HC Deb 04 July 1978 vol 953 cc236-44
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Frank Judd)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I will make a statement about business to be taken by Ministers of the European Community during July. The monthly written forecast was deposited on Thursday 29th June.

Heads of State and Government will meet in the European Council in Bremen on 6th and 7th July. At present six meetings of the Council of Ministers are proposed for that month. The Budget Council will meet on 18th July, the Finance Council on 24th July, a joint ACP/EEC Council on 24th July, the Agriculture Council and the Fisheries Council on 24th and 25th July, and the Foreign Affairs Council on 25th July.

The Budget Council is expected to establish the preliminary draft general community budget in 1979.

The Finance Council is expected to discuss a draft Commission decision adapting economic policy guidelines for 1978 and proposing guidelines for the preparation of public budgets in 1979. The Council is also expected to review the outcome of the European Council meeting in Bremen and the Western economic summit in Bonn and may discuss a draft life insurance directive.

A joint ACP/EEC Council will be held to open the renegotiation of the Lomé Convention.

The Agriculture Council is expected to discuss proposals for the organisation of the market in potatoes and wine and agricultural structural problems in the Community generally and in the Mediterranean area.

The Fisheries Council is expected to consider the future of agreements with Norway, Sweden and the Faroes, conservation measures and possibly the other Commission proposals for revision of the common fisheries policy.

The Foreign Affairs Council will consider any necessary follow-up to the European Council meeting and will discuss issues raised at the joint ACP/ EEC Council meeting. The Council will also consider EEC-Yugoslavia relations, review developments in the GATT multilateral trade negotiations, and receive a progress report on the negotiations for Greek accession to the Community. They will have a second discussion of the Commission's enlargement "fresco". They will review progress in the negotiations with Spain on the revision of the 1970 agreement and may continue their discussion of structural policy in the iron and steel sector. The Council will also review progress made in the arrangements for direct elections to the European Assembly.

July, Mr. Speaker, marks the end of the Danish presidency of the Council of Ministers and I should like in conclusion to express the Government's admiration for the capable and effective way in which Denmark has discharged the onerous duties of that office. In particular I wish to express our warm regard for the skilful manner in which Mr. K. B. Andersen, the Danish Foreign Minister—a statesman of great warmth, humanity and vision—has presided over the Council discussions and to wish him well for the future.

Mr. Hurd

I thank the Minister for that statement and should like to ask him two related questions. First, when will the Council of Ministers discuss the proposals now being aired by the Commission for forming a cartel for synthetic fibres and perhaps for other industries? Although it is true—and we recognise it —that steel has a specific and special position under the treaties, will he not accept that in general the treaties give the Commission the job of removing obstacles to competition and not of creating cartels? When will the Council of Ministers consider that?

Second, but related to the first question is it not time that the Council of Ministers took a general look at the kind of draft directives coming before it in the name of harmonisation? Has the Minister read the powerful report produced in another place about the use being made of article 100 of the Treaty of Rome, which suggests that there is a tendency by the Commission to step beyond the limits set in that article and in related articles? Would it not be a good thing and save everyone a lot of trouble if the Council of Ministers made it clear that any proposals which step beyond those limits stand no chance of being accepted?

Mr. Judd

On the first point, there are no immediate plans to discuss synthetic fibres, but I will look into that matter and see that I get a reply to the hon. Gentleman as soon as possible. I endorse his general view about draft directives. It is tremendously important that we all make certain that the Commission operates within the spirit of what it was intended to do and does not exceed its powers.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. Before I call anyone else, may I remind the House that this is a Supply Day, that there is to be a major debate on unemployment, that before that there is a Ten-Minute Bill which is likely to be opposed and that I have a long list of hon. Members who wish to speak in the main debate?

Mr. Forman

Is the Council of Ministers aware of the misgivings and worries expressed by many developing countries about the way in which the Council and the Commission are handling the Community mandate in the context of the multilateral trade negotiations? If it is concerned, what steps does the Council intend to take to meet some of those misgivings?

Mr. Judd

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the Council of Ministers and the British Government are well aware of the special problems of the developing countries in the context of world trade and that we shall bear this very much in mind in the context of our collective negotiations as a Community in relation to multilateral trade.

Mr. John Evans

Will the proposed date for direct elections be on the agenda for the meeting of Foreign Ministers? Does my hon. Friend agree with the recent statement of the Greek Foreign Minister that he sees no obstacles to Greece joining the Community by 1980? Could that mean that the date for direct elections will be put back until after Greece joins, or will Greece participate in direct elections before she joins?

