policy, making this sort of feeble protest about trading agreements which had to be made with Finland and Norway, as EFTA countries or associated countries which did not join, and about the renewal of the trade and technical agreement with the Lebanon, which has existed for 10 years. It is pathetic to listen to that sort of speech when the right hon. Gentleman has so little support behind him.

10.33 p.m.

Photo of Mr Edward Milne Mr Edward Milne , Blyth

I am sorry that the right hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Sir T. Beamish), who is a member of the European Parliament

Photo of Mr Edward Milne Mr Edward Milne , Blyth

It does not matter what name it is given, because its importance is not heightened by its title.

I am sorry that, with his experience in that Assembly, the right hon. and gallant Gentleman did not use this opportunity to give us some information about the order. He dealt a good deal with the activities of my right hon. Friend the Member for Stepney (Mr. Shore) and the decisions of the Labour Government in 1967, but three factors in the order need consideration.

One point came out clearly in the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's speech—the fact that we in this Parliament and the British people have no control over the decisions taken about this order or about anything else which has flowed or will flow from the European Communities Act 1972. What is important is that the countries mentioned in the schedule to the order—the Lebanon, Norway and Finland—have an advantage over the member countries of the Community because, unlike ourselves their Parliaments can determine what action will be taken in relation to agreements. This is a very important factor to remember when we are dealing with matters of this kind.

We are grateful to the right hon. and gallant Member for Lewes for reminding us that as a result of our having gone through the Lobbies in October 1971 matters such as regional development, the question of the North-East and so on cannot be decided by the representatives of those areas in this assembly and will be determined by the European bodies responsible for them. Does the right hon. and gallant Member want me to give way?

Photo of Mr Tufton Beamish Mr Tufton Beamish , Lewes

The hon. Gentleman is very kind indeed in promoting me to the Privy Council, of which I am certainly not a member. But will he bear in mind, when he says that we decided in principle in October 1971 that we should join the Community, that there was another vote in Parliament when a majority of well over 400 voted for the principle of joining the European Economic Community, based on the Labour Party's White Paper, which accepted absolutely the common agricultural policy?

Photo of Mr Edward Milne Mr Edward Milne , Blyth

I do not need to be reminded of that vote, because I was one of the 62 persons who voted against it. But that does not alter the fact that regional policy matters cannot be determined by the representatives in Parliament. As has already been said, the attendance in the House is certainly very thin—

Photo of Mr James Hill Mr James Hill , Southampton, Test

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that, in the new regional policy committee that is to be set up, the national member States will still have their own regional policy programmes. The new regional policy committee will be only a supporting fund and will in no way deter the Government here from helping the North-East or any other part of the United Kingdom.

Photo of Mr Edward Milne Mr Edward Milne , Blyth

The hon. Gentleman has mentioned the regional policies which are determined by successive Governments in this country. But there is no guarantee that the member countries will be free to operate regional policies as they have done in the past. Indeed, there is ample evidence in the lifetime of the Community that various countries have had restrictions placed upon their regional development policies. There was intervention by the Community in the case of Belgium and Italy, and the possibility of the spread of Fascism to southern Italy is at the moment being used as an argument against increased aid.

I want to come back to the order itself—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] It is all right for right hon. and hon. Members to say "Hear, hear." Those who intervene should not complain if they are answered. That is the purpose of intervention.

The kernel of the order and the lesson that emerges crystal clear from it is that the countries outside the Community and which are mentioned in the order have a greater degree of freedom in determining the decisions taken and explained within the order and the White Papers on the operations, whether concerning paper, coal and steel or anything else, than Britain has at present, because we wrote away such freedom when we went into the Division Lobbies and decided to join the Community.

10.41 p.m.

Photo of Sir Brandon Rhys Williams Sir Brandon Rhys Williams , Kensington South

The right hon. Member for Stepney (Mr. Shore) knows that I hear a number of his speeches on the question of European affairs and that I always listen to them with the greatest interest. However, I have detected a falling away, which I think perhaps he has not, in the quality of his speeches lately, because he seems to be coming increasingly out of touch.

The Labour Party as a whole is seen by Socialist Parties on the Continent, and certainly is seen by Conservative Members in the House, to be increasingly ill-informed, provincial and obsolete on European questions. I have a feeling that this is something to do with the absence of Labour Members from the European Parliament, where they would be able to have first-hand experience of the things they are trying to talk about in the House.

The right hon. Gentleman spoke about Luxembourg as though he had perhaps visited it, but I had the feeling that he never had, because, if he had, he might not have said the rather injudicious things he said about the telephone service there. He might have realised also that Luxembourg is becoming a banking centre. Perhaps he is not aware that it is the headquarters of the European Investment Bank which has just made an extremely important investment in South Wales, of which I am very glad.

