HC Deb 28 November 1979 vol 974 cc1277-84
37. Mr. William Hamilton

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

38. Mr. Major

asked the Lord Privy Seal when he next intends to meet his colleagues in the EEC.

39. Mr. Spearing

asked the Lord Privy Seal when he next expects to attend a meeting of the EEC Council of Ministers.

Sir Ian Gilmour

At the Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels on 18 December.

Mr. Hamilton

Can the Lord Privy Seal give an assurance that he will take the initiative and raise the question of international co-ordination of aid to Kampuchea and other countries which are in dire need? The individual efforts of separate Governments seem to be inadequate to meet the challenge.

Sir I. Gilmour

I entirely agree with the hon. Member that this is a desperately serious problem. He will be aware that Britain has done more individually than most other countries. He will also be aware that on 30 October the Community decided to give a further £16 million for famine relief in Cambodia as its contribution to a world-wide effort to save the Cambodian people.

Mr. Major

Will my right hon. Friend convey to his colleagues in Europe, if necessary before his meeting with them in December, that if a suitable settlement to the problem of our net contribution to Europe is not agreed in Dublin, this issue will not go away? This House will not permit it to do so. Will he also advise his colleagues in Europe that if there is protracted wrangling on this issue it will do great damage to the European cause in the United Kingdom, even among its most firm supporters?

Sir I. Gilmour

I agree with my hon. Friend. This issue will be discussed tomorrow and the next day in Dublin by the Prime Minister. It is a most serious issue and if it is not solved it certainly will not go away.

Mr. Spearing

Will the Lord Privy Seal confirm that the meeting on 18 December is formal as distinct from the informal meeting in Dublin this week? Nevertheless, will he assure the House that any agreement reached in Dublin on any matter which has not been debated in this House and has been requested by the Scrutiny Committee, will be debated before the substantive Council of Ministers meeting on 18 December or any other date that may apply?

Sir I. Gilmour

I am not sure how informal tomorrow's meeting will be. I am not sure that that is the best description of it. The hon. Member will be aware of the answer that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster gave on this matter. That answer was satisfactory.

Mr. Ian Lloyd

When the Lord Privy Seal or the Foreign Secretary meet their colleagues in the EEC will they take the opportunity, not least in response to the obvious bipartisan feeling in the House on this issue, to ask those colleagues when Western Europe as a whole will adopt a concerted, effective and resolute position on the situation in Tehran?

Sir I. Gilmour

That has already been done. My hon. Friend probably will be aware of the statement that the Nine issued on Tehran when we met last week. The Nine have been concerting their action very effectively and helpfully in Tehran, and I understand that the American Government have expressed their gratitude.

Mr. Jay

Surely the right hon. Gentleman must be aware that these meetings of Ministers are either formal meetings of the Council, whose decisions have the force of law, or they are not. Surely the forthcoming meeting in Dublin is not a formal meeting in that sense?

Sir I. Gilmour

It may or may not be, but it is an extremely important meeting and that is what I was seeking to convey.

Mr. Rost

Will my right hon. Friend find an early opportunity to make clear to our European friends that if there were a disruption of oil supplies from the Middle East we would, of course, in the interests of our European partnership, wish to help out? However, will he also make clear that there would be no question of our selling oil at below world prices, any more than we would expect to buy German cars or French wine at below world prices?

Sir I. Gilmour

I agree. Of course we will help our Community partners. We already export to the Community about 28 per cent. of our production, but it would be impracticable and disadvantageous for us to attempt to sell oil at below its market price.

Mr. Shore

When the Council of Foreign Ministers meets in its political co-operation role—and that was the point with which my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) began—will the Lord Privy Seal ensure that he is satisfied that the collective responses and voices that are supposed to come out of Brussels are sufficiently timely and sufficiently strongly expressed? Like many hon. Members on both sides of the House, I was barely aware of the statement made about the position in Tehran as reflected in the communiqué from Senator O'Kennedy, speaking on behalf of the Nine. Obviously there can be occasions when it is useful to have a concerted voice, but I certainly hope that the Lord Privy Seal will take the view that an individual voice can supplement the concerted voice. I hope that he will take that point on board, not only in relation to Tehran, but other matters, such as Cambodia, on which we feel strongly.

