HC Deb 29 January 1973 vol 849 cc923-30
14. Mr. Marten

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what matters are on the agenda for the next meeting of Common Market Foreign Ministers.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

I anticipate that among the items likely to be discussed by the Council will be the question of the negotiation of a free trade agreement between Norway and the European Community and certain questions concerning a number of Mediterranean countries.

Mr. Marten

I fully sympathise with my right hon. Friend's reported remark that the Council of Foreign Ministers is not the place to discuss Norwegian fish fillets. Nevertheless, will he take a strong line in support of Norway's case, particularly that negotiations should be concluded by 1st April, which is an important date? Secondly, will he urge the Common Market to give sympathetic tariff consideration to aluminium and particularly to Norwegian fish exports as we do not want the price of fish to rise in this country, and generally will he encourage the Common Market to be generous rather than vindictive towards Norway?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

Yes, Sir. We hope that an agreement will be negotiated by 1st April. We certainly have the strongest interest in Norwegian fish fillets and that I hope I have made clear—whether in the right or wrong place—and I shall go on making it clear.

Mr. Russell Johnston

Information of this kind may always be elicited by the timeous placing of questions, but the opportunity for putting a series of questions is limited. Will the Foreign Secretary therefore agree that it might be a constructive and helpful method if the Government were to make a statement before such meetings took place and that that could well be done without prejudice to the outcome of the discussions in the all-party Committee on EEC regulations?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

I would consider any proposal that would make it clearer to the House what was happening in the Council of Ministers. I think the hon. Member will recognise that this is a continuing process and that some matters are considered by the deputies and do not necessarily reach the permanent representatives, while other matters are considered by the permanent representatives and therefore do not necessarily reach the Council of Ministers. The final form of the agenda is not known until shortly before the Council of Ministers meets. But I will see whether there is any further elucidation that may be given.

Mr. Shore

This is a matter of great interest to the House. On examination this proposal may prove to be most helpful. But could the Foreign Secretary at least guarantee that after the regular monthly meetings of the Council of Ministers, if those meetings include meetings of Foreign Secretaries, a statement will be made to the House? As he will recall, there was a meeting in January, but no such statement has been made.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

There must be a certain amount of flexibility. Certainly we try to meet the wishes of the House and when there are important matters on the agenda, my right hon. Friend or I will certainly make a statement in the House. But we ought not to make it an absolute rule.

16. Mr. Jay

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he intends to put forward proposals for reform of EEC policies; and if so whether he will list such proposals.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. John Davies)

The European Community's programme of action was set out in the communiqué issued after the summit meeting held in October. Her Majesty's Government intend to play a full part in carrying out these and other Community policies and in seeking to influence the pace and direction of the Community's development in the best interests of the Community and of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Jay

Yes, but as the Government have often told us that one of the purposes of joining this organisation was to effect major reforms there, surely the Government can say what their proposals for those reforms are? Cannot the House of Commons be told?

Mr. Davies

The Government, of course, had a real opportunity at the summit meeting last October to put forward their views. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister did so. It can be assumed that the communiqué issued and made available to the House after the summit meeting embodied very strongly the views of this Government.

Mr. Selwyn Gummer

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be much more helpful to Britain to take a stronger part in the Community if the Opposition took their part in the European Parliament?

Mr. Davies

Yes, I think that many others like my hon. Friend regret the absence of Members of the party opposite from the European Assembly.

Mr. Callaghan

When these meetings take place will the Minister give the House an assurance that at the time when the present monetary arrangements break down between European countries, as they will do within the course of the next few months, they will not be replaced by something equally as impracticable as the arrangements reached last time? Will he suggest on behalf of the House to the European Ministers that it would be far better to devote themselves to practical measures of co-operation than to indulge in the kind of flights of fancy which led to the present discussions for currency arrangements?

Mr. Davies

I must say on experience, which is relatively short as yet, that the practical activities of the Community seem very real to me, particularly in the form of these Council meetings.

Mr. Body

As nothing was said in the communiqué about the common agricultural policy, is it the view of the Government that nothing is needed by way of reform in that policy now?

Mr. Davies

It has been the view of successive Governments that in joining the Common Market Britain would take the common agricultural policy as it stood. This, of course, in no way debars the United Kingdom from proposing changes, should those changes seem useful.

Mr. Douglas

Does the Minister accept that there was only very sparse reference in the communiqué to energy policy, and will he try to make available to the House all the documents from the Commission—because they are very hard to obtain—in relation to energy policy emanating from the Commission and its director-general?

Mr. Davies

The Commission has as yet only just got organised to deal with this problem, bearing in mind that it was completely reconstituted at the beginning of the year. I can assure the hon. Member that issues of energy policy are at the forefront of the Commission's mind and the mind of the Government.

20. Mr. Moyle

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what are his proposals for ensuring that the EEC adopts more outward-looking economic policies towards non-EEC countries.

Mr. John Davies

I have nothing to add to the reply I gave on 26th January to the hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris).—[Vol. 849, c. 249.]

