HC Deb 28 November 1979 vol 974 cc1292-301
Mr. Spearing

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I think that it will be within your recollection and that of the House that when EEC statements were made by the previous Government, by Mr. Frank Judd, he always prefaced his statements by saying that the business statement had been deposited in the Vote Office a number of days previously. The business statement is not now in the Vote Office. I hope that it will be possible for it to be there on future occasions, and I hope that you will see to it that it will be there.

The Lord Privy Seal (Sir Ian Gilmour)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. One hundred copies were deposited at 1 o'clock yesterday.

Mr. Leighton

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I went to the Vote Office and asked for a copy of the statement. I was told that none was available. I was directed to the Government Whips' Office. I talked to a Whip there and he said that it is not the practice to issue such statements.

Sir I. Gilmour

Perhaps I may say that I think that there must have been a slip-up in the Vote Office. The Minister of State responsible for overseas aid is abroad.

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I will make a statement about the main business to be taken by Ministers of the European Community during December. The written forecast of business was deposited in the House on Tuesday 27 November. At present, eight meetings of the Council of Ministers are proposed for December.

The Fisheries Council will meet on 3 and 4 December and is expected to discuss the report of the high-level group of officials and third country agreements.

The Transport Council will meet on 6 December and is expected to discuss Commission reports on the economic and financial situation of the railways and on railway integration; proposals on Community and bilateral road haulage quotas and the liberalisation of own-account road goods transport. The Council is also expected to consider a Commission memorandum on air transport; consultation procedures on civil aviation matters; the draft directive on aircraft noise, and amendments to the tanker safety directive.

The Agriculture Council will meet on 10 and 11 December and is expected to discuss the common organisation of the markets in sheepmeat, wine, potatoes and ethyl alcohol. The Council may also consider aspects of policy regarding agricultural structures; the proposed revision of the sugar market; surpluses in the dairy sector; production refunds for the starch industry; beef import arrangements for 1980, and subsidies paid on Italian imports of feed grain.

The Finance Council will meet on 17 December and will discuss such follow-up action as is necessary in the light of decisions reached at the European Council. Ministers will also consider the Commission's draft annual report on the economic situation in the Community for 1979–80 and its annual economic review for 1979–80.

The Environment Council will meet on 17 December and is expected to discuss the proposal to reduce Community use of chlorofluorocarbons; the draft directive on air quality standards for lead and the draft directive setting health protection standards for levels of sulphur dioxide and smoke in the atmosphere.

There is also expected to be a progress report on the draft proposals setting emission standards and quality objectives for the pesticides aldrin, dieldrin and endrin.

The Foreign Affairs Council will meet on 18 December and will review any need for follow-up action arising from the European Council. Ministers are also expected to consider Community measures to combat the crisis in the iron and steel industry in 1980; arrangements for the next phase of the EEC/Cyprus association agreement; proposals for the annual review of Community staff pay and a Commission report on the outcome of the negotiations with the Council for Mutual Economic Aid. In addition, the Council is expected to discuss proposals on the co-ordination of training and mutual recognition of qualifications of midwives and Community imports of synthetic textiles from the United States. Progress in the Portuguese accession negotiations is likely to be discussed in the margins of the Council.

The Research Council will meet on 20 December and is expected to resume discussion of the proposed Community research programmes on fusion and biology-health protection and also the programme of the Community's joint research centre.

The Energy Council is expected to meet in the first half of December on a date still to be arranged. No firm agenda has been agreed, but the Council may consider proposals to assist coal production and consumption in the Community and member States' oil import targets for 1980.

Mr. Shore

I am sure that we all want to thank the Lord Privy Seal for that fascinating and illuminating account of the manifold activities of the European Community during the coming month. However, first, assuming that there is no rearrangement of these Councils after the Dublin summit, and assuming that British Ministers will still be wishing to attend these Councils, may I particularly draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the importance of the Finance Council on 17 December, at which Ministers are to discuss the annual report on the economic situation in the Community?

May I particularly draw to the right hon. Gentleman's attention—I hope that he will draw this to the attention of his right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor—the quite appalling forecast for the whole of the EEC's economic performance in the coming year, in which unemployment is expected to rise to record levels, and in which inflation, again, along with very high interest rate policies, is expected to be at a very nearly record level?

Can the right hon. Gentleman somehow introduce into this important body some serious consideration of ways in which we can prevent ourselves, collectively, from being forced to deflate our economy and to increase unemployment every time there is an increase in Arab oil prices? I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will put these things very strongly to his right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor.

Sir I. Gilmour

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it was not an outstandingly fascinating statement. However, he will also agree that it is he who is always pressing me to make the statement orally. I think that there are quite a lot of advantages to its being made in a written form. I shall certainly draw what the right hon. Gentleman has said to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor—who, in fact, heard what he said.

