HC Deb 20 March 1978 vol 946 cc973-80
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Frank Judd)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I shall make a statement about business to be taken by Ministers of the European Community during April. The monthly written forecast was deposited on Thursday 16th March.

At present, six meetings of the Council of Ministers are proposed for April. Finance and Foreign Ministers will meet jointly on 3rd April, Agriculture Ministers on 3rd and 4th April and also on 24th and 25th April, Foreign Ministers on 4th April, Finance Ministers on 17th April and Development Ministers on 25th April. Heads of State and Government will also attend a European Council meeting in Copenhagen on 7th and 8th April.

Finance and Foreign Ministers are expected to discuss the Commission's assessment of budgetary problems.

Agriculture Ministers are expected to resume their discussions on CAP prices for 1978–79 and Mediterranean agriculture. They are also expected to consider agrimonetary matters, proposals for milk marketing boards, producer groups, market arrangements for mutton and lamb, and external fisheries questions.

Foreign Ministers are expected to discuss preparations for the European Council meeting, direct elections to the European Assembly, Japan, the European Foundation, Greek accession, steel imports, staff regulations and GATT multilateral trade negotiations. Foreign Ministers will also meet in the margins of the Council for a discussion on political co-operation.

Finance Ministers are expected to review progress in insurance co-ordination since March 1977.

Development Ministers are expected to discuss aid to non-associates, reciprocal implications of development co-ordination policy and other policies, and the volume and distribution of aid. They may also consider the legal basis of food aid.

Mr. Luce

May I put three questions to the Minister arising from that statement? First, referring to the meeting of Agriculture Ministers, he mentioned the proposals for the milk marketing boards. Will he give an assurance that the main functions of the milk marketing boards will be preserved?

Secondly, he referred to discussions on external fisheries matters. Will he say what progress is likely to he made on the internal fisheries problems that we face in this country? Thirdly, the Minister referred to the meeting of the European Council. Will the British Government press for a specific date to be set for holding direct elections? Also, will the Minister avoid the use of jargon—whatever are agrimonetary matters?

Mr. Judd

I can assure the hon. Member that, like him, I, too, am holding a campaign to eliminate this kind of EEC jargon. I deliberately refrained from referring to "sheepmeat", a term which has rather irritated me during the past few months.

On the question of the milk marketing boards, the Government are deeply attached to the principle of the marketing boards and I am glad that the Commission understands our position and seems to support it.

We are determined to stand firm on internal fisheries. It was a great disappointment to us that the January meeting of Agriculture Ministers could not make any meaningful progress. I have repeatedly told the House the principles we feel are at stake. We shall not compromise on the fundamental issues facing the British fishing industry. We hope that reason will prevail, but in the meantime we are concentrating on conservation, which is crucial to preserve our stocks.

On direct elections, we shall be putting forward specific ideas about when we think it would be most appropriate to arrange these in 1979.

Mrs. Dunwoody

When my hon. Friend meets his opposite numbers in the foreign affairs Ministries in Europe, will he tell them that we are worried about the leisurely pace at which the Commission is producing its opinion on enlargement of the Community? It has not produced an opinion on Portuguese membership and it has taken a long time over the talks about Mediterranean policy in general.

Mr. Judd

Our position on enlargement is absolutely clear. We are in favour of a Community of 12. The Foreign Secretary has been at pains to point out at the various meetings that we are dissatisfied that more rapid progress has not proved possible on Portugal and Spain. We are keen on Greek accession, but we want to see evidence that the Commission is moving forward on the others as well.

Mr. Henderson

In saying that no further discussions on the internal fishery regime will take place at the forthcoming meeting, is the Minister telling us that we have reached a deadlock? Will he assure us that there are no proposals being circulated which will be sprung on us suddenly and which will be against the interests of the British fishing industry?

Mr. Judd

The Government will not accept—nor will the House—any proposals that are fundamentally against the British fishing industry's interests. We are determined to persuade our partners in Europe what is at stake and why it is important for them to recognise our interests. We are not at the stage yet where it is appropriate to seek a formal meeting.

Mr. Christopher Price

Does my hon. Friend think that it is wise to fix a date for direct elections at a time when the Prime Minister of Luxembourg is threatening to boycott them if we do not guarantee to keep the Parliament in Luxembourg for ever? Also, has he seen the recent plans to build yet another Parliament building and to get the European Parliament to sign a contract for building it, and some flats in Rue Maillot in Brussels? Will the Council of Ministers say anything about this? The Council has always claimed that the business of where the Parliament is held is its job and not that of the Parliament.

Mr. Judd

The views of the European Assembly are relevant but the final decision on this matter is for the Council. I assure my hon. Friend that we are determined to avoid any unnecessary extravagance in that respect.

Mr. Wiggin

Is the Minister aware that when it comes to agricultural marketing boards, the major problem is the Government's failure to announce any future for the Potato Marketing Board? His Agricultural Minister colleagues announced that discussion on this had been held up in Europe. Will this subject be on the agenda at the May meeting?