The European Fund for Monetary Cooperation will, I hope, be established in Luxembourg as soon as may be, because I do not think that it is an entirely happy arrangement that it exists only in a back room in Basle. I hope that this will become an important institution and that it will be of great service to this country. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will try to become better informed about the debates that have gone on about this subject and that he will not, for instance, accuse my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary of having fought against the location of the bank in Luxembourg.

One consideration which I should like to put to the right hon. Gentleman is this. Of all the different capitals of the Community, Luxembourg is the least active politically and, therefore, perhaps the most suitable for a bank, which cannot afford to be knocked around by politicians with whom the right hon. Gentleman might not agree.

I was amazed to hear the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion, which I might have supported but I do not think many of his supporters on the crowded Labour benches would have liked, that the European Fund should be situated in London. We remember the Labour Party's traditional opposition to the City of London and its intense suspicion of the City's institutions, which earn so much in foreign exchange but so much discredit on the Labour benches.

It is perhaps rather remarkable that a right hon. Gentleman, who is a member of the Labour Party, which nationalised the Bank of England because it did not believe that institutions in London should be free from Government control and did not like the City of London as a place where important financial decisions should be taken, suggested that the European Fund for Monetary Cooperation should have been situated here.

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

Surely my hon. Friend has got this wrong. Surely the hon. Member for Stepney (Mr. Shore) is opposed to the fund being in Luxembourg because those living in Luxembourg are not British and the right hon. Gentleman is really opposed to foreigners generally. This is another example of that attitude. Until the right hon. Gentleman starts liking foreigners as human beings, he will not like anything that is going on in Europe.

Photo of Sir Brandon Rhys Williams Sir Brandon Rhys Williams , Kensington South

That is painfully true. If the right hon. Gentleman heard some of the extremely acid comments of his Socialist brothers in the European Parliament about the refusal of the British Labour Party to take an active part in European affairs, he might be willing to recognise that the stance which he has taken in this House in the past 12 months, of which he is still proud, does him no credit and does not even prove him to be a very fine patriot.

10.45 p.m.

Photo of Mr Anthony Royle Mr Anthony Royle , Richmond (Surrey)

I confess that I have been much enlightened by the interest shown in the order. It is an important order in my view, but all things in life are relative. The importance of the order was underlined by my brief opening remarks. I hope shortly to answer the points raised by the right hon. Member for Stepney (Mr. Shore). It is right that so many hon. Members should have attended the debate to put forward their views on rather wider issues than are covered by the order.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lewes (Sir T. Beamish) quite rightly mentioned the importance of the treaties. They are small in comparison with the wider issues affecting Europe at present but it is right that the House should discuss them. He made the point, and it is not for me to comment upon it within the narrow scope of the debate, that membership of the European Parliament enables Members of this House to play an important part in the criticism and development of the Community as a whole.

The hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Milne) made an important contribution because he underlined a point which has no truth whatever—that the House of Commons has no influence on the order. It has total influence. If the hon. Member wishes, he can divide the House tonight and seek to defeat it. In no way is he giving up his right as the distinguished representative of the people of Blyth to stop this order going through. I assume he would have to gather a few of his hon. Friends together to defeat the order, but that is his right.

The hon. Member also mentioned regional policy. This again goes rather wider than the order, but, once again, this is not being taken out of the control of the House. Whatever happens to regional policy is discussed, debated and initiated by British Ministers responsible to this House. If the hon. Member feels so strongly that my right hon. and hon. Friends are not doing the right thing by regional policy in the Brussels negotiations, he has every right to speak to his right hon. Friend the Opposition Chief Whip and gather his hon. Friends together in an attempt to defeat the Government. He can do this if he feels that the regional policy which is being negotiated is not in the interests of his constituency or of the country. There is no need for me to comment upon the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington, South (Sir B. Rhys Williams), who made the same point.

Three questions were put to me by the right hon. Member for Stepney strictly in accordance with the order. The first was in connection with the location of the European Monetary Co-operation Fund. The decision of the representatives of the Governments of member States on 24th July 1973 to site the office of the fund in Luxembourg is provisional, as are the decisions concerning the location of all Community institutions. The situation will be examined in the light of the working of the fund and on the basis of opinions from the Commission at latest by 30th June 1975.

The right hon. Member's remaining two points related to Norway and Finland. He asked whether the order means that the nil tariff will apply at the end of 1983. He is correct in his assumption that it will apply. Secondly, he asked whether he was correct to say that no iron and steel products that were previously free would be brought back into tariff at the end of the period. Again he is correct. Such trade will be free at the end of the period. That answers the right hon. Gentleman's third point.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman and to the hon. Member for Blyth for sparing the time to take part in this important debate tonight and I am grateful also to my hon. Friends who have made contributions.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (No. 2) Order 1973, a draft of which was laid before this House on 3rd December, be approved.