Mr. Judd

The date for the elections is not on the agenda, because the intention is firmly to stand by the agreed date of June next year. As for Greece, the hope is that we can conclude negotiations by the end of this year, looking forward to Greek accession in 1980 or, at the latest, 1981.

Mr. Beith

Is the Council of Ministers aware of the anxiety in the sawmills and chipboard industry of this country about the situation which is developing there, with fears of great dumping of chipboard in Britain from both outside and inside the EEC? Is he aware that there is great concern that the procedure available to the EEC for handling this situation has not been properly operated? Can he find a way of discussing it in the course of this agenda?

Mr. Judd

If there is a problem surrounding the chipboard industry, we shall look into it and see what can be done.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

I hope to call those hon. Members who have already stood, but I shall not be able to call anyone else.

Mrs. Winifred Ewing

Will the Government be pressing for a further devaluation of the green pound in view of the tragedy affecting small pig farmers all over the United Kingdom? Will the Minister of Agriculture's pledge that he will stand firm by a 50-mile fishing limit mean that we get that limit before the General Election?

Mr. Judd

There are no plans for devaluation of the green pound. On the second question, the Minister of Agriculture is absolutely determined—as are the whole British Government—that in our work for a common fisheries policy, which we want to see, the special needs of the British fishing industry must be met and that policy will have to recognise that 60 per cent. of the fishing resources available to the Community will come from British waters.

Mr. Spearing

The Minister mentioned the follow-up of the so-called European Council in Bremen on 25th July, where the Foreign Ministers will take up these matters. In respect of the prospective moves towards European and monetary union, does not the Minister recall that this country is now £2,000 million a year in deficit on imported manufactures from the Six? In view of that, will not any moves towards economic and monetary union increase that flow and thereby increase unemployment in the United Kingdom?

Mr. Judd

It is certainly true that we have to overcome an adverse trade balance with the rest of the Community that remains a high priority for the Government.

Mr. Dykes

Has the Minister noted that there is a question in the European Parliament this week about European air fares, with the inference of making them lower, as in the United States? Will the Government press that, especially now that IATA seems to be collapsing?

Mr. Judd

That is, of course, a question for the Secretary of State for Trade, but I will bring it to his attention with a view to seeing what can be done.

Mr. Christopher Price

May I get the Government's position clear over the salaries for the new European Parliament? Is it the case that if the Government cannot get agreement to a salary around or below £20,000, and it is not possible to find some agreement within the Council of Ministers, they will be prepared to hold up direct elections until such agreement is reached?

Mr. Judd

We do not see a link of that kind, but what we have made absolutely clear as a Government is that we believe that it is essential that the rate of remuneration and the expenses allowances and the rest which will be payable to directly elected Members of the European Assembly should be known before those elections begin. Those standing should be aware of them, and, much more important, the electorate should be aware.

Mr. Biffen

Will the Minister reconsider the rather bland reply that he gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Oxon (Mr. Hurd) on the proposed synthetic fibres cartel? Is he aware that the Commission is evidently seeking to exercise its muscle, hoping to demonstrate that it has considerable power, in anticipation of the direct election of a European Assembly, so that these matters can then be exercised between the Commission and the Assembly to the exclusion of the Council of Ministers and the national Parliaments to which they answer? Is he aware that the prospect of cartelisation in a major sector of British industry is indefensible and certainly requires debate and decision in this Parliament?

Mr. Judd

I shall certainly see that the strength of feeling represented this afternoon on synthetic fibres by both hon. Members is taken seriously and that we look into what can be done on that front. On the much more important issue of principle which the hon. Gentleman raises, I can say categorically that the view of Ministers in this Government is that, in the future of the Community, power and responsibility must lie with the Ministers, who must be accountable through their domestic Parliaments to the public for whom they speak in Brussels.

Mr. Raphael Tuck

If fish is mentioned, will the Minister make it clear to the EEC that the British Government consider that the offer of 30 per cent. of the fish catch for this country is derisory, since our waters contain 60 per cent. of that catch? Will he also make it clear that we regard it as undesirable that Spain should enter the Community unless it ceases to persecute Gibraltar?

