HC Deb 11 November 1971 vol 825 cc1237-48
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Geoffrey Rippon)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I would like to make a statement on the meeting of the Ministerial Council of the European Free Trade Association in Geneva on 4th and 5th November, and on my meeting with the European Community in Brussels on 9th November.

In Geneva Ministers unanimously expressed the hope that negotiations between the Communities and the noncandidate members of E.F.T.A. would start soon and be pressed forward as rapidly as possible. We reaffirmed our strong interest that the agreements reached should safeguard, in conformity with the G.A.T.T., the free trade already established in E.F.T.A.

For our part we informed our E.F.T.A. partners that, in accordance with our obligations under the E.F.T.A. Convention, we would be giving notice on 31st December, 1971, of our withdrawal from E.F.T.A. to take effect from 31st December, 1972.

I will, with permission, circulate the full text of the E.F.T.A. Ministerial CommuniquÉ in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

In Brussels we made encouraging progress on a number of points.

First of all, in regard to the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, I am glad to be able to report that in accordance with our requests the Community has agreed to offer the Islands free trade in industrial goods within the common external tariff and free trade in agricultural products. In its proposal to us the Community has set out what will apply to the Islands; the rest of the provisions of the treaty and regulations will not. This safeguards the Islands' fiscal position. Most important of all, the Community's proposals would in no way affect the Islands' constitutional relationship with the United Kingdom. I believe that these proposals offer a fair deal for the Islands, and I shall be prepared to commend them to the Island authorities when I see them shortly.

Next we reached agreement on the transition period of two years for which we had asked for the application to our export credit policies of the appropriate Community directive.

I raised again the position which the enlarged Community should adopt towards Papua and New Guinea, which, because of their constitutional position, cannot he associated with the Community. The Community has been examining this, and I am confident that it will be able to respond very soon.

I now come to the issue which took up most of the time of the meeting; namely, the common fisheries policy. As the House knows, the Community has fully recognised the need for changes, and has acknowledged that the new policy must establish a satisfactory overall balance of advantage for all member countries, new and old.

In an attempt to secure this the Community made some new proposals. As regards access it suggested an initial period of five years, during which everyone would be free to reserve access to fishing grounds within six-mile limits a further period of five years during which this could be continued with the approval of the enlarged Community; and, even after 10 years, provision for exceptional treatment in areas where the local population was mainly dependent upon fishing. The Community suggested for certain strictly limited geographical areas such as the Orkneys and Shetland Isles a special regime to which a 12-mile limit would apply.

While welcoming this move as a genuine attempt towards a solution, I made it clear that it was inadequate both as regards time and access. On time I said that however long the initial period there must be arrangements on a continuing basis subject to review. On access, whilst accepting the case for special treatment for areas where fishing was virtually the only means of livelihood, I explained that this did not go far enough. We had to recognise the needs of all areas where fisheries were of substantial economic and social importance to the stability and development of particular regions and where stocks were already fully exploited by the fishermen traditionally fishing there.

We also discussed the application of the Community's marketing arrangements for fish. Here I was able to welcome its readiness to examine various adjustments which we have requested, and in particular to consider variations in withdrawal prices, improved arrangements for producer organisations, and provision for the marketing of frozen fish.

In view of the complexity of the issues and the interests of the other candidate countries, we were not able to reach agreement on this occasion. Nevertheless the Community, recognising the need for an early settlement, has agreed that we should hold a special Ministerial meeting on 29th November. In the meantime the Commission has been asked to consult officials from the candidate countries. and report further.

Finally, we reviewed the progress made in drafting the Treaty of Accession to the European Communities, and agreed that we should aim to sign the Treaty in the week before Christmas.

Mr. Healey

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that the statement that he has just made will reinforce the misgivings which many of us expressed that Her Majesty's Government should have asked the House to approve the arrangements for entry into the Community before agreement on fisheries and the problems of E.F.T.A. have been reached? Will he assure the House that the Government will not sign the Treaty of Accession or withdraw from E.F.T.A. before a satisfactory agreement has been reached on both these issues?

On the fisheries question, may I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman three questions? First, have the Six agreed to the proposal which he promised the House on 25th October he would put to them. that if a satisfactory agreement is not reached on the Community fisheries policy the new members will be allowed to maintain the status quo and that no change in the status quo will take place without their agreement?