Mr. Hill

Will my right hon. Friend tell the Minister who will be attending in Brussels on transport matters that it is nonsense that when we are coming up to the seventh anniversary of having been a member of the European Community, it is still discussing lorry quotas? Is it not a fact that the British transport industry should be allowed to have complete freedom to traverse the roads of Europe? Is it not nonsense to have the almost quarterly quota figure for British transport?

Sir I. Gilmour

There is a great deal in what my hon. Friend says. I will draw the attention of the Minister of Transport to his remarks.

Mr. Cryer

The Lord Privy Seal mentioned the Finance Ministers' meeting on 17 December. Will the Ministers take any action on the consequences of the Dublin summit? Will the Lord Privy Seal say, for example, what happens if we do not get £1,000 million wiped off our subscription? What will the Ministers do, when discussing the annual economic review, to stop the West Riding wool textile industry bleeding to death? There has been total inertia by the EEC over action on such matters as outward processing. There is great concern in the industry. Will the case be pressed strongly?

Sir I. Gilmour

I will look into the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question. As he may know, there have been various developments. On the first part, I cannot say whether the Finance Council will discuss the consequences of the Dublin meeting until I know what are those consequences.

Mr. John H. Osborn

Will my right hon. Friend persuade the Council to discuss urgent matters to a greater extent and to give them priority? Is it not a fact that the supply of energy resources to Europe should be a major priority if supplies fail from OPEC and other sources? Will my right hon. Friend, on transport policy, encourage our representatives to discuss the extent to which the Community has an important role to play in determining the future of air traffic control and Euro-control?

Sir I. Gilmour

The last point that my hon. Friend mentioned will be coming up fairly soon for discussion. As I said earlier, on energy, we already export 20 per cent. of our oil production to our Community partners. My hon. Friend will appreciate that our production is not great enough to supply the whole of Europe if there was a breakdown in the Middle East.

Mr. Russell Johnston

In view of the disgracefully biased, tendentious and provocative remarks of the right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore), is the Lord Privy Seal aware that all tests of public opinion in this country have shown substantial majorities in favour of proportional representation? Given that the official position is—as he has described—that the Council must await proposals on a uniform structure from the Parliament, is it not sensible for the Council to make preparations in advance? Will he so propose?

Sir I. Gilmour

That is as it may be. I think I can be fairly confident that almost the only matter that will definitely not be discussed next month is proportional representation.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

What are these margins of the Council in which it is proposed to discuss the Portuguese accession? Is this a new Community institution? Will what transpires in the margins of the Council be reported to this House?

Sir I. Gilmour

It is not a new institution. It is similar to references to "behind the Chair" or "the usual channels", or matters discussed at lunch. All it means is "not on the Floor of the House". Whether it is reported to the House depends on what is decided in the margins.

Sir Anthony Hoyle

Will my right hon. Friend ask his right hon. Friend who is attending a meeting to discuss aircraft noise to press on his fellow Ministers the need for a joint initiative in attaining a reduction in aircraft noise around major international airports in the Community, such as Heathrow? The ever-increasing amount of noise is causing a great deal of worry to residents in all parts of the Community.

Sir I. Gilmour

I should declare an interest. I share entirely the views expressed by my hon. Friend. He knows the difficulties. We will do what we can.

Mr. Mark Hughes

Will the right hon. Gentleman take note that the Scrutiny Committee has already requested a debate in the House on many of these subjects? It would be wicked for Ministers to take a decision before those debates have taken place.

Sir I. Gilmour

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we would not dream of doing anything so remotely wicked.

Mr. Rost

May we hope that when the Energy Ministers meet next month there will be real progress on a more constructive basis for moving faster towards self-sufficiency in oil in Europe, in view of the political and strategic threats that may disrupt the whole Western economy if progress at a faster rate than the 5 per cent. reduction at present proposed is not achieved?

Sir I. Gilmour

My hon. Friend puts before the House what would be a very desirable objective. I see no possibility of its being attained in the immediate future.

Mr. Dalyell

Since, in his first innings, at Question Time today, the Lord Privy Seal was bowled middle stump by my hon. Friend the Member for Waltham Forest (Mr. Deakins), on the issue of the powers of the European Parliament, would he like to answer, in his second innings, the question that was put to him? Do the Government fundamentally believe that the powers of the Assembly or Parliament should be increased or decreased? This is a matter of great consequence.

Sir I. Gilmour

If I was bowled, it is merely because the hon. Gentleman's question, with all respect, did not admit of a sensible answer. There was no way that it could be answered sensibly.

Mr. Russell Kerr

Bad umpiring.

