Hanover Summit

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 4th May 1988.

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Photo of Mr Ian Gow Mr Ian Gow , Eastbourne 12:00 am, 4th May 1988

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what issues are expected to arise at the forthcoming Hanover summit.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Howe Mr Geoffrey Howe , East Surrey

The agenda for the European Council meeting in Hanover will be set by the German presidency. No formal proposals have yet been made, but completion of the single market is expected to be the main item of discussion.

Photo of Mr Ian Gow Mr Ian Gow , Eastbourne

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that many hon. Members on both sides of the House view with dismay the prospective replacement of the British passport with the European Community passport? Is he also aware that the day of the nation state is not yet over, and that some hon. Members view with equal dismay the prospect of the submersion of our country into a European superstate? Will he raise those matters at the Hanover summit?

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Howe Mr Geoffrey Howe , East Surrey

I am aware that there is a wide range of feeling about the different pace and pattern that can be followed in the development of the European Community. My hon. Friend will know that the original agreement that there should be a common format passport was made as long ago as 1975 by the then Labour Prime Minister. The common format was agreed as long ago as 1981.

The idea of having a common format, machine-readable passport is that it will substantially speed up movement across frontiers. No fewer than 25 million British citizens travel abroad every year now—about five times as many as 20 years ago. The new machine-readable British passport is a national passport. It will continue to be issued under the royal prerogative. I think that it would be undesirable to try to operate the old and new systems together, as that would greatly increase costs and reduce efficiency.

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Chesterfield

Will defence questions come up at the Hanover summit and will the Foreign Secretary clarify the view of Her Majesty's Government on whether Denmark's policy of refusing to allow ships with nuclear weapons into its ports is compatible with membership of NATO?

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Howe Mr Geoffrey Howe , East Surrey

It is quite possible that questions affecting European security will he discussed between heads of state at the European summit, because such questions form part of the agenda of the European political co-operation agreement. There is even closer interest in Denmark because of our common membership of NATO, and we have made it plain that any policy adopted by the Danish, or any other, Government that makes it impossible to maintain our "not confirm—not deny" policy on Royal Navy vessels would result in serious consequences for possible further co-operation within NATO.

Photo of Mr Jonathan Aitken Mr Jonathan Aitken , South Thanet

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that his first answer will give considerable disquiet in the House and the country, because it is a long time since we heard a British Conservative Foreign Secretary sheltering behind the combination of Sir Harold Wilson's coat tails and pure Eurowaffle? Will he reconsider the whole question of the loss of the British passport, which will strike a chord far wider than EEC enthusiasts may recognise?

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Howe Mr Geoffrey Howe , East Surrey

I really must invite my hon. Friend to consider the matter in a rather wider perspective. There is no question of my sheltering behind anyone's coat tails —least of all Sir Harold Wilson's.

Mr. Robertson:

Lord Wilson.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Howe Mr Geoffrey Howe , East Surrey

I am sorry. I mean Lord Wilson of Rievaulx—the right hon. and noble Lord.

The matter has been part of the agreed agenda of the EC for 12 years, and work has been proceeding on it for seven years. It will lead to a very substantial advantage, and the passport will remain a British passport issued under the royal prerogative.

Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman Shadow Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs)

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman ensure that consideration is given at the Hanover summit to the Community programme for assistance to victims of apartheid, to which 25 million eon has been allocated for this year and which would be vitiated by the orderly internal politics Bill now before the South African Parliament? That Bill would allow the South African Government to declare organisations to which the Community provides money to be restricted organisations and to seize Community money. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that it is essential that such a measure be opposed by the Community? Does he also agree that if the measure goes through, thus vitiating a peaceful Community programme of assistance to the anti-apartheid movement, the only alternative—even for him—will be mandatory economic sanctions?

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Howe Mr Geoffrey Howe , East Surrey

It is a pity that the right hon. Gentleman spoilt an otherwise quite sensible questions by his irresistible urge to advocate sanctions in his last phrase. That matter has nothing to do with the substance or merit of his argument. I entirely agree that if legislation came into effect in South Africa that would vitiate positive measures initiated under the Community programme or any other, it would be a result much to be deplored. As soon as the matter became known to us—some weeks ago —the Foreign Ministers of the Community did, indeed, discuss it, and we have been engaged in close consultations ever since, with a view to making representations to the South African Government to prevent the outcome that the right hon. Gentleman fears. We shall continue to do that.