HC Deb 15 April 1981 vol 3 cc316-8
32. Mr. Dormand

asked the Lord Privy Seal what the main subjects of debate were at the recent meeting of the European Economic Community Council of Ministers.

36. Mr. John H. Osborn

asked the Lord Privy Seal what will be the main subjects of discussion at the last meeting of the European Economic Community Council of Ministers.

38. Mr. Cunliffe

asked the Lord Privy Seal if he will make a statement on the April meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council.

Sir Ian Gilmour

The Foreign Affairs Council planned for 13 and 14 April was cancelled. I gave an account of the meeting that took place on 16 and 17 March in my reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-West (Mr. Butcher) on 18 March.

Mr. Marlow

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Question No. 36 refers to what will happen at the last meeting of the European Economic Community Council of Ministers. I do not think that my right hon. Friend's reply had anything to do with the question.

Mr. Speaker

Order. It is nothing new in this place for an hon. Member to be dissatisfied with an answer.

Mr. Dormand

Will not the right hon. Gentleman not agree that the most important subject for debate now is either the complete withdrawal of this country from the EEC or, perhaps more realistically, the creation of a much looser political association? In addition to the many other benefits that would accrue from such an association, would it not rid us of the CAP and of a powerless European Parliament, seeking to make itself more important by the expenditure of many thousands of pounds? Will the right hon. Gentleman note that those of us in favour of withdrawal from the EEC are as much Europeans as those who support our membership of the EEC?

Sir Ian Gilmour

The hon. Gentleman asks this question every month and I try to give him a slightly different answer. In some sense, no douby, those who are against the EEC are good Europeans. It is, however, a slightly odd conception. This is, after all, a major grouping of European States. To be opposed to it is not a very obvious way of showing oneself to be pro-Europe.

Mr. Osborn

There is, at the present time, immense pressure on the steel industry of Europe and upon the special steel industry of Sheffield. Have Ministers discussed the fact that special steels are being imported from the Community and elsewhere into Sheffield? Are they satisfied that the prices are genuine prices at home or due to dumping? What impact has the price of energy had on the cost of steel coming from elsewhere in the Community? Is it not important to find out the truth?

Sir Ian Gilmour

I think that all hon. Members would agree with my hon. Friend that it is a good thing to find out the facts and the truth. As he will be aware, the recent Energy Council set in hand work to try to find out how much truth is attached to the subsidising of energy prices. On the question of steel, a matter of crucial importance to my hon. Friend, he will be aware that there was a special Steel Council about a fortnight ago. There was further discussion at the informal meeting of Industry Ministers in 7 April. The Commission is now preparing precise proposals to phase out State aids to the industry and to promote restructuring. With respect to my hon. Friend, that is the main problem that the Commission sees at present.

Mr. Healey

Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that the Community is now running into a head-on crisis on the common agricultural policy, on the budgetary regime and on the terms in which the Community is enlarged towards the South? Is it not obvious that although Britain's relations with Europe are of vital importance both to Europe and to the United Kingdom, the fact that the summit conference spent the whole of its time in bitter and angry argument about a week's fishing by Hamburg fishermen off the coast of Canada, suggests that the Community has become a tragic farce?

Sir Ian Gilmour

I am sorry to see the right hon. Gentleman rather changing his line on Europe. He has normally taken, in the past, a rather more constructive attitude. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will agree, on reflection, that it is not true to say that the Heads of Government spent the whole time at Maastricht discussing fish. They did not. They spent a great deal of time discussing other matters as well. Only a relatively small amount of the time was spent discussing fish.

Of course, there are important decisions to be made about the future of the CAP, about restructuring and about enlargement. With respect to the right hon. Gentleman, to say that these are crises is an abuse of language. They are important matters that must be decided. It is, however, an exaggeration and wrong to say that the Community is in a crisis.

Mr. Healey

With great respect, is it not the case that, under the present budgetary regime, if Portugal joins the Community, as Her Majesty's Government have agreed it should, she will be making a net contribution to the community budget although she is the poorest country in Europe whereas Denmark gets a substantial net gain from membership of the Community? Putting this matter right is of immense importance to the United Kingdom. For the right hon. Gentleman to suggest that the problems that the Community will face on these matters over the next two years do not constitute a crisis is an abuse of language.

Sir Ian Gilmour

We can perhaps argue later about the exact meaning of words. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that these are matters of great importance. He will be aware that we are about to start the process of restructuring the budget. That must, and will, be completed before Portugal joins. Therefore, what I agree would be an absurd abuse if Portugal were to be a net contributor will not happen.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Will my right hon. Friend say what steps Her Majesty's Government are taking within the European Economic Community to formulate a common policy towards the constitutional problems of Namibia? Will not he agree that the Common Market countries can play a valuable part outside the United Nations, and also as members of the United Nations, in helping to resolve the problems of Namibia, a country that is vital to European and Western Nations?

Sir Ian Gilmour

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend's general proposition. As he will be aware, the Community, as such, does not have a great deal to do with Namibia. Three members, ourselves, France and Germany, are members of the Five and have been, and are continuing to be, active in this matter.

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