HC Deb 13 June 1979 vol 968 cc422-5
27. Mr. Knox

asked the Lord Privy Seal when he expects next to meet other European Economic Community Foreign Ministers.

29. Mr. Cryer

asked the Lord Privy Seal when he intends next to meet EEC Foreign Ministers.

30. Mr. Moate

asked the Lord Privy Seal when he expects next to meet other EEC Foreign Ministers.

Sir Ian Gilmour

At the Foreign Affairs Council on 23 and 24 July.

At yesterday's meeting of the Council we discussed preparations for next week's European Council, the GATT multilateral trade negotiations, the EEC's trade with Japan, the textile negotiations with China, relations with the European Free Trade Area, steel aids and the Lomé renegotiation.

I am circulating a more detailed account in the Official Report.

Mr. Knox

Does my right hon. Friend intend at some future meeting to put forward proposals for the development of a Community foreign policy? Will he give an assurance that the British Government will take the initiative in this sphere at an early stage?

Sir I. Gilmour

As my hon. Friend will remember, we made clear in the Speech from the Throne that the Government intended to pay a full and constructive part in the co-ordination of foreign policies of member States. I said in the debate which followed that we expected and hoped to play a leading role in pursuit of this co-ordination.

Mr. Cryer

Will the Minister take note, however, that co-ordination should not go too far, because the recent elections demonstrate quite clearly that the vast majority of the people of Britain have very strong reservations about the Common Market if radical changes in the CAP and our massive budgetary contributions and other affairs cannot be made? The decision at the elections by the majority of the people was to get out of the Market—[Interruption.] That view is becoming stronger and stronger.

Sir I. Gilmour

I cannot agree that the elections demonstrated that in any way. All that they seemed to me to demonstrate was that it was very unwise of the Labour Party to allow its campaign to be run by the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) and the extremist members of the Labour Party's national executive committee.

Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

Among the list of matters discussed, did I hear the words "European monetary system"? If not, why not?

Sir I. Gilmour

Because it was not discussed. No doubt it will be discussed at the meeting of European Finance Ministers, and certainly it will be discussed at the European summit meeting next week.

Mr. Jay

In view of the Minister's well known desire to economise in Government expenditure, may I ask whether the Government have put forward precise proposals to the EEC for reducing our budget contribution?

Sir I. Gilmour

We have not put forward precise proposals because we do not believe that that is the right way of going about it—[Laughter.] Labour Members may laugh, but if they consider the matter they will find that they were not themselves conspicuously successful in reducing our budget contributions. They made a lot of electioneering speeches in this House and in Brussels, but with no effect whatever.

We have made it clear to our European partners that we believe that our budget contribution is inequitable. My colleagues and I are currently engaged in a programme of bilataeral meetings with our opposite numbers in the Community with a view to finding solutions fair to all. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will pursue the subject personally with her colleagues in the European Council on 21 and 22 June.

Mr. Ian Lloyd

If my right hon. Friend should discover in Brussels that the perceptible improvement in the level of understanding of Western interests in southern Africa should be shared by his colleagues, will he take the opportunity of affirming to them that the time has now come to lead with decision, conviction and determination, rather than with the wet poultice of the consensus which many are determined shall never be achieved?

Sir I. Gilmour

We are all in favour of the words in the first part of my hon. Friend's question and against those in the second part. But we are in regular and close consultation with our partners in the Nine, as with our other friends and allies, on how best to achieve our objective, which I stated earlier, which is the return of Rhodesia to legality amid wide international recognition. They recognise, however, that Rhodesia remains primarily a British responsibility.

Dr. Owen

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that one of the keys to getting a movement on the contribution of Britain to the budget is progress in reforming the common agricultural policy? May the House have an assurance that when his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister attends the European Council she will stand absolutely resolute on a freeze on farm prices?

Sir I. Gilmour

I quite agree that agricultural prices are a very important matter, and therefore we welcome the Commission's proposals for a price freeze, since this will help contribute to reducing surpluses. No doubt my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will be talking about this matter. But I think that the right hon. Gentleman will, on reflection, agree that the negotiating tactics pursued by the previous Prime Minister and himself in these matters were markedly unsuccessful, and we have no intention of copying them.

Following is the information: At yesterday's Foreign Affairs Council I was accompanied by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and my hon. Friend the Minister of State—the Member for Mid-Oxon (Mr. Hurd). The Council reviewed preparations for the European Council in Strasbourg on 21 and 22 June. Items to be discussed will include convergence, energy, the European monetary system and the economic and social situation in the Community. I emphasised the importance of the convergence discussion and the need for a decision which will lead to early remedial action on the budget problem. There was agreement to maintain a firm position on the need for the United States legislation faithfully to implement the agreements negotiated in the GATT multilateral trade negotiations. Subject to a reserve from one member State, the Council also approved the results of the Community's negotiations with Australia in the GATT MTNs. The importance was stressed of maintaining a firm and united position in the Community's dialogue with Japan and of seeking to expand trade with Japan on an equal and fair basis. Owing to a reserve by one member State, the Council was unable to reach final agreement on the terms of a revised offer to the Chinese in the negotiations for an EEC/China textile agreement. A second report by the Permanent Representatives Committee on co-operation between the Community and the EFTA countries was endorsed. The United Kingdom expressed full support for the strengthening of relations between the two groups. The Commission's proposals for regulation of State aids to the Steel industry were discussed briefly. The Commission reported the meeting on 8 June at which my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Industry assured the Commission of United Kingdom support for the decision's objectives and explained our legal difficulties with the current text. The Commission expressed the hope that agreement on a decision could be reached by the next Foreign Affairs Council on 23 and 24 July. Ministers also discussed the stage reached in the current negotiations for a new EEC-ACP convention. Over lunch, at which a Portuguese delegation were the guests of honour, Portugal's requests for changes in the current trade agreement were discussed and the President of the Council summarised the state of the accession negotiations. The first meeting of the EEC/Morocco Co-operation Council at ministerial level was held immediately after the Foreign Affairs Council.
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