HC Deb 25 November 1980 vol 994 cc318-9
Q2. Mr. McNamara

asked the Prime Minister if she will make a statement about her discussions with the Chancellor of the Federal German Republic.

The Prime Minister

I held talks with Chancellor Schmidt in Bonn on 16 and 17 of November. Our talks covered many international political and economic issues and questions relating to the European Community. They took place in a friendly atmosphere, and a wide range of agreement was established.

Mr. McNamara

In view of the tragedy in Italy, whence the right hon. Lady has just returned, may I express the sympathy of the House and the hope that the Government will do everything that they can to help? In the Prime Minister's discussions with Chancellor Schmidt, did she talk about energy prices for industry and particularly the differential between energy prices for British industry and the prices for German and Italian industry—which amounts to £10 per ton of heavy fuel oil—and its effect on the competitiveness of various countries in the EEC?

The Prime Minister

We were all gravely distressed to hear of the earthquake in Italy which has turned out to be even more tragic than we had first thought. We have been in contact with the Italian authorities who asked yesterday afternoon for a planeload of blankets and tents. A plane left yesterday with 5,000 blankets and 216 six-man tents. Another will go tomorrow if need be. We shall do everything that we can to help the Italian Government and people over this difficult period.

On energy prices, we await the full CBI report with the keenest possible interest. It can be misleading to quote average prices. I did not discuss the matter with Chancellor Schmidt, but I should point out that the biggest factor in electricity prices is the price of coal. If that goes up electricity prices will follow.

Mr. Farr

Did my right hon. Friend discuss with the West German Chancellor the EEC embargo on the export of grain to Russia? If so, did she express her displeasure at recent exports of about . million tons to Russia which were negotiated by West German companies?

The Prime Minister

We did not discuss that matter. As my hon. Friend is aware, we have consistently backed the request of the United States that we should not export surpluses from the EEC cheaply to Russia. We stand wholly by that attitude.

Mr. Dalyell

Will the Prime Minister accept from one who went in an official capacity after the earthquake at Friuli that the best aid is given within 72 hours? What are we doing about vaccines and medicines, which are urgently required? In particular, are the Government pressing the Commission to act under the system of chapter 59 payments for aid to disaster areas? We gather from Brussels that the funds are short.

The Prime Minister

We were in touch with the Italian Government to offer vaccines and medicines from the moment we heard of the earthquake. We were told that they are not required at the moment. If the Italian Government require them, they will come back with a request. No such request having yet been received for these materials, we stand ready to provide them. The Community is aso considering aid under its powers to see whether there is anything that it can offer. If necessary, it will make transfers out of the existing budget.