HC Deb 20 December 1972 vol 848 cc1348-63
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. John Davies)

With your permission Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I should like to tell the House of the principal developments in a series of meetings of the Council of Ministers which have taken place in recent days in Brussels.

These covered a wide range of issues, particularly in the fields of external commercial relations, agriculture and road transport.

The three acceding countries participated in these meetings to all intents and purposes as full members.

They were attended by several of my right hon. and hon. Friends, including the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Minister for Transport Industries.

The following were the main issues upon which the House would wish to be informed.

First, in the field of external relations, legal effect was given as from 1st January to the provisions of the Community's agreements with the non-candidate EFTA countries. Approval was given to the conclusion and signature of trade agreements with the Lebanon, Egypt, and, I am very glad to say, with Cyprus, the last named on terms which will safeguard Cyprus's major trading relationships with ourselves.

Agreement was reached to propose interim measures for countries of the Mediterranean with which the Community has agreements but where those agreements have not yet been adapted to take account of the enlargement of the Community. A negotiating mandate was approved for the Commission to institute negotiations for special trade agreements with India and Brazil.

Second, in the field of agriculture, a regulation which provides very satisfactorily for the implementation of the special protocol dealing with New Zealand was agreed. This regulation makes clear provision to allow for the full quantities of butter and cheese provided for in the protocol to be sold into the British market. It also provides for an annual report by the Commission which will allow the Council to review annually the operation of these arrangements.

Compensatory amounts for apples and pears were agreed which will replace our import quota arrangements on 1st February.

Transitional arrangements for beef were agreed. The initial United Kingdom guide price to apply from 1st February to the end of March will be about £14.20 per live hundredweight for adult cattle, and about £17.60 for calves.

The same price levels will also apply to the Irish Republic, thus avoiding any change in the trading arrangements between our two countries. Intervention arrangements for beef were agreed to he provided in the future on a permanent basis.

Export restitutions for whisky are to be further discussed in the New Year with a view to adoption by 1st August. These should be within the framework of an overall policy for the Community on alcohol but if that policy were not finalised by 1st August then the restitutions would become payable as from that date as soon as the policy had been agreed.

It did not prove possible to reach agreement on the compensatory amounts for pigmeat, poultry and eggs or upon the transitional arrangements for sugar. These questions will be taken up again in January.

Third, in the field of transport, no decision was reached to adopt the common orientation previously agreed by the Six in relation to the weights and dimensions of lorries.

As the House knows, my right hon. Friend has always made it clear the United Kingdom found that agreed orientation unacceptable. He has undertaken to resume discussion in the New Year with a view to reaching a solution acceptable to all members of the enlarged Community.

The Six decided to continue for a further two years their experimental system of bracket tariffs and multilateral quotas for the carriage of goods by road between member States. We are not satisfied with the quota allocated to us for participation in these arrangements, and have made this known to the exist- ing members. A work group is further to examine this matter in the New Year and to report to the Council of Ministers in the spring.

In addition to these matters, provision was made for the nomination of the president, vice-presidents and members of the new European Commission, which will take office in January; for the appointment of new judges and new advocates general of the Court of Justice; and for the appointment of new members of the Economic and Social Committee.

The Council prepared the decisions necessary under Article 2 of the Accession Treaty to adapt the institutional provisions to take account of the fact that Norway will not join the Community on 1st January.

Mr. Shore

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has made a long and complex statement. That is inevitable, given the scope of the matters considered in the two days—at least—meeting held in Brussels. Is he aware that the one matter on which we all feel unambiguous satisfaction, the one part of his report which has given us some Christmas cheer, is that which relates to the non-agreement to introduce the Euro-lorry standards and dimensions with which we have been threatened until very recently. While the Minister for Transport Industries has reason to feel pleased with himself, I think he should feel, as we all should, that this is a victory for the House of Commons and for the British people rather than for our own negotiators in Brussels. It is the one matter out of all the subjects mentioned here on which the House of Commons had a prior opportunity to express its view.