Sir I. Gilmour

On a minor point, I do not think that this particular O'Kennedy is a senator. I take the right hon. Gentleman's point, but we do not have any control over the publicity that the statements of the Nine are given by the media over here. We issued a strong statement. Our attitude has been helpful and our support for the Americans has been unequivocal. Anything that we can do to ensure that our attitude is more widely understood, we shall do.

40. Mr. Hicks

asked the Lord Privy Seal when his noble Friend intends to meet his European counterparts; and if he will make a statement.

41. Mr. Squire

asked the Lord Privy Seal whether his noble Friend has any plans to meet his European ministerial colleagues in the immediate future.

42. Mr. Roy Hughes

asked the Lord Privy Seal when his noble Friend expects to meet his European Common Market colleagues.

43. Mr. Knox

asked the Lord Privy Seal when his noble Friend expects to meet his EEC counterparts.

44. Mr. Hardy

asked the Lord Privy Seal when his noble Friend expects to meet his EEC colleagues.

Sir Ian Gilmour

My right hon. and noble Friend will meet his EEC colleagues at the European Council in Dublin tomorrow and on Friday.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I propose to call first those five hon. Members whose questions are being answered.

Mr. Hicks

Can my right hon. Friend say what political initiatives the Foreign Secretary will submit to his colleagues as a way of contributing to resolving the imbalance of the United Kingdom contribution to the European budget? Does he not agree that the extension of the regional fund and the possibility of the introduction of the rural fund might be steps in the right direction which would also bring benefits to this country?

Sir I. Gilmour

Of course that is true. However, my hon. Friend will understand that at the meeting in Dublin the Foreign Secretary will not play the principal part. It is a meeting of Heads of Government. It is not for us to take a political initiative on this point. We have made clear what we seek from our partners. The Commission has put forward two papers, and we are Seeking a broad balance.

Mr. Squire

Will my right hon. Friend ensure that his office has the fullest consultation in advance of these meetings with our European parliamentary colleagues and the leadership to ensure that we retain the best advantage from any initiatives taken by the European Parliament?

Sir I. Gilmour

Certainly. We remain in as close touch as possible with our Members of the European Parliament, who have an important role. We try to meet them when they are here and to provide as much briefing for them as they want or need.

Mr. Hughes

Bearing in mind that the Prime Minister now recognises that Britain is being fleeced as a result of our contributions to the Common Market, and the damage that it has already done to British trade and industry, does not the right hon. Gentleman think that it is about time the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary told his European colleagues that enough is enough?

Sir I. Gilmour

The hon. Gentleman has his facts wrong. As I told the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) last month, the best way to gauge our trading performance with the EEC is to compare the export-import ratio of our bilateral trade. This was 82 per cent. in 1972 and 83 per cent. in the first nine months of this year.

Mr. Knox

Does my right hon. Friend expect that any further progress will be made at the meeting in the development of a Community foreign policy? If not, why not?

Sir I. Gilmour

I do not expect any further development in the Community foreign policy. I think that the answer to my hon. Friend's question "Why not?" is that there will be so much else to discuss—in particular, our very important budget problem.

Mr. Hardy

As our gross domestic product will suffer a more severe fall than that of any other member State next year, can we expect the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary to follow up the Prime Minister's assertive words by pointing out to his counterparts in the Community that this country can no longer afford both the Conservative Administration and the costly common agricultural policy? Will the right hon. Gentleman's noble Friend ask them to say which they prefer?

Sir I. Gilmour

I do not think that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has put it in quite those terms. We have made it clear that when, for reasons that are well known to the House, we have had to cut public expenditure, compared with what it would have been, a contribution or subscription of more than £1,000 million is unacceptable to us.

