Eec Ministerial Meeting

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 3rd April 1974.

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The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. James Callaghan):

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I will make a statement about the meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers in Luxembourg on 1st and 2nd April.

Before I begin my report I should like to express the Government's deepest sympathy with the French people at the tragic death of President Pompidou. He was a great French leader who has earned a place of prominence and dis- tinction in the history of France and of the world. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has sent messages to the French Prime Minister and to Madame Pompidou and I have sent a personal message to the French Foreign Minister, M. Jobert. I am certain the House will wish to join with me in offering our most heartfelt condolences to Madame Pompidou and to the people of France at this moment of sorrow and loss.

In Luxembourg on Monday afternoon I made a statement outlining the broad scope of the issues on which the Government seek a renegotiation of the terms of entry into the Community. They include the unfairness of Britain's budgetary contribution, the effect of the CAP on this country, the need to safeguard the interests of the Commonwealth and of the developing countries, and certain problems of the British economy. The statement has been published as a Command White Paper.

In the discussions that followed the members of the Council took note of the position of the Government of the United Kingdom. Some inevitably saw greater difficulties than did others. But on more than one topic the response was clearly sympathetic. No one doubts that difficult negotiations lie ahead. Nor, I think, does anyone doubt our good faith in the conduct of the negotiations. The first step has been taken. We and the other members of the Community are now preparing for the second step, when the Government of the United Kingdom will place before the Council our detailed proposals. Renegotiation has begun.

In the course of my statement I made clear to the Council that we shall continue to participate in Community business pending the outcome of renegotiation, subject only to our renegotiating position not being prejudiced. The Secretary of State for Trade, the Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and I therefore took part in the discussion of a number of detailed items on the Council agenda. I am having a summary account of the outcome of these discussions placed in the Library of the House.

Late—very late—on Monday night and on Tuesday there was an important discussion about political relations between the nine members of the Community and other countries, particularly the United States. Most of the members present were largely agreed on the vital need to maintain the closest relations with the United States and on the means of doing this. Unfortunately, we were unable to achieve unanimity, which I much regret. There will be further discussions about this in a few weeks' time, when I hope further progress will be possible.

Photo of Sir Alec Douglas-Home Sir Alec Douglas-Home , Kinross and West Perthshire

I should like to associate myself and all my colleagues on the Opposition benches with the tribute that the right hon. Gentleman paid to President Pompidou and his services to his country, to Europe and to the world.

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and I had opportunities during the last year or 18 months to watch his indomitable courage as illness closed in upon him. He never for one moment allowed the frailty of the body to undermine his sense of duty to France, to the French people and to Europe. He set an example to all who, in the high offices of State, lead and seek to serve. I join the Foreign Secretary in sending messages of sympathy to Madame Pompidou and to the people of France.

The right hon. Gentleman made a statement which perhaps in the circumstances was a bit short and bland. I should like to ask him three questions.

First, will the right hon. Gentleman confirm the impression that he so clearly left with the House in our recent foreign affairs debate—namely, that in seeking modification, adaptation, renegotiation—whatever one likes to call it—of Community policies he intends to use the machinery of the Community, the Commission and the Council of Ministers to arrive at a compromise agreement?

Secondly, I think it would be unreasonable, in view of the situation created by President Pompidou's death, to ask the right hon. Gentleman for a timetable for this programme of renegotiation, but will he keep the House informed, as he sees the future programme more clearly and how it is to unfold?

Lastly, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to reflect upon his first appearance at the Council of Ministers and to ask himself seriously whether, when seeking compromise among friends in nego- tiating a settlement of difficulties, it is right at the start to threaten that unless he gets all he wants he will break up the partnership? With respect to the right hon. Gentleman, that does not seem good diplomacy. I hope he will seriously consider the consequences should Britain leave the Community.

Mr. Callaghan:

The answer to the right hon. Gentleman's first question is that we shall use the machinery of the Community.