On the other matters which are covered in the statement, may I put some questions to the right hon. Gentleman? The first question relates to the external trade arrangements. Are we now to have a further process throughout the machinery of Section 1(3) of the European Communities Act whereby we can consider in detail the trade treaties agreed with Cyprus and the agreements with the other Mediterranean countries? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Opposition feels some anxiety, particularly in pressing the Mediterranean trade policy of the Community before the opening of broader negotiations through GATT with the United States next year?

Second, on all these very complex matters relating to agricultural agreements I must confine myself to asking the right hon. Gentleman whether the effects of the New Zealand agreement, or of the new agreements on the price of cattle, will increase or stabilise the actual selling prices of butter and beef in the United Kingdom market in the period ahead.

Concerning the agreement on restitutions for whisky, am I right in believing that this simply means a delay in all agreements until this coming August?

Last, may I put to the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues the point that there is a very great problem for us all in trying to deal sensibly with so many matters all at the same time? I am half inclined to say to the right hon. Gentleman that his statement, which was inevitably lengthy, was really too short, because very many of those matters are touched upon only lightly in the statement while a number of others have been left outside it.

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give the undertaking that he will consult further with his colleagues whether it is possible to make more frequent statements or to find some other way in which we can probe more sensibly these most important matters.

Mr. Davies

Taking the points which the right hon. Gentleman made in their order, I think he was a little uncharitable to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport Industries on the subject of lorries. I think my right hon. Friend has consistently fought this general orientation through and through, and has done it with great power and determination.

Concerning the question of this being the only item on which a prior opportunity was given to express views, that will not prove to be the case when the right hon. Gentleman studies the statement in further detail. There are a number of matters here which have been under consideration in the House from time to time.

Dealing with his specific questions, the right hon. Gentleman asked whether the consideration of trade treaties, particularly with the Mediterranean countries, will be subject to scrutiny. That will be the case. Perhaps it is for the convenience of the House that a number of those treaties willy-nilly are yet to be finalised, particularly in some cases the major negotiation, in other cases the adaptation provisions, so that opportunities will be made available, I hope, and will emerge through the machinery which the House is now content to devise.

So far as the Mediterranean agreements generally are concerned, I understand the right hon. Gentleman's anxiety that he should in no way imperil the major multilateral discussions on commercial arrangements due to take place this coming year. That point is very much in the minds of the Government and of the Community. The need to provide some kind of special agreements with the countries bordering the Mediterranean seems to be very important to the Community and, I am bound to say, to the Government.

I was asked about the effect of the decisions on the price of various commodities, particularly butter from New Zealand, and beef. The effect is unlikely to be considerable, so that we can expect little change resulting from these decisions. It is a question of delay with the whisky, as the right hon. Gentleman said. I feel concerned that this delay should take place. On the other hand, the problem of ensuring that a satisfactory alcohol arrangement policy for the Community as a whole is devised is of great importance to us, too. I agree that there are many matters but my only concern is that if I repeatedly come to the House to report seriatim the House will get tired of me.

Mr. English

No. We always like to see you.

Mr. Davies

Many issues are discussed. I believe the House will find that some of them are not worthy of its attention.

Mr. Powell

When my right hon. Friend next makes a statement of this kind to the House could he arrange at the same time to place perhaps in the Vote Office a clear analysis which shows in what form, if any, each of these decisions is to be implemented so that hon. Members can tell whether they will automatically come before the House in some formal way? Secondary to that, where that will not happen, will he say which of the subjects that have been covered the Government think are appropriate to be discussed by this House before further proceedings or before proceedings are completed? Will he accept that, welcome though a report to the House is, with the opportunity for supplementary questions, it is not to be taken that the House has discussed or debated any of the matters contained in such a statement, because there was a misunderstanding of that character about the reports made in the course of the negotiations?