Mr. Judd

My hon. Friend has asked me two questions. One of the reasons why we have not been able to finalise agreement on a common fisheries policy is that we do not believe that the proposals put forward adequately meet the needs of the British fishing industry and the British public because of what we are expected to contribute to that policy. There will be no question of agreeing on a common fisheries policy until we can get adequate satisfaction on that score. On the second point, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made the situation clear. We find the present restrictions on contact between Spain and Gibraltar totally unacceptable. We believe that these restrictions should be lifted before Spain becomes a member of the Community. This should not wait on Spain acceding to the Community.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

While welcoming yesterday's announcement by the Minister of Agriculture on further measures to conserve fish, may I ask whether the Minister is aware that further measures are needed if the conservation programme is to be comprehensive and effective? Can the Minister say whether these further measures, particularly that relating to the carrying of nets of only one size, will be made in advance of the next meeting of the Fisheries Ministers or are they dependent upon the next meeting of these Ministers?

Mr. Judd

The Government are currently investigating the point the hon. Gentleman has just made about vesels carrying nets of only one size. This is a serious issue and we want to see whether steps are necessary. It is because we believe that the most important responsibility of all is to ensure that stocks are preserved and not eroded beyond redemption that we have taken unilateral action, having informed the Commission that we would do so through the procedure that is laid down. We shall continue to take whatever conservation measures are necessary to protect the fish stock.

Mr. Dalyell

Many of us echo the tribute to our Socialist colleague, K. B. Andersen, who was most helpful to all who had to approach him and work with him? Is it within the recollection of my hon. Friend that both here and in the European Assembly some of us have tried to raise the incredible story of the "Scheersberg", the ship that disappeared with 200 tons of uranium oxide and, bluntly, were rather slapped down and told not to fuss, that it was a matter of no importance and that it happened a long time ago? Is it really a matter of no importance that it now becomes clear that Israel has nuclear weapons on this acount? That is hardly, one would have thought, a trivial matter. Even if this happened 10 years ago, are there not serious issues arising from this matter in relation to the security of EURATOM? Will the Council of Ministers, under the German presidency, try to make a statement by October or November as to what happened and what are the consequences and conclusions to be drawn?

Mr. Judd

I note what my hon. Friend has said. I know that over a long period of time he has expressed a deep and responsible concern about this story. I suggest that this is a specialised issue. If he would like to take the matter up specifically with me in the detail which it warrants we shall look at what he has to say and see how we can respond.

Mr. Jessel

Will the Fisheries Council discuss why, on Norwegian fish coming into the Community, four times as high a rate of duty is paid as on Icelandic fish entering the Community? Apart from the important interests of British housewives, why should we tolerate a situation in which Norway, which has always been our ally, is less favourably treated than Iceland, which has tried to push us around?

Mr. Judd

I agree that in the context of our approach towards a fishing policy for the Community good working relationships with Norway and a recognition of the particular contribution which Norwegian waters have to make towards the needs of consumers in the Community must always have a high priority.

Mr. Skinner

Will the Minister confirm that, as a result of the decision of the Cabinet to pay the top salaries recommended for heads of nationalised industries, judges and others, a lever has been provided for those pro-European types who wish to get handsome salaries for those in Europe? Can the Minister also clear up the matter raised in the House a few days ago about whether the salaries paid to British Members of the European Assembly will be subject to British tax? The Financial Secretary to the Treasury did not seem to know.

As for the question of the European elections in June 1979, may I ask the Minister to confirm that there is now an element of doubt whether the June date can be satisfied? Will he further agree that there have been reports submitted to the Socialist group which suggest that there are technical reasons why the June date cannot be met?

Mr. Judd

I know of no reason why June cannot be met as a target date. There is a commitment, I assure my hon. Friend, among Ministers in the Council of Ministers to meet that date. Dealing with the taxation point, it is clear that Members of the European Assembly will be taxed under the national taxation system unless the relevant protocols are changed and for that to happen there would have to be unanimous agreement by all member States. I see no likelihood of the British Government agreeing to any such change. I might add that the Inland Revenue authorities regard as taxable any payments for expenses for Members of the European Assembly which are over and above what is actually required for doing the job.

Mr. Stoddart

Has my hon. Friend noticed from the draft budget that there is yet another increase in the amount of money provided for dumping food on world markets, very often to the detriment of our Commonwealth? When will the Government do something about this?

Mr. Judd

I believe that on reflection my hon. Friend will agree that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture has begun to tackle this problem pretty effectively. In our approach to the reform of the common agricultural policy, one of our highest priorities is to stop this abuse of public funds whereby they are wasted in building up surpluses of this kind. This is not a good way to use public funds. I believe that the credibility of the Community suffers when more than 70 per cent. of its budget goes into a common agricultural policy with such a priority.