The answer to the second question on the timetable is that I do not think that I can go further than I went last week in the debate. As the right hon. Gentleman said, the situation is, clearly, also affected by events in France.

On the right hon. Gentleman's third question—yes, I certainly will reflect upon it. I am willing to take advice from anyone on how to conduct negotiations. If good diplomacy led to the nature of the bargain that was struck by the previous Government, then perhaps a little rougher diplomacy will not come amiss. It will not be for the British Government to break up the Community. That decision will be put to the British people, as it should have been in the first place, and they will decide.

Photo of Mr David Steel Mr David Steel , Roxburgh Selkirk and Peebles

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that in his tribute to President Pompidou he speaks for the whole House and that the Liberal Party wishes to be associated with it?

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm, particularly as he was a member of the Government in 1967 who applied for membership of the Common Market, that the present Government remain wholly committed to membership in principle, including the necessary pooling of sovereignty that that involves, and that he is merely seeking modification of the present policies of the Common Market?

Mr. Callaghan:

I do not think that I can add much to what I said in my statement, except that since 1967 the attitudes of the Community have developed a great deal. The communiqués at the Hague, Paris and Copenhagen have carried the intentions of the signatories to those communiqués a lot further than was intended in 1967.

Photo of Mr Douglas Jay Mr Douglas Jay , Wandsworth Battersea North

Is my right hon. Friend aware that after the last four years the public will applaud the Minister who both keeps his election pledges and speaks for Britain, and that they will also watch closely to see that he keeps it up?

Photo of Mr John Peyton Mr John Peyton , Yeovil

I am sure that everybody would applaud the right hon. Gentleman's intention to sustain this country's interests. Nevertheless, will he watch the situation very carefully lest the roughness of his diplomacy leaves us very short of friends?

Mr. Callaghan:

When I came to office I was aware that there were considerable differences between us and some of our principal allies, which distressed me very much indeed. It will be my job to try to repair some of those differences.

Photo of Mr Christopher Mayhew Mr Christopher Mayhew , Greenwich Woolwich East

If it is true, as reported, that the Foreign Secretary declined a courtesy call from the President of the European Parliament, may I ask him to give the reasons for his friendlier attitude to the Council of Ministers and to the Commission than to the Parliament?

Mr. Callaghan:

I read this report in the newspapers. The matter seems to have been blown up out of all proportion. We were there for 27 hours. I know that one session finished at 2 a.m. and started again at 9.30 a.m. I should have liked to see a number of people. I think that they all understood the difficulties. The only outside contact that I had was with the President of the Commission, President Ortoli. As far as I know, Dr. Berkhouwer is the only one who seems to have take umbrage at the situation.

Photo of Mr Neil Marten Mr Neil Marten , Banbury

As one who has deep feelings for France, may I express sympathy to the French on the death of President Pompidou, who was a great Frenchman.

I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his robust statement in Brussels. The White Paper on renegotiation of the terms of entry, says at the foot of page 4, that, whilst the negotiations proceed and until the British people have voted, we shall stop further processes of integration … May I assume that the negotiations have now started and that we shall therefore not have further processes of integration until after a referendum or whatever?

Mr. Callaghan:

We ought to look at this in a practical way. We should not unduly hold up the work of the Commission if our vital interests on renegotiation are not affected. That is the practical approach which we should make, and the one which has been put to the Foreign Ministers, who fully understand it.

Photo of Mr Michael Maitland Stewart Mr Michael Maitland Stewart , Hammersmith Fulham

I associate myself with what has been said about the tragic death of President Pompidou.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many hon. Members on these benches wish him success in the task which he is skilfully undertaking and that at the same time they are firmly convinced that continued membership of the Community is of great importance to Britain and that withdrawal would do this country great damage?

Mr. Callaghan:

Yes, Sir, I am well aware of those views. If we can achieve a renegotiation that satisfies the conditions which we set out in our election manifesto, we shall have both safeguarded Britain's interests and restored a healthy Community.