Second, I note that the Norwegian Government have insisted on not confining the negotiations to the transitional period alone but have asked for fundamental changes in the long-term provisions for fisheries. As this is the case and no one has protested about this in principle, can the right hon. and learned Gentleman explain to the House why Her Majesty's Government did not take similar steps on the long-term provisions of the common agricultural policy and the budget contributions?

Finally, can the right hon. and learned Gentleman assure the House that Her Majesty's Government will not accede to the Common Market until the needs of the other applicants have been satisfactorily met, since if they did so they would be changing the whole political balance inside the Community on the basis of which the Government asked the House to approve these negotiations?

Mr. Rippon

The right hon. Gentleman is under some misapprehensions about the whole position of E.F.T.A. I have made regular reports about the meetings which I have had with the E.F.T.A. countries, both candidate and non-candidate, and we have been proceeding all along in an agreed and wholly satisfactory manner.

Concerning fisheries policy, our position was made perfectly clear in the debate. Everybody understood that the fisheries policy was still a matter for negotiation. We are now in the middle of those negotiations. As I reported to the House, we have made a measure of progress, but clearly there is a good deal still to be settled.

There are, in effect, three possibilities. First, a six-mile limit for everybody, which we originally suggested, which maintains a certain balance of advantage between inshore and deep-sea fishermen. That does not seem to have found favour. Secondly, there is the possibility of the status quo. Thirdly, there is in effect a new regulation which maintains a fair balance of mutual advantage between the old and the new members. That is what we are seeking. We are in touch not only with the Community, but we have had pretty frequent meetings with the Ministers of the other candidate countries about this matter.

Mr. Speaker

Mr. Wolrige-Gordon.

Mr. Wolrige-Gordon


Mr. Healey

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that he has not answered any one of the questions which I put to him?

Mr. Speaker

Order. Mr. Wolrige-Gordon.

Mr. Wolrige-Gordon

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that his conduct of these negotiations will have brought a great deal of comfort to fishermen in what for them is a difficult and worrying time? Does he agree that in the way that things are developing in the oceans at the moment, the 12-mile limit is a minimum requirement for this country, not a maximum?

Mr. Rippon

I agree with my hon. Friend that the whole problem of fishing is not just a matter for discussion in the context of enlargement negotiations.

There are many other problems, some of which no doubt will arise at the United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea when it takes place. Certainly what I have been discussing in Brussels is only part of the picture.

Mr. Grimond

I thank the Chancellor of the Duchy for his apparently successful efforts on behalf of Orkney and Shetland. My constituents will be grateful to him and to the Community for suggesting that the 12-mile limit around those islands should be preserved.

May I take it that the Community has also accepted that the 12-mile limit must last longer than 10 years?

I support the right hon. and learned Gentleman in his efforts to ensure that satisfactory arrangements for the fishing communities extend further than 10 years, because an interim period of that length would not inspire confidence in the industry.

Mr. Rippon

We have made it clear, as we did, in effect, on New Zealand, that a transition to disaster would be no solution, even if the initial period was a lengthy one.

Mr. W. H. K. Baker

I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on utterly rejecting the proposals put forward by the Commission. Will he maintain that stand and ensure that British fishermen get no less than that arrangement which will be acceptable to all four applicant countries?

Mr. Rippon

We are certainly trying to find a suitable common denominator which will reconcile all our interests and ensure comparable and fair treatment between all the parties concerned.

Mr. James Johnson

The Minister has often stated that he does not want a quick solution, but a correct solution. Is he aware that the whole House would want him to fight this 12-mile limit question to the bitter end? Will he assure the House that he will do so and that he has the means to enforce it? In other words, has he got helicopters and a defensive patrol which will ensure that we can maintain the 12-mile limit?

Mr. Rippon

We are negotiating with our friends and allies. I should not at this stage want to adopt too bellicose an attitude. I know that right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House are concerned about any policing arrangements which might be made. When talking about the 12-mile limit we must remember that the legal position of Norway is rather different from ours, because of historic rights.

Mr. Nott

My right hon. and learned Friend is to be congratulated on the substantial progress which he has made on this issue. Will he confirm that he regards Cornwall as an area where fishing is part of the economic and social structure of the community? Is he aware that we want the status quo if he can possibly obtain it?

Mr. Rippon

I certainly put forward the anxieties expressed by fishermen in areas dependent on crustaceans.