Mr. Davies

I think I am right in saying that practically the entirety of the matters to which I have referred today will be recorded in the Official Journal of the Community although I very much take the point my right hon. Friend makes and will certainly ensure in future statements, if any of the points involved are not recorded in the Official Journal, that some reference will be made to them. As for the point about previous consideration of a number of these matters, I believe that the House which is now organising itself to devise methods of scrutinising the many instruments which pass through the Community and its various councils and committees, will find the means to ensure that precisely what he wishes does take place. That is the purpose, as I understand it, of setting up this machinery. I take his point fully that these matters, some of which are of profound importance to many hon. Members, must not be regarded as having been fully debated on the basis of a statement being made.

Mr. Oram

Can the right hon. Gentleman say a little more about the timetable of this proposed trade treaty with the Community? While it may be true that from the Community's point of view trade arrangements with the Mediterranean are important, is it not the case that from the Common Market point of view a trade agreement with India is also highly important? Can we be assured that Her Majesy's Ministers will press this matter urgently in Brussels?

Mr. Davies

The hon. Gentleman can feel assured that the representatives from Britain did strongly press the Community to undertake this negotiation with India as part of a broad undertaking which the Community gave to consider negotiations for trade agreements on a bilateral basis between the Community and a certain number of Asian countries. This matter is very much in our minds and we certainly have participated most actively in the discussion.

Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

May I put a specific point which illustrates the question put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell)? The Minister mentioned the Mediterranean policy of the Community. He will know, in his capacity as the Duchy of Lancaster, that there is great worry in Lancashire about the importation of Turkish yarn under the Mediterranean policy. Shall we have the opportunity of at least discussing and perhaps deciding this question before very long?

Mr. Davies

The provisions which might be attached to the conclusion and adaptation of a trade agreement with Turkey for this purpose would clearly be a matter covered by the arrangements the House envisages for detecting the right point of time at which it wishes to involve itself in discussions on matters which the Community will consider. This, as I understand it, will be the purpose of these arrangements They will seek to identify those instruments, such as my hon. and learned Friend mentioned—and there are a variety—which the House would like to find a means of debating. Whether that would be done on the Floor of the House or through some other mechanism is a matter which I understand the House will wish to decide for the longer term. The whole of this matter is now in the form when it can be properly scrutinised.

Mr. Jay

Is not yesterday's decision on the allocation of lorry licences another serious threat to British interests? Can the right hon. Gentleman assure us that the Government will not accept the validity of those Continental licences until a proper agreement has been reached and reasonable allocations made to this country?

Mr. Davies

The position is that the Six had reached a common orientation on the subject of the allocation of these quotas. It converted that into a directive yesterday. That directive does not satisfy my right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport Industries. He has therefore said that he will not consider himself bound indefinitely by that directive[Interruption.]—but that he will, while being, perforce, obliged to accept for the early months of next year the implications of this directive, require that there should be a working group appointed taking account of his objection to report by 1st April with a view to further discussion within the Council.

Mr. Biffen

Is my right hon. Friend aware that that last answer gives rise to an interest which will attract the renewed attention of the House? May I refer to another item of his wide-ranging statement? Will he identify those factors which led to non-agreement on the restitution payments in respect of pigmeat, poultry and eggs, and will he say what he conceives to be the British national interest at stake in this arrangement?

Mr. Davies

The issues clearly relate to the level of compensatory payments to those who might supply in competition with our own producers a product from the Continent. The Commission has made proposals to the Council and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture was at the heart of these discussions, dealing with the level at which these compensatory payments should be set. At this stage no agreement was reached. That being so, the matter has been remitted for further discussion next month. I would remind my hon. Friend that the application of the agricultural policy becomes effective on 1st February, so that it is possible, and right, for my right hon. Friend to make the strong arguments which he made. I hope to reach a satisfactory settlement.

Mr. Biffen

What was the national interest?

Mr. Davies

We clearly try to ensure that the arrangements made are of a kind which allow the interests of our producers to be safeguarded.