Photo of Mr Norman St John-Stevas Mr Norman St John-Stevas , Chelmsford

Is not the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) valid, that if the Foreign Secretary continues to follow a policy of inglorious isolation both within and without the Community we shall be left without a friend in the world?

Mr. Callaghan:

This is probably not the day to go into differences with any particular ally, but throughout the whole of Monday night and Tuesday morning I found myself in a majority of eight.

Photo of Mr Edward Milne Mr Edward Milne , Blyth

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his statement adds a new dimension to the speech he made recently in the House and that renegotiation means a serious attempt to get the terms which Britain wants, and that if the terms are not available the question of withdrawal is also on the agenda?

Mr. Callaghan:

The hon. Gentleman states the position exactly. There are important issues, political issues, at stake in Europe—of which I am conscious—about the relationship between Germany and her neighbours, which demand that most serious efforts should be made to ensure the success of the negotiations.

I shall do my best to achieve success, and I shall have no hesitation in coming to the House if I believe that successful negotiations have been achieved and that I have the support of colleagues in saying so. But it is also true that the British people should have the right to declare themselves on these matters.

Photo of Mr Evelyn King Mr Evelyn King , South Dorset

I have a question which goes a little wide of the Common Market. Is it not a fact that a treaty is signed by Britain and not by representatives of any particular party and that it is within the tradition of the Foreign Office that a treaty, once signed, is respected whichever party comes into office? Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether it is in his power to respect that tradition?

Mr. Callaghan:

I do not think that the matter goes wide of the Common Market. Indeed, it is essential to it. Any changes in the Treaty of Accession or the Treaty of Rome will present great difficulties to all the parties concerned. Changes would need to be ratified by each individual parliament. This is why I have started, with the consent and aid of my colleagues, by saying, "Let us find out how far the objective of securing a fair bargain for Britain can be assured by a change of policies and direction and by the attitude of the Common Market". If we find that the objective cannot be secured, we shall have to propose changes in the Treaty of Accession and thereafter see whether these changes are necessary.

As to the consent upon which a treaty rests, no treaty can in the long run survive unless it rests on the will of the people.

Photo of Mr Willie Hamilton Mr Willie Hamilton , Central Fife

Is my right hon. Friend aware that he has the full-hearted consent of this side of the House to the way in which he has handled himself in Europe during the past few days? Will he give an assurance that it is a long-term aim to secure terms which would enable us to stay in the Community rather than to seek excuses to get out?

Mr. Callaghan:

Yes, Sir. That has been and still is our policy. We want to get the right result. We are not seek- ing excuses to get out. We want to see whether we are able to achieve a bargain which will be fair and which, when put to the British people, will enable us to stay in. That has always been the policy of the party when in opposition and it is Government policy now.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Rippon Mr Geoffrey Rippon , Hexham

I accept that negotiations in the Communities is a continuing process, but will the Foreign Secretary, before he gets too rough in his own negotiations, bear in mind that a number of his Cabinet colleagues accepted accession to the Treaty on the basis of the terms originally negotiated? Will he undertake that before he lays detailed terms before the Communities he will have formal consultations with the developing and other Commonwealth countries, and with British agriculture and industry, to ensure that their interests are adequately protected in the negotiations?

I welcome the priority which the Government give to maintaining close relations with the United States, but will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that this means that there will be no difficulty regarding the provision of bases for the United States whether in Scotland or in the Indian Ocean?

Since the Government say that they want to participate in the continuing processes of the Community while the negotiations go forward, why not send a delegation to the European Parliament?

Mr. Callaghan:

On the question of consultation, the whole purpose of our discussions is to achieve better access to our markets and to help developing nations by such access. Therefore, while I do not undertake to hold formal consultations, continuing consultations will still go on.

There is no difficulty about the question of the bases. In the context of multilateral disarmament, we shall be putting forward certain proposals which will be considered against any offers from those with whom we are negotiating.

On the question of the European Assembly—which I think is the proper term—my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has made our position quite clear.