Sir I. Gilmour

Bad umpiring, as the hon. Gentleman says. I give the same answer that I gave to the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston). The powers of the European Parliament was not one of the subjects that I talked about in my long statement. As far as I know, it will not be discussed in the coming month.

Mr. Grieve

Will my right hon. Friend seek to ensure that one of the subjects that could be profitably discussed by the Transport Ministers is the Channel tunnel and the contribution that the Community might make to a project that would be of enormous advantage to this country and, I believe, to Europe as a whole.

Sir I. Gilmour

As my hon. and learned Friend knows, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport is considering this matter now.

Mr. Kaufman

With regard to the discussion on iron and steel, will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that the Government will not agree to any weakening of the Davignon anti-crisis measures? On shipbuilding, will the right hon. Gentleman, in view of the extremely unsatisfactory outcome of the discussion on scrap-and-build at the ministerial Council on 20 November, ask for that subject to be inserted on the Foreign Ministers' Council agenda for next month? Will the Government, instead of simply commenting on and reacting to other countries' proposals, put forward and press positive and urgent proposals to help an industry in grave crisis?

Sir I. Gilmour

I will consider putting the matter on the agenda. I can make no promises. The right hon. Gentleman knows the attitude that we have taken on steel aids over the last few months. I see no reason why that action should change.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I must inform the House that I have an exceedingly long list of hon. Members who have indicated to me that they hope to take part in the major debate later. They will not all be able to do so. I am telling the House now. This is bound to control the number of hon. Members who are called to put questions. If questions are brief, I will call all of them.

Mr. Sproat

With regard to the fisheries meeting, will my right hon. Friend ask his right hon. Friend to find out from the French Government what subsidy that Government are paying to the French fishing industry for fuel costs?

Sir I. Gilmour


Mr. Straw

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that in the event of failure at the Dublin summit one of the sanctions that the Government must take is not to attend any of these meetings?

Sir I. Gilmour

No, Sir.

Dr. David Clark

With regard to the shipbuilding scrap-and-build policy, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Ministers responsible for that area have consistently and repeatedly, from the Dispatch Box, made a commitment to the scheme? Will the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that thousands of jobs are at stake? Will he insist that the matter is put on the agenda at the meeting in December?

Sir I. Gilmour

I am sure that what the hon. Gentleman says about my right hon. and hon. Friends is true. I cannot give an absolute commitment until I have consulted them.

Mr. Spearing

While thanking the Lord Privy Seal for attempting the usual arrangements, may I ask him whether he is aware that the Council of Ministers has promoted a regulation which will enable a £1,000 million fund to be made available for the development of atomic power and research? Can he say at which Council meeting this will be discussed? Will he also assure the House that, as the Scrutiny Committee has recommended a debate, the matter will be debated here before it is discussed and decided at the appropriate Council?

Sir I. Gilmour

I will give the second assurance, since I think that it relates to a decision rather than to a debate. I assume that the answer to the first question is the Energy Council.

Mr. Foulkes

Will the right hon. Gentleman ask the Minister of Transport to seek the advice of the German Minister of Transport when he attends the Transport Council on how the latter can persuade his Government to give to the railways a subsidy nine times the size of the subsidy in the United Kingdom? Will he see that his right hon. Friend brings back that advice to the Government to ensure that British Rail does not have to consider the options of rail closures which it seems still to be considering, in spite of the denial by the Minister of Transport earlier this month?

Sir I. Gilmour

I am sure that my right hon. Friend is always ready and willing both to talk and to listen to his German counterpart.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Will the right hon. Gentleman take the initiative at the Council of Ministers to ensure that the inequitable agreement with the third party of the Farces is rediscussed in order to protect the Aberdeen fishing industry? Will he also seriously consider beginning a discussion on the multi-fibre arrangement on which a great deal needs to be done to make sure that it is tightened up?

Sir I. Gilmour

I will draw what the hon. Gentleman said in the first part of his question to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture for the meeting which takes place next week.

Mr. Leighton

Since the right hon. Gentleman said that the next meeting of Agriculture Ministers is to discuss what I think he called the services in the dairy sector, and, bearing in mind the fact that the Community is currently spending £3,000 million on disposing of surplus dairy products, will he assure the House that he will protect the British doorstep milk delivery system and that to that end the Government will remain adamant in keeping out French ultraheat-treated milk?

Sir I. Gilmour

I can assure the hon. Gentleman and the House that the Government are very well disposed towards the present milk delivery system and that they have no plans to see it altered.

Mr. Shore

In view of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks in answer to my opening question, may I be allowed to assure him that we value these monthly statements on EEC business and would certainly wish them to continue, and that our scepticism relates far more to the nature of the business than to the value of the oral statement?