Mr. Budgen

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if there is any case for an enhanced regional fund, or for the idea of my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Hicks) of a rural fund, those funds can best be paid for and administered on a national basis and not an EEC basis?

Sir I. Gilmour

I do not think that that is necessarily true.

Mr. Russell Johnston

Can the Lord Privy Seal shed any light on the proposals emanating from the Federal Republic of Germany about changes in energy policy? Can he give any indication of the Government's response?

Sir I. Gilmour

No Sir. I cannot help the hon. Gentleman on that. I have seen reports, but we have had no representations.

Mr. Foulkes

What problems does it create for the right hon. Gentleman in answering questions in the House when it is his noble Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary, and not a member of the elected House of Commons, who attends the meetings with the Foreign Secretaries of other countries?

Sir I. Gilmour

The hon. Gentleman has his facts wrong. In fact, I do attend the meetings of the Foreign Ministers.

Mr. Marlow

Will my right hon. Friend tell his colleagues in Europe that the United Kingdom budget deficit with our friends in the EEC must be reduced to zero, and not a penny less? [HON. MEMBERS: "More."] I am sorry—not a penny more. If our colleagues in Europe want to set about the destruction of the Community, which most of us favour—lest there be ambiguity, I add that I mean not its destruction but its continuance—the best thing they can do is not to bring about a balance in the United Kingdom's budget contribution?

Sir I. Gilmour

My hon. Friend has expressed our objective. Perhaps he has put it rather more starkly, but certainly our objective is a broad balance. We believe that we have an unanswerable case. We hope that our partners will recognise that case and that we shall gain an equitable solution in Dublin. I agree with the implication of my hon. Friend's remarks, that if such consultation is not forthcoming that will be damaging to the Community.

Mr. Donald Stewart

How can the Lord Privy Seal maintain his attitude about trade with the EEC, as the figures for the first nine months of this year show that our deficit is running at £3,211 million? If this is continued at the same rate for the 12-month period, we shall end up with a deficit of £4,280 million, compared with £2,247 million last year.

Sir I. Gilmour

It is true that our performance last year was better; it was 86 per cent. But what I was asked to do was to compare this year with 1972, before we entered. For those two years, the figures that I gave were correct.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Government's attitude seems slightly ambivalent? They say that they want changes in the CAP, but when it comes to the point they will not vote even for a gesture in that direction. We should regard it as totally reprehensible if any kind of deal were done that gave way on any other aspect of British policy.

Sir I. Gilmour

Our attitude is not ambivalent. We have made quite clear where we stand. The hon. Lady will know that the modifications proposed by the European Parliament would have had little effect on agricultural spending, which is determined by the decisions taken at the price fixing. Therefore, we did not believe that that was an appropriate way in which to tackle our problems, much as we sympathise with the Parliament's aim.

At the Council my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury made it quite clear that we should vote to reject the Parliament's amendments only if the Council would agree to an accompanying text expressing sympathy with the Parliament's wish to cut some expenditure, and agreeing that early action was needed to secure a better balance within the budget.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

I shall call one more hon. Member from either side of the House, because five questions are being answered together.

Mr. Renton

Does my right hon. Friend agree with the leading article in the Financial Times recently on the question of the EEC summit in Dublin? That article ended with the advice to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that a capacity for compromise was not a sign of a lack of courage.

Sir I. Gilmour

I missed that leading article, but I am sure that the sentiments it expressed were impeccable.

Mr. Stoddart

Will the right hon. Gentleman make it quite clear to his counterparts in the EEC that the assurance given by my right hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), the previous Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary, that no further powers would pass to the European Assembly, still stands, and that he and the Government will resist any attempts by the European Assembly to usurp any powers of this or any other British Government, or of this Parliament?

Sir I. Gilmour

We have expressed our views on this matter often enough. As far as I know, the European Parliament has no plans to usurp any powers of any sort.