Photo of Mr Michael English Mr Michael English , Nottingham West

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it cannot be the lowest of tributes to pay to President Pompidou that he was a believer in democracy to such an extent that he sought a referendum of the French people on our admission to the Community? We congratulate my right hon. Friend on his renegotiation and we hope that he will remember President Pompidou's precedent.

Mr. Callaghan:

France was not the only country which had a referendum, although theirs was on whether Britain should be admitted. Other countries had referenda on whether they should enter the Community. So far as I know there is nothing undemocratic in holding a referendum or for that matter a General Election.

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Oxon Mid

Would the right hon. Gentleman not accept that if he pours so much cold water on one of the basic aims of the Community, namely, that members of the Community should speak as often as possible with one voice, he is weakening his bargaining position and reducing the chance of success?

Mr. Callaghan:

I am not sure what the hon. Gentleman means. I am all in favour of meeting other Foreign Ministers and trying to get a common approach, if we can, on problems of common concern. I have shown that attitude during the past 24 hours, and I shall continue to show it. It is a sensible attitude.

It is not wise to try to paper over real differences with formulae which do not carry forward the conduct of international affairs. That is not wise. Nor does it seem sensible that as a result of continuing consultation with those with whom one is unable to agree—I speak here not for Britain but for any member of the Community—effective action by all is paralysed. These considerations have to be taken into account.

Photo of Dr Winnie Ewing Dr Winnie Ewing , Moray and Nairn

May I add to the expressions of regret on the death of President Pompidou those of the Scottish National Party, on behalf of a nation which was an ally of France for hundreds of years? Does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that the term "consultative referendum" sounds like a referendum in which, after the wishes of the people have been consulted, there is no clear, direct and binding obligation to carry them out? May I ask the right hon. Gentleman to pin himself down? If he has such a referendum, will it be window-dressing or does it mean that his Government will carry out the wishes of the people?

Mr. Callaghan:

With all respect to the hon. Lady, I think that that goes far wider than my statement.

Photo of Mr Andrew Faulds Mr Andrew Faulds , Warley East

Will my right hon. Friend accept that not all of us are entirely out of sympathy with the French position vis-à-vis America and that to some of us it seems unacceptable that European decisions should be dependent upon the rubber stamp of American approval?

Mr. Callaghan:

If that were the position, no one would agree with it, but it is not the position. The whole point, surely, is that the United States of America and Europe are mutually interdependent on questions of defence. It is the judgment of the Government, and of myself most strongly, that we cannot be allies on matters of defence and be enemies in matters of trade and monetary arrangements.

Photo of Mr John Davies Mr John Davies , Knutsford

May I also say a word about my great sense of personal loss on the death of President Pompidou?

I was glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that his assurance of negotiating in good faith was well accepted by his partners in the Community, because on reading his statement I was in some doubt whether that would be the case.

In relation to what the right hon. Gentleman said about continuing to negotiate on matters which can be ongoing matters in the Community, may I have his assurance that the prosecution of the pursuit of a regional policy in the Community, which had reached such a mature state of discussion when the Dissolution of Parliament took place, will not be discontinued at the will of the Foreign Secretary?

Mr. Callaghan:

Certainly the discussions can go on. The deliberations may have been mature, but I am not sure whether they were ready for plucking.

Photo of Mr Leslie Spriggs Mr Leslie Spriggs , St Helens

May I assure my right hon. Friend that he represents a Government, the only Government, who have sent a Foreign Secretary to Europe for renegotiation purposes with a mandate from the people of this country? Furthermore, may I assure him that he has the confidence of every hon. Member on this side of the House?

Mr. Callaghan:

I am obliged to my hon. Friend. What is clear about the renegotiations which are going on is that never before has a party spelled out so fully to the electorate, both in the written word and in the speeches which were made by my colleagues and by myself night after night to audiences during the recent General Election, exactly what they intended to do and the way in which they intended to go about it.