Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:30 pm on 23rd November 1992.

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Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine President of the Board of Trade 3:30 pm, 23rd November 1992

My right hon. Friend shows a perceptive understanding of many of the problems involved. Everyone feels a sense of frustration that it has been six years since the talks got under way. People have a clear understanding of the scale of the potential opportunity available. By our failure to reach agreement, we have prevented such success coming at the pace that we would like.

My right hon. Friend was perfectly right to say that one of the issues that had frustrated progress was the inadequacy of the disputes machinery. It is to be welcomed that, within the text proposed by the director-general of GATT, an improved disputes machinery is there to be negotiated. It is important to stress that, within the agreement between the United States and the Community, a peace clause has been injected so that both sides know that when the agreement has been reached there is no recourse to further reopening of the issues in the context of the agreement. Such a reopening of the issues could destabilise the agreement.

As for qualified majority voting, I believe that the position is that the Commission, which is authorised to negotiate on behalf of the Community, is now empowered to move back into the GATT talks in Geneva and negotiate there as the Community's representative. When and if a satisfactory outcome to a GATT round is achieved, it will be for the Community at large—the Council of Ministers—to determine whether that agreement, taken in the round, is acceptable. That decision is taken by the Council of Ministers by qualified majority voting, and it is to be greatly questioned whether the Luxembourg compromise is relevant in such circumstances.