Mr. Shore

Did I understand the right hon. Gentleman to say on the subject of the lorry licences that a directive has been agreed? Would I be right in thinking that this will have to be considered under the statutory provisions of the Act, under Section 2(2), in this House? Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm—this arises from his reply to the hon. and learned Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke)—that these trade treaties are considered to be Community treaties and are therefore to be separately approved under the procedure of Section 1 of the Act?

Mr. Davies

On the first point, the fact that I must make clear is that the directive was agreed among the Six but rejected by my right hon. Friend. [Interruption.] The implication of the question was that it was agreed by all. On the second question, on Community treaties, to the degree that the treaties are existing ones where the provisions to which I have referred relate to adaptation only on enlargement, the adaptation follows the provisions of the accession treaty and would certainly be subject to discussion, because everything is subject to discussion in this House, but not to previous discussion insofar as they have already been adapted.

Mr. Adley

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that we shall be the only country where aerospace and aviation are handled by a different Ministry from that handling transport generally? Would it not be advantageous if our aviation policy could be discussed together with transport policy, as appears to be done in the other Community countries and at the Council of Ministers?

Mr. Davies

I do not think that the exact disposition of responsibilities amongst Government Departments here would preclude our being able to discuss matters in the way that my hon. Friend describes. It is clear from our experience already that the discussions in the Council of Ministers can from time to time group different Ministers representing different interests at the same time if it so happens that the matter under discussion specifically covers an area of interest dealt with by more than one Minister. That arrangement is well provided for and is a normal part of the system.

Mr. Alfred Morris

Has the Chancellor of the Duchy seen the statement of the Minister for Transport Industries to the effect that in these discussions all animals are equal but that some animals are more equal than others? Exactly what did the right hon. Gentleman mean by that statement? Is he further aware that we shall want much more information about the talks on sugar and can he say any more about that this afternoon?

Mr. Davies

On the question of the licensing arrangements for lorry journeys, the point that my right hon. Friend was making was that he considered the basis on which the quota had been established to be unacceptable and incorrect. He therefore made his point exceedingly clearly. This still seems to be a matter of concern to the House, however, and I should like to allay that concern. My right hon. Friend called for and obtained agreement that the working group should be set up to re-examine the matter. That it will now do.

It is unlikely that we shall hear anything on sugar before the further discussions which are to take place next month on this subject.

Mr. Marten

Does my right hon. Friend regard the decision of the House not to allow any increase in the size and weight of lorries as a specific instruction to the Minister for Transport Industries that when he is in Brussels he may not exceed the authority which Parliament has given and that if he wishes to make a compromise he must come back and ask the House?

On New Zealand, my right hon. Friend's statement was, up to a point, welcome—of course we had it yesterday at Question Time—but did he, recalling Protocol 18, Article 5, Section 1(b) about fair trading for New Zealand, which I am sure he can recall, make representations to the Common Market authorities about the dumping of Community butter or the attempt to offer it at lower prices, thereby forcing New Zealand to make contracts at a lower price than it should have done? Did he raise this question?

Mr. Davies

On the first question, I am sure that my hon. Friend knows that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport Industries is always exceedingly attentive to the wishes of the House and that he undoubtedly was on this occasion, as has been proved. I need not go into that matter more deeply, therefore. As for fair trading in butter, on the evidence there would seem to be good reason to believe that everybody—and it was my experience in the Council of Ministers—was exceedingly anxious to ensure that the provisions of the protocol as they apply to the outlet for butter were complied with. Naturally, the British representatives took their part in this and worked exceedingly hard.

Mr. Lawson

Will the Chancellor of the Duchy accept that we are all deeply concerned that he should safeguard Britain's proper interests, including, of course, the proper interests of Scotch whisky? When he goes to Europe will he always take with him the attitude which is the very reverse of dog-in-the-manger? Will he remember that he has very many wellwishers in the House, some of them on the Opposition side, who want to see our efforts in Europe very successful? We hope that he will appreciate, as we appreciate, that very soon we shall be alone in the world unless we build successfully our connections with Western Europe.

