HC Deb 18 March 1981 vol 1 cc281-2
40. Mr. Cryer

asked the Lord Privy Seal when he next intends to discuss with his European Economic Community counterparts the standardisation of European Economic Community affairs.

Sir Ian Gilmour

There is no proposal on the "standardisation of European Community affairs", and I have no plans to discuss it, especially as I do not know what it means.

Mr. Cryer

I can perhaps enlighten the Minister. Is he aware, for example, that the textile industry deeply resents the wide variety of subsidies given to other EEC textile industries, which are costing thousands of jobs in this country? Is he aware that no progress seems to have been made either in tabulating or eliminating those subsidies in other EEC countries?

Is the right hon. Gentleman also aware that the poultry processing industry has been waiting for many months for standardisation of inspection of poultry meat? Nothing seems to have been done in that respect. Is it not, therefore, true that, because of the free movement of goods within the Community, these subsidies are costing jobs in the United Kingdom and, hence, increasing the pressure to re-examine our membership of the EEC simply to preserve jobs?

Sir Ian Gilmour

The hon. Gentleman is normally against standardisation and harmonisation. I note that he has now modified his view. If he has evidence of what he says and that this is not being properly followed up, I hope that he will give it to me or to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade. I doubt very much whether the difficulties of our textile industry, in common with a number of other textile industries, are due to unfair competition from within the European Community. I think that they are much more due to competition from the developing world. I shall be delighted to look at any evidence that the hon. Gentleman can give me.

Mr. Marlow

Will My right hon. Friend tell me what political gremlins got into the system when Her Majesty's Government agreed to the provision of a European passport? Does he not realise what an outrage it is against the British people? Will he take whatever action is necessary to prevent this proposal being carried through?

Sir Ian Gilmour

The British Government have not agreed to any such thing and there has not been a proposal. There is no proposal to end a British national passport. Of course the British passport will remain a British passport. All that has been agreed is that the Community nations will have a common format of passport. That was agreed in principle by the Labour Government as long ago as 1974. My right hon. and noble Friend made clear in Brussels on Monday that the timing of this must remain in the hands of Her Majesty's Government. We have agreed in principle, as I told the House on 13 March, to go over to a machine-readable passport. That would coincide with the introduction of a common format passport. We have no intention of introducing two such passports.

Mr. Jay

Can the House be given a rather fuller statement on the EEC passport proposal so that we may know what it means? Can hon Members be assured that there will be a debate in the House before a final decision is taken by the Government?

Sir Ian Gilmour

I do not honestly believe that it is a complicated proposal, but I shall see that more information is provided. The target date, even for the Community, is 1985. We have said that we probably cannot meet that date because of the requirement that it should coincide with the introduction of the ICAO passport. The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the timing is such that there will be a great many opportunities to debate the matter.

Sir Hugh Fraser

Will my right hon. Friend agree that this matter has gone much further than he says, as is shown by the statement in The Times today? What is more, will he instruct his officials to withdraw the portrait of Sir Walter Scott which appears on the facsimile? Sir Walter Scott at least wrote: Breathes there the man, with soul so dead, Who never to himself hath said, This is my own, my native land! To put Sir Walter Scott's picture on the proposed new passport while withdrawing the British passport is not only illiterate but unbecoming. Do Foreign Office Ministers do nothing but read Gogol's "Dead Souls"?

Sir Ian Gilmour

That was a very good and well-prepared supplementary question. As I have already told my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr.Marlow), we are not ending the British passport. My right hon. Friend's annoyance is, therefore, based on a false premise. We have not gone further than I warned the House in a reply on Friday. We are talking about a common format passport. The important characteristics of the British passport, the coat of arms and the usual rubric, will still be there. My right hon. Friend need not be so worried.