Mr. McNamara

Despite what the Chancellor's hon. Friends and some hon. Members on this side of the House may be saying, may I ask whether he is aware that we are completely dissatisfied with his statement on fishing, because he has said nothing at all? Will he now answer the question put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) and tell us whether we shall sign the Treaty of Accession before we have an agreement on fishing? Will he also tell us whether he will allow frozen fillets from Iceland to be regarded as industrial products for the purpose of E.F.T.A. negotiations, bearing in mind Iceland's demand for a 50-mile limit, the effect which this will have on our deep-sea fleet, and the corresponding effect, if that limit is imposed. on our middle and inshore fishing fleets which are vitally important in the discussions and cannot be ignored?

Mr. Rippon

I am aware of the anxieties about the Icelandic claim to a 50-mile limit, but that is outside the context of the negotiations. We must bear in mind the point made earlier, that to talk about a 12-mile limit is only part of a wider problem.

I have made it clear in my statement that the signing of the Treaty will not be before 29th November when we have our next meeting.

Mr. Donald Stewart

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman explain why the Western Isles, which have an even less economic hinterland than Orkney and Shetland, have not been mentioned in the same breath, particularly as the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) is a pro-Marketeer and therefore those islands should take what will be coming as a result of going into the Market?

Mr. Rippon

The House will appreciate that we are, in effect, in the middle of negotiations. I am not at this stage laying down ultimata to our friends and allies about what the final outcome may be. But we have had very much in mind the position of the Western Isles, which is rather different, because we must remember that when we talk of a six-mile limit we talk of six miles from the base lines agreed in the European Convention of 1964.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

Will my right hon. and learned Friend tell us whether the Community proposes to extend the arrangements to be offered to non-candidate countries to any candidate countries which, by reason of dissatisfaction with the fisheries position or for any other reason, decide to withdraw their application?

Mr. Rippon

I regard that as an entirely hypothetical question—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—and one which at the moment is not likely to arise.

Mr. Milne

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that he has again undermined his negotiating position by agreeing to a date for signing the Treaty without coming to a final agreement on fisheries and on E.F.T.A.? Is he also aware that his statement today is as unsatisfactory as many of his statements in the past and makes a nonsense of the vote of the House on 28th October to enter the Community?

Mr. Rippon

I do not think that that could be suggested. Everybody knew what the position was on fisheries when we took the vote. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] It was understood that there were a number of issues still to be determined, of which one was fisheries. I made clear in my speech the position on fisheries. It is clear from what I have said today that we have not yet settled the matter. It is being tackled urgently. I hope that we shall make progress on 29th November. It was in that belief that the Community stated that it was our aim to sign the Treaty before Christmas.

Sir T. Beamish

My right hon. and learned Friend will recollect what a fine sight some of the trawlers from Newhaven made off Brighton during the Conservative Party conference. Is he aware that the very firm way in which he continues to handle this inshore fishing question is very much respected and admired in my constituency?

Mr. Jay

Will the Chancellor of the Duchy at least give a clear assurance that, on behalf of the British fishing industry, he will not accept any arrangement less favourable than that secured by Norway for her fishermen?

Mr. Rippon

That is what we talked about in the debate: that we must have arrangements which maintain a fair balance of advantage between the parties to the negotiations. That means that we would expect to receive comparable treatment to Norway and the other candidate countries.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

Would my right hon. and learned Friend bear in mind that in ending the arrangement with E.F.T.A. he should place on record that during its lifetime this Association has been an outstanding success? Is he aware that many people in this country will regret its premature ending?

Mr. Rippon

We agree that it has been an outstanding success. At the E.F.T.A. meeting in Geneva we were all unanimous in expressing our satisfaction at the progress which has been made in fulfilling what was one of the main aims of the Stockholm Convention, namely, the enlargement of the Community.

Mr. Maclennan

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that to treat the proposals, at least so far as Scottish coastal waters are concerned, on a sectoral basis will be unsatisfactory, inequitable and unworkable from the point of view of conservation? Is he not aware that the whole concept of trying to evaluate the dependence of an area upon fisheries is unworkable?

Mr. Rippon

I appreciate the anxieties. I expressed some observations about this concept of the hinterland and the suggestion that an area had to be wholly or mainly dependent upon fisheries for special measures to apply. Of course, we have accepted around our coasts the principle of historic rights between six miles and 12 miles. There are certain real differences between areas and the types of fishing in those areas, and that fact has to be borne in mind. There are areas in which by far the higher proportion of the catch is between six and 12 miles. In other areas that is not a problem, while there is the question of the baseline and how that affects particular areas.