Mr. Davies

I should like unstintingly to give the hon. Member the assurances he seeks. Clearly it is the duty of the Government to ensure that the separate and individual interests of the many sections of the Community are protected and safeguarded in the discussions, and that we are seeking to do.

Mr. Redmond

Will the Chancellor of the Duchy tell us how and when the House will be informed about the names of the members of the Social and Economic Committee of the Community?

Mr. Davies

Yes. These matters will be dealt with in a formal manner on 1st January and the House will therefore get full information on the subject through the Official Journal of the Community which appears for that date.

Mr. Michael Foot

May we clear up the question of the licensing of lorries? Will he confirm that the situation is that the decision which has been taken by the Six has been to be found totally unacceptable by the Minister for Transport Industries—and we all congratulate him on holding that view—but that this country is nonetheless bound by the decision until the working party produces whatever report it may produce? Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that that is the position and also tell us in what form the House will be able effectively to assert its view on that question if it wishes to support the view of the Minister that the decision of the Six is unacceptable? How can we get out of the arrangement which has been imposed upon us?

Mr. Davies

The intention is clearly to make every possible use of the provisions which we currently have under these arrangements. The first thing which the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) should observe is that we shall obviously have room for considerable action now in this sphere. I am not too anxious on that score. As for scrutiny by the House, if as a result of the working group's recommendations the Commission comes forward with a recommendation to the Council, then, of course, that recommendation will be in the form of a Commission instrument, which will, subject to the arrangements which the House devises, be able to be identified as one in which the House would wish to participate. Discussion may then take place either within an appropriate committee or on the Floor of the House if that is the will of the House.

Mr. Clark Hutchison

Will my right hon. Friend explain a little more about the whisky arrangement? Is there any chance of our production being controlled from abroad or will it be left to us? Shall we be allowed to continue using North American and Canadian grain or shall we have to use Continental grain?

Mr. Davies

There is no question whatever of the production of Scotch whisky being controlled by other and alien interests. That is certainly my strong impression. As for the raw materials used, they will, of course, be chosen for their most appropriate qualities but in the light, needless to say, of the provisions of the Community agricultural policy.

Mr. English

The Minister will be aware that the Council of Ministers has both legislative functions, such as the transport law that we have been discussing and executive functions, such as the appointment of judges, as he mentioned. Is he aware that in so far as it is a legislature, it is the only one in the world which meets in private—other than a dictatorship? Since the Treaty of Rome does not so provide, will the Minister advocate within the Council that its proceedings on legislative functions are published? Secondly, since its rules and procedures provide only that it should meet in private, and that has been interpreted as meaning merely that the members, such as the right hon. Gentleman, should not reveal their colleagues' views, will he publish verbatim his own views on legislative matters?

Finally, as the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned that it is the Official Journal in which the ultimate regulations will appear, will he consult the Leader of the House because at the moment we cannot obtain the Journal as of right but only by filling in an individual green form for every day of its issue, which is ridiculous.

Mr. Davies

The hon. Gentleman referred to the secrecy of the proceedings of the Council of Ministers. It is a fact that the submissions made by the Commission to the Council of Ministers are well known beforehand. Therefore, the basis on which discussion takes place is public knowledge. I do not think that it would be appropriate to publish my personal views on the matters which are discussed by the Council of Ministers. It would not be in the best interests of the country to do so. It would mean that we would reveal clearly our negotiating position before we went to negotiate. That is a course which I do not strongly recommend.

It would not be advantageous to do so afterwards. Undoubtedly the form of negotiation and the basis upon which we worked out our system would be revealed. We hope to be as adept as the others.

The hon. Gentleman's final point relates to matters concerning the Lord President. I should be happier if the hon. Gentleman would put that question to the Lord President rather than to me.

Mr. John Morris

Will the right hon. Gentleman answer two simple questions? Is the directive regarding the number of licences binding upon us? Secondly, if the other countries return to the present proposals on axle weights and total weights will this country use its veto?

