HC Deb 05 November 1974 vol 880 cc881-4
Q4. Mr. George Gardiner

asked the Prime Minister when he next expects to meet Prime Ministers of the EEC.

Q6. Mr. Marten

asked the Prime Minister whether he proposes to attend the next Common Market summit meeting.

The Prime Minister

I have received and have accepted an invitation from the President of France to attend a meeting of Heads of Government of the Nine in Paris. The exact date has not yet been agreed, but it will be before the end of the year.

Mr. Gardiner

Given the realism and flexibility among our Common Market partners, noted by the Foreign Secretary last Wednesday, will the Prime Minister approach this summit conference with some enthusiasm to give a new impetus to common policies to mutual benefit? To that end, will he take the opportunity to assure his fellow Premiers that, if a reasonable accommodation can be reached in the current round of negotiations, his Government will throw their full and collective weight behind recommending to the British people that we continue our membership?

The Prime Minister

I cannot say exactly what will come up at the summit. I think that there will be a great emphasis on questions of inflation and unemployment, which are not only a British and European problem but a worldwide problem. I think that probably a lot of our time will be spent on them. But, as at the last summit meeting, which I approached with great enthusiasm—as I shall this one—there may be occasions, perhaps in the purleius of the meeting rather than in the centre of it, for discussing some of the questions which are being reviewed in the renegotiations in which Her Majesty's Government are concerned. But the place for these negotiations is in Brussels or, when they are adjourned there, in Luxembourg, and not at the summit meeting.

Mr. Marten

Before the summit meeting, may the House have an assurance from the Prime Minister that he will not agree at this summit meeting to any surrender of existing rights in relation to the so-called veto? Indeed, will he go further and positively propose that the so-called veto should be enshrined in a protocol to the Treaty of Rome? Secondly, at the summit meeting will he also make it abundantly clear that this House is firmly opposed to any move which will surrender even more of our national and parliamentary sovereignty?

The Prime Minister

I should be very surprised to see these matters being raised. The kind of meeting that we had in September—I think that the intention is the same for this one—was an informal exchange of views between Heads of Government but not an attempt to do the task of the Council of Foreign Ministers, whether on renegotiation or anything else, or on any changes such as the one contemplated by the hon. Gentleman as a possibility in relation to a particular protocol. I should be very surprised if these matters were to come up. Obviously, in all these matters Her Majesty's Government would hold very dear to them the principle of the position of the House of Commons.

Mr. Molloy

When my right hon. Friend meets the Heads of the EEC Governments, will he explain to them something which they do not perhaps really understand—the massive feeling of the ordinary people of this country, as well as of all Members of Parliament, of the history of this place? It would be a very serious issue indeed if there were any chipping away of the authority of the House of Commons, which has a status—[Interruption.]—which the present Leader of the Opposition was quite prepared to give away. The people ought to know the facts of the situation without undue and unjust propaganda by those, like the Leader of the Opposition, who wanted to get us in at any price.

The Prime Minister

I think that the best answer I can give to that question is that while the present negotiations are about the terms and about changing the terms, some of us, including myself, in the debates in 1971 and 1972, said that even if the terms had been 100 per cent. acceptable, I should not have felt that it was appropriate to deal with them by the kind of legislation that was put before the House at that time. I believe that a number of others who wanted to join even on those terms took the view that Parliament was flouted by the form of that legislation.

Mr. Peyton

I wonder whether the Prime Minister recalls his own previous comments in the 1960s that referenda were not a suitable way of doing business? Second, will he agree that it is hard to contemplate a larger chip off the authority of Parliament than having a referendum on the Common Market?

The Prime Minister

I should like, if I may, to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his "maiden speech" from the Opposition Front Bench—or at any rate on losing his virginity for the second time.

With regard to the question put by the right hon. Gentleman, the situation has entirely changed because since those statements were made large numbers of hon. Members on his side were elected to Parliament on the pledge that Britain would not be taken in without the full-hearted consent of the British people. While I was reluctant to come to this view, I was so tortured by the thought of the remorse of right hon. Gentlemen opposite that I thought this was the only way I could make an honest pledge of it.?

Mrs. Winifred Ewing

When the Prime Minister attends the summit, will he have any objection to taking with him his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland?

Mr. Teddy Taylor

Leave him there.

The Prime Minister

I thought for a moment that the hon. Lady was about to make a suggestion for a more interesting visit to Paris, but I gather that she was referring to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. I do not believe that there is anything coming up on the summit agenda that I cannot handle on behalf of the Government, with the co-operation of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. I think that it is the intention at the summit to keep the numbers fairly small. But no vital interest of Scotland will ever be lost sight of at this summit, I assure the hon. Lady, even if she is not now going herself.

Mr. Thorpe

Leaving aside the fact that the 1970 Labour manifesto at no stage suggested that either an election or a referendum should be a condition precedent to our joining Europe, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he will raise at the summit the question of British farmers, and in particular beef producers? May I ask him not to be lulled into a false sense of security by the fact that the official Opposition did not see fit either to move an amendment to the Address or to allow the House to vote on agriculture, and will he raise it, unless the Minister of Agriculture himself on 18th and 19th November has been successful in either obtaining a temporary guaranteed price for beef, which he has not as yet asked for, or undertaking some form of intervention buying for beef?

The Prime Minister

My right hon. Friend discussed these matters with the Agriculture Ministers on his last visit and reported to the House thereupon. I cannot, unfortunately, as the right hon. Gentleman asked me, leave aside what was said in 1970 in various manifestos. The manifesto of the Tory Party was "Our mandate is to negotiate"—no more, no less. So far as the right hon. Gentleman himself is concerned, while I think he was silent, one of his hon. Friends won a by-election on a pledge to have a referendum.

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