Mr. Marten

As we are now withdrawing from E.F.T.A. on 31st December, 1972, if the consequential legislation should not get through can we then rejoin it? Will it still exist for us to rejoin? While I am on that point, may I ask the following question: if we sign the Treaty of Accession at the end of this year and the consequential legislation should not get through, what is the constitutional position in which we would stand? May I say to my right hon. and learned Friend: please do not say that this is a hypothetical question.

Mr. Rippon

What we have had to do is to give notice, in accordance with Article 42 of the Stockholm Convention. Therefore, assuming the legislation passes, in order to be full members on 1st January, 1973 we have to give notice of withdrawal by 31st December, 1971, in order not to be members of two organisations at the same time on 1st January, 1973. I think that is a technical matter. I do not find that it caused great alarm among our E.F.T.A. partners. We are all working together. If circumstances arose either for us or for the other candidate countries whereby the enlargement did not take place, I do not think we would be in any difficulty in practice.

Mr. Speaker

Mr. Chichester-Clark.

Mr. Milne

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the statement that we have received, may I give notice that I intend to raise the matter at the earliest possible moment on the Adjournment?

Mr. Speaker

I do not think that is common form in the House.

Mr. Kaufman

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In the light of the statement made by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and the need for some of us to refer to this statement and possibly to describe it, could you offer your guidance on an episode which took place earlier this week involving my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin) who used a combination of two epithets with regard to the Secretary of State for Wales? It was not clear from that episode whether it was the substantive epithet or the sanguinary addendum which was out of order.

Mr. Speaker

That is a complete abuse of a point of order.

Following is the CommunEquÉ:



The E.F.T.A. Council and the Joint Council of E.F.T.A. and Finland met at ministerial level in Geneva on 4th and 5th November. 1971.

In the E.F.T.A. Council, with the Finnish Minister taking part in a personal capacity, a full discussion of the present situation and prospects of wider European integration took place. Ministers noted with satisfaction the considerable progress which had been made since their last meeting in the negotiations and discussions of E.F.T.A. countries with the European communities.

The membership negotiations of most of the candidate countries had virtually been completed and it could now he expected that the necessary membership treaty could be signed towards the end of the current year. The prospects for suitable special relations agreements between the communities and the other E.F.T.A. countries had also improved considerably. Ministers hoped that negotiations to this end should start soon and be pressed forward as rapidly as possible.

The concept of the communities would provide a good basis for the negotiations which were about to begin. The community's desire that no new barriers to intra-European trade would be erected as a consequence of enlargement is in line with the strong interest which E.F.T.A. Ministers have expressed and reaffirm in safeguarding as an important part of an enlarged European community the free trade already established between E.F.T.A. countries. The forthcoming agreements should also be in conformity with the G.A.T.T. Ministers stressed the importance which they attached to adherence to these objectives in the elaboration of the agreements. The exchange of information and consultations between the E.F.T.A. countries would continue during these negotiations.

Ministers emphasized the desire of all concerned that all the agreements between the E.F.T.A. countries and the communities should enter into force at the same time.

Ministers asked the Council at offical level to examine the legal and other implications which will arise in the event of some members acceding to the European Communities, and others establishing special relations with the communities. They were informed of the intention of the United Kingdom to give notice on 31st December, 1971 of their withdrawal from E.F.T.A., to come into effect on 31st December, 1971.

During their discussion of developments affecting World Trade, Ministers expressed concern that recent monetary and trade measures taken for balance of payments reasons could seriously undermine the progress which has been made towards the reduction of restrictions on world trade, therefore Ministers hoped that quick solutions could he found in the monetary field and that recently introduced trade restrictions could be removed as rapidly as possible, before lasting damage was done, pending the necessary reform of the International monetary system. Ministers stressed the necessity of continued efforts towards freer world trade and underlined the importance which the activities in oreanizations such as GATT and the OECD will have in this connection.

Ministers stressed the importance of further promoting trade and economic relations between Western and Eastern European Countries to the mutual benefit of the parties concerned. They attached special importance to improving the trading possibilities of the developing countries.

The Danish Minister gave an account of the recent measures taken by Denmark to deal with the serious Balance of Payments situation of his country, Ministers expressed their understanding of the difficult problems facing Denmark, but noted with regret the recent decision of the Danish Government to introduce an import surcharge. particularly in the context of the present world trade situation. They instructed the councils at official level to examine the matter further.

Ministers agreed that the next regular Ministerial meeting of the councils will take place in Geneva on 4th and 5th May. 1972.

5th November 1971.