Mr. Davies

I admit that I am not going to answer the hon. Gentleman's first question simply. I do not think that it would be conducive to helping my right hon. Friend to secure the result which he so strongly seeks, and which is identified with the interests of both sides of the House, if I were to do so. I am disinclined to do that.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the veto. If I may say so, that seems to be something of a misunderstanding. The veto as such is hardly meaningful. What is meaningful is the absence of consent to a key measure, which is, broadly speaking, sufficient to deter it effectively from being carried. It is as well to make that difference clear. There is a broad belief that it is a veto, but it is the failure of any party to give its consent which vitiates the passage of something of importance.

Mr. Edward Short

The first part of the right hon. Gentleman's reply to my right hon. Friend's question was incomprehensible. Is the arrangement about lorries binding from 1st January until a working party report is published and adopted, or is it not? Surely the right hon. Gentleman can tell us that.

Mr. Davies

I have answered that already. I said that the directive carried by the Six relating to quotas was an effective directive as far as the Community was concerned. It has been contested by my right hon. Friend, and it has been agreed to set up a working group which will report by 1st April. Until then it is something upon which we shall have to work. However, it contains no effective restraint on our capacity to operate.

Mr. Jay

On a point of order. Surely, as a matter of procedure, when we have been told by the right hon. Gentleman that there is a directive which comes into force on 1st January concerning lorry licences, we should at least be told clearly whether that will be the law of this country from 1st January. As it is a directive and not a regulation, does it not require an order from this House before it becomes law? Will the right hon. Gentleman answer those two questions as a matter of procedure?

Mr. Speaker

That is not a matter of order.

Mr. John Morris

On a point of order. I have asked a question about the law of the land on 1st January. The right hon. Gentleman has just told the House that he understands that in the meantime there will be no effective restraint upon this country. Would it not be in order for one of the law officers to come to the House and explain the position?

Mr. Speaker

When I was elected there was a reference to bogus points of order. The content of a Minister's answer is not a matter for me. I have allowed some 36 minutes on this statement. If the House is to be faced with a series of points of order like this at the end of a statement, then next time, as the matter lies within my discretion, I warn the House that I shall not give so much time.

Mr. John Mendelson

On a point of order. Is it not clearly emerging—I do not refer to the content of the statement which we have just heard—that when a statement is made of such complexity and dealing with so many matters, the Government should from now on be under a procedural obligation to arrange for an immediate debate linked to the statement made by the responsible Minister? These statements are now clearly different from the statements to which the House is accustomed. It should be laid down that the Government must arrange time for a debate linked to the statement on the same day.

Mr. Speaker

I must preserve the position of the Chair. This is nothing to do with me. This is a matter for the usual channels. It is a matter for the Leader of the House. It is not a matter of order for the Chair.

Mr. Spearing

On a point of order, In my submission, this is a matter for the Chair. Last night I wished to participate in the debate about the responsibility of the House regarding European affairs. I also wished to question the right hon. Gentleman about his responsibilities in Brussels. Many hon. Members have asked questions and there are only three of us left who wish to ask questions. I appreciate, Mr. Speaker, that you must protect the business of the House. But in protecting the back benchers of the House and their opportunity to question Ministers, would it not be in order for you to permit the three of us to put our points

Mr. Speaker

It would have been in order for me to call the hon. Member, but I did not do so.

Mr. Deakins

On a point of order. Mr. Speaker, you have pointed out that in response to the statement you have very generously allowed 36 minutes of questions, which by the normal standards is a generous ration of supplementary questions. But may I point out that if the right hon. Gentleman continues to be the only departmental Minister to make statements to the House, then he is making statements regarding a whole series of different subjects in Western Europe, which in effect, are presented under the guise of one statement. Today there have been at least three statements, which means that 12 minutes have been allowed for each statement, which is not particularly generous.

Mr. Speaker

That may or may not be a good point. However, it is a matter not for the Chair but for those who control the business of the House.