HC Deb 10 February 1977 vol 925 cc1654-7
Q3. Mr. Watkinson

asked the Prime Minister what will be on the agenda of the Rome meeting of the European Council at the end of March.

The Prime Minister

The European Council does not have a formal agenda. It is still too early to say exactly what the Council will wish to discuss, but, in addition to Community matters, there will clearly be a range of important issues arising from the world economic situation.

Mr. Watkinson

Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the problem of unemployment is put well to the forefront of the agenda? Does he agree that unemployment is a global problem and that concerted action is needed to deal with it? Will he ensure that the Council considers the bold and imaginative proposals that President Carter has made? It is time that we had some positive response to those proposals.

The Prime Minister

Yes, I shall certainly ensure that that is so. There is no doubt that between 1968 and 1974 world production grew at the rate of 8 per cent. a year. But the fact that world production fell by 8 per cent. in 1975–76 has led to a dramatic increase in unemployment throughout the whole of the industrialised world. The steps that have been taken by President Carter have been valuable. Other countries, too, should take such steps. These matters will be discussed at the European Council.

Mr. Hugh Fraser

Will the Prime Minister consider making this meeting really meaningful by insisting on the ratification of the European convention against terrorism? It is a proper subject for discussion at that meeting. Will he also firmly raise with the Government of the Irish Republic their ratification of this convention, because at the moment they are not prepared to ratify? Will he point out to them that if they wish to pursue a course of civilised behaviour but are not prepared to ratify the convention, Europe and this country will have to consider various actions against them?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman is a proper person to raise the question of the ratification of this agreement. I can certainly assure him that I shall discuss it with the other Heads of Government. Everyone needs to ratify it. It is Britain's desire that they should do so, and we shall place the maximum possible pressure on them to do so within the limits of our power.

Mr. William Hamilton

Will my right hon. Friend take the opportunity to allay the considerable anxiety in Europe about the Government's integrity on direct elections to the European Parliament? Will he give his colleagues in Europe a categorical assurance that the legislation will be on the statute book by the end of this session? [Interruption.]

The Prime Minister

Does my hon. Friend really believe that after his expeditions over the last few weeks I would give any guarantee about any legislation being on the statute book? I am not caught that way. What the Government have said is that they will continue to use their best endeavours in this matter.

Mr. Marten

At the meeting of the European Council, will the Prime Minister take the opportunity to explain to it why it is that, when it comes to devolution, the Government are settling the powers of the Assemblies before they have the direct elections, but that, when it comes to the European Parliament, they want to have direct elections before settling the powers of the new Assembly? Is it not putting the cart before the horse to have direct elections before agreeing to any extension of powers that the Assembly may have? After all, ultimately, they might be vetoed by the French.

The Prime Minister

I would not discuss devolution with the European Council, in any event. As for direct elections, the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) is unusually wrong. The powers of the European Assembly are settled. They are there. They are known. Of course, proposals might always be put forward for changes, but that does not necessarily mean that they would take place. This is an entirely different position.

Mrs. Winifred Ewing

Will the Prime Minister press for the inclusion on the agenda for the Council meeting in March of a debate on the European common fisheries policy? Is he aware that the February Council meeting was a disaster for the United Kingdom's inshore fleet, 80 per cent. of which is in Scotland? Will he press, and ask his Ministers to press, for a 50-mile limit, or does he intend to give up that demand?

Mr. Skinner

Why does not the hon. Lady boycott the place?

The Prime Minister

The agenda is a matter for agreement between the Heads of Government. However, there is no formal agenda, in that we try to settle issues that are the subject of negotiations. The hon. Lady's version of what took place at the February Council is totally inaccurate. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will continue to negotiate this matter in the Foreign Ministers' Council, as will my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture in the Agricultural Ministers' Council.

Mrs. Winifred Ewing

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Owing to the unsatisfactory nature of the Prime Minister's replies, I beg to give notice that I shall take pleasure in raising this matter on the Adjournment.