Mr. Judd

It is not specifically on the agenda at this juncture. However, I understand the concern felt and I am glad that the hon. Member has reminded me of it. I shall bring the matter to the attention of my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Spearing

The Minister mentioned the Commission's view about the milk marketing boards. However, the document that the Commission has put forward is most unsatisfactory if we are to retain our daily pinta and the milk marketing boards. Will the Government stand firm and not agree to anything that does not maintain the milk marketing boards intact?

Mr. Judd

The papers that my hon. Friend has referred to have been recommended for debate and he will have a chance to put forward his views. Our judgment is that the Commission is broadly behind our system and that that is a good situation on which we should build.

Sir John Rodgers

Does the Minister not think it a waste of public money for the countries of the EEC to meet in three different places—Brussels, Luxembourg and Strasbourg? Would it not be better for the offices to be confined to Brussels and for the Parliamentary Assembly to meet in Strasbourg?

Mr. Judd

I know that hon. Members on both sides of the House have strong views on this subject. I repeat what I have already said—that it is our objective, in the spirit of what has been agreed on the future of the European Assembly, to ensure that there is no unnecessary extravagance and that matters are arranged as economically as possible.

Mr. Skinner

Will the Minister tell the Foreign Secretary that if he wants to save his seat in Devon, where a growing number of people are rightly joining the anti-Common Market bandwagon, he had better stop being a Euro-fanatic and tell the other Foreign Ministers that we shall not have direct elections in 1979? If the Minister wants to get rid of jargon, why does he not start with decimalisation and then follow it with metrication, CAP and VAT? Why do we not get out of the Market and drop the whole thing?

Mr. Judd

Decimalisation and metrication are not matters which refer exclusively to the EEC as such.

On the other matter, I am sure that my hon. Friend, on reflection, having examined what my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has said and done since his appointment as Foreign Secretary, will agree that working in the interests of the British people within the context of the Community is high on his list of priorities.

Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

When the Foreign Ministers meet to discuss political cooperation "on the margin", as I think the Minister for some reason described it, will they be considering whether they can achieve any common position on the events in the Arab-Israeli world, or have the EEC Ministers finally given up all hope of achieving a common position in that respect?

Mr. Judd

A helpful statement in the name of the Nine was issued under the British Presidency last year on the Middle Eastern situation. We still see those principles as fundamental if there is to be a lasting solution. Of course we are watching the situation closely with our partners in the Nine. We see the situation as sufficiently grave to necessitate positive results rather than as a matter of making statements for the sake of statements.

Mr. Ioan Evans

In view of the high unemployment in Common Market countries, may I ask my hon. Friend to include the subject of unemployment for discussion on the agenda of the Heads of State meeting in an effort to bring Europe out of its present economic recession?

Mr. Judd

It has become the normal practice at meetings of the European council to discuss the economic problems in the Community as a whole. It is inconceivable that the meeting of the European Council in April will not discuss the issue of unemployment, particularly bearing in mind the deep and fundamental concern of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister about the position.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I propose to call the five hon. Members who rose to their feet, but I hope that they will co-operate by being brief.

Mr. Biffen

Will the Minister be a little more forthcoming about the Government's negotiating position on milk marketing boards, and will he answer one specific question? Are the Government committed to maintaining the present restrictive arrangements under which liquid milk cannot be imported into this country from other EEC countries?

Mr. Judd

We are determined—and we shall stand by this answer—to see through and support the system of milk marketing boards as it now operates in this country.

Mr. Grylls

Has the Minister discussed within the European Council the subject of Her Majesty's Government using British overseas aid to give ships away to countries such as Vietnam? Will he be very frank about this matter.

Mr. Judd

That is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Overseas Development, and it is not a matter specifically related to the EEC as such.

Mr. Arnold

Reverting to the supplementary question asked by the hon. Member for Crewe (Mrs. Dunwoody), and leaving aside the subject of Spain and Portugal, may I ask when we may expect to see the formal opening of negotiations with Greece?

Mr. Judd

If I were to reply "as soon as possible", I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would say that he was not satisfied with that answer. But I must tell him that we are determined that preliminary work should be completed within months. I hope that we shall be getting into the final negotiating position towards the end of this year.

Mr. Dykes

What has happened to the proposal to form a European export company which, if kept under proper control, would be beneficial to British companies and underdeveloped countries?

Mr. Judd

I note the hon. Gentleman's concern. I shall bring the point to the attention of my colleagues in the Treasury, who no doubt on this occasion will be able to give an appropriate reply.

Mr. Rhodes James

Why is it that the Foreign Ministers' meeting on 4th April has not included in a full agenda the subject of the Middle East? Are Ministers not aware of the extremely critical situation in that area, and why has that subject been excluded?

Mr. Judd

I do not think the hon. Gentleman has any reason to believe that that subject will be excluded. I have said that the Foreign Ministers at the time of their meeting will be able in the margin, which is a technical phrase, to discuss political issues. No doubt they will consider the Middle East in the context of their discussions.