Mr. Moyle

Cannot the right hon. Gentleman at least begin by starting to get rid of the common agricultural policy? Is he aware that the agricultural industries of North America are very efficient and have substantial surpluses which, with encouragement, they could send here, thus stabilising the cost of living and preventing the President of the National Farmers' Union from making silly and divisive speeches, threatening my constituents with ever-rising food prices? Might not this lead to some chance of success with the Government's incomes policy?

Mr. Davies

I am aware of the hon. Gentleman's feelings on the common agricultural policy. The truth, however, about the North Atlantic production of food is that exports to Europe have greatly increased recently, not diminished. It would not be just to make an argument on the basis that there had been a disbarment of food imports.

Sir D. Dodds-Parker

Does my right hon. Friend realise that the experience of the European Parliament shows that there are many more outward-looking people there than in this House?

Mr. Davies

I heartily endorse that.

Mrs. Hart

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us what stage has been reached in the negotiations on the harmonisation of our generalised preference scheme with that of the EEC since this deeply affects many of the non-EEC countries? Is he aware that we shall certainly want a full report on the negotiations at the earliest possible moment?

Mr. Davies

I realise that the House takes a great interest in this. I take very much to heart that the House will wish to discuss this. It is not until 1974 that there must be harmonisation between British and Community arrangements. This is a matter for urgent discussion now.

21. Mr. Dixon

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what will be the number of votes required for decisions of the Council of Ministers by qualified majority; and what will be the number of member countries which will be required to cast their votes in order to make such decisions effective.

Mr. John Davies

Article 14 of the Treaty of Accession, as adjusted in consequence of the Norwegian decision not to ratify the treaty, provides that 41 votes in favour shall be required for the adoption of acts of the Council, in cases where the Council acts by a qualified majority on a proposal from the Commission. In cases where the Council acts otherwise than on a proposal from the Commission the 41 votes must be cast by at least six members.

Mr. Dixon

If my arithmetic is right does that mean that, had Norway been a member of the Community, the new members of the Community would in effect have been able to block any measures which were not to their liking? Is the situation under the new arrangement whereby Norway is not a member that the new members of the Community—ourselves, the Danes and the Irish—will be able to be overriden by the members of the former Six who will have come to many decisions on their own lines before our entry?

Mr. Davies

On matters which are really the subject of majority voting it is true to say that the position has changed in the way my hon. Friend states. The areas of necessary Community view between new members as against old members are not apparent to me and I do not think that they constitute any considerable element.

23. Mr. Cordle

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if the Government will now take steps to provide a suitable relationship between the EEC and member nations of the Commonwealth; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. John Davies

Throughout the process of enlargement of the European Communities the Government have been fully aware of the need to provide the basis for satisfactory relationships between the enlarged Community and the Commonwealth countries. In consultation with the Commonwealth Governments a series of arrangements was agreed in the enlargement negotiations which fully meet their various needs.

Mr. Cordle

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Yaoundé and Arusha agreements are unacceptable in West Africa, in those important Commonwealth countries? Does he agree that in view of the conference that is bound to take place when the Foreign Secretary visits Nigeria this matter should be discussed, as a certain amount of confusion and misunderstanding still exists among other countries as to why we joined the Common Market and left them outside?

Mr. Davies

It was with a view to giving the utmost flexibility to Commonwealth countries, particularly African Commonwealth countries, that the negotiations for accession comprised a series of alternatives. Commonwealth Governments have the full right to make their choice among that wide series of alternatives. It is equally right to say that as yet there has been no African Commonwealth Government, as far as I know, which have declared officially what their attitude is on these alternatives. Therefore the matter remains open.

Mr. Jay

Are the Government passively accepting a situation in which we have to raise new tariffs against the greater part of the Asian Commonwealth?

Mr. Davies

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, there was a clear joint statement of intent by the Community in relation to the independent Asian members of the Commonwealth. This has already borne fruit in the sense that a negotiation mandate has been undertaken by the Community over a negotiation with India for an agreement.

Mr. Marten

Would it not be of great assistance if the Government and the Common Market supported the American initiative for tariff reductions, particularly if we worked for the substantial lowering of the common external tariff?

Mr. Davies

All these matters will no doubt come up in due course in the multilateral trade negotiations which are to start later this year. I can assure the House that the Community and the Government have an open and liberal attitude to these negotiations.

26. Mr. Adley

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he will seek to discuss within the Council of Ministers joint political initiatives aimed as safeguarding vital European interests.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

Yes, Sir. Action will be possible in the Council when the nature of the initiative is such that it comes within the scope of the Community treaties.

Mr. Adley

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Will he consider raising as a point of positive Community policy the possibility that in industries such as aerospace, in which Europe has so much at stake, if in future Europe is producing a product and is faced with competition from, say, the United States, rather than considering a tariff it might be possible for Europe to devise a policy whereby a percentage of aircraft or aerospace production which otherwise would be purchased outside the Community would have to be built within the Community?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

My hon. Friend has put forward a proposal of which I have had no notice. All I can do is to note the matter he raises and give him a considered reply later.

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