HC Deb 20 October 1982 vol 29 cc357-60
29. Mr. Hardy

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he last attended an EEC Council of Ministers meeting at which industrial matters were discussed.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Douglas Hurd)

The Foreign Affairs Council on 21 and 22 September, which my right hon. Friend attended, discussed measures taken by the United States against our steel industry and the Community's external regime for steel trade.

Mr. Hardy

As unfair competition is now killing off the British steel industry—and bearing in mind the dumping of steel exports by our European partners, as well as by the United States in recent weeks—will the Minister make it clear at the next meeting that contraction in the Britsh Steel industry has gone far enough, that the sweeping disregard for Community policies which our partners have shown can no longer be tolerated and that a necessary priority will be given to our own national interests?

Mr. Hurd

In supporting the Davignon regime we have made it clear that within the regime there should be fair burden-sharing between the different steel industries of Europe. As my right hon. Friend has said, our concern has been that the agreement negotiated between the Community and the United States on 6 August should be honoured. Since my right hon. Friend answered an earlier question we have heard from Bonn that the German Cabinet decided this morning that the deal is acceptable to it provided that z small number of essentially technical matters can be cleared up. We hope that this will clear the way for the implementation of this agreement, which is important for the British steel industry.

Mr. Michael Brown

I welcome the information that my right hon. Friend has just given, but will he recognise, as the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy) has said, that there are many problems within the Community that have an effect on the British Steel Corporation? What representations will my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary be making at the next meeting to ensure that the main culprits within the Community who do not observe the Davignon proposals are brought to book?

Mr. Hurd

It is true that the British Steel Corporation started its restructering and contraction before most of our partners' steel industries. That happened because it had to take that action. There is no doubt that recently other EC States have initiated capacity reductions, and it is clear that these are causing them difficulties. In the first seven months of 1982 British steel production rose by 1 per cent. and total EC production fell by 3 per cent.

Mr. Heffer

The decision of the Bonn Government is welcome news, but is the Minister aware that steel imports have increased by 40 per cent. in the past 12 months and that we get 67 per cent. of our steel imports from EEC countries? As my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy) said, a part of our imports comes from dumping. Surely the Government must face these facts if they are to save our steel industry. Do they understand that the House and the country will be interested to know what precise proposals they have to deal with the problem?

Mr. Hurd

There is no doubt that without the Davignon plan our steel industry would be in a worse state and job losses would be greater. If there is evidence of unfair competition either from within the Community or outside, we shall act upon it.

Mr. Hardy

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the grossly unsatisfactory nature of the Minister's answer, I give notice diat I shall seek to raise this matter on the Adjournment at the earliest opportunity.

30. Mr. Tilley

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what subjects he expects will be discussed at the next meeting of the EEC Council of Ministers.

Mr. Pym

I expect the next meeting of the Council of Foreign Affairs Ministers on 25 and 26 October to discuss the payment of our 1982 budget refunds and the Community's relations with the United States and with Japan. A number of other items are also likely to be on the Council's agenda. The Council of Fisheries Ministers is also due to meet on 25 and 26 October.

Mr. Tilley

Will the Minister confirm that if that or a future Council meeting decides by a majority that Britain should further betray the pledges made to New Zealand about access for its dairy products, there will be little that he can do except to surrender as abjectly as his colleagues from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food have done this week?

Mr. Pym

It has been possible in previous negotiations to reach an agreement and we hope to do so on this occasion.

Mr. Jim Spicer

When the Ministers next meet to discuss political co-operation, will my right hon. Friend stress to them the importance of Turkey to the Western Alliance as a whole? Will he ensure that we do not impose upon the Turkish people and Government any restrictions on their exports to the Community that will have a disastrous effect upon relationships? I refer especially to the Commission's proposal to lay an order within the next four days which will virtually wipe out the export of Turkish raisins to the European Community.

Mr. Pym

We regard Turkey as an extremely important member of the Alliance, and this subject may come up under the political co-operation heading. I imagine that this is likely to occur on 25 or 26 October. I shall keep my hon. Friend's point in mind.

Mr. Grimond

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that if there is no agreement on a common fisheries policy very soon our relations with the Common Market will be damaged? Will he make it quite clear to the Europeans that when the present agreement ends at the end of the year we shall be unable, in the interests of conservation, to allow free fishing right up to our shores?

Mr. Pym

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. It has been a long drawn out negotiation and the issue is extremely important. All Community members have agreed except Denmark, which has been unwilling so far to put its signature to the agreement. We are trying to secure the Danes' signature and every other Community member is trying to do likewise. This is because it is such a critically important agreement to achieve before the end of the year. We are doing all that we can to that end.

Mr. Guy Barnett

Will there, among the many subjects that will be discussed at the next meeting of the Foreign Affairs Ministers, be a discussion of the current attitude of the Governments of Italy and Ireland towards the United Nations' resolution on Argentina and negotiations with that country? Will it not make a mockery of any sort of political co-operation or common foreign policy if we have members of the EEC voting all over the place in the General Assembly?

Mr. Pym

Strictly speaking that is not a Community matter. However, on a number of occasions, including last weekend, I have raised it with our partners in Europe. I have made the case, which to us is overwhelming, for not supporting the Latin American resolution. It is a hypocritical resolution and is unacceptable. I hope very much that it will not attract support.

Mr. Dorrell

Will my right hon. Friend take the opportunity at the next Council meeting to stress the importance that the British Government attach to the community maintaining its commitment to a liberal trading regime around the world? Will he take steps to try to ensure that reality reflects the rhetoric and that we do not retreat into a sort of creeping protectionism, in which liberal trading dies the death of a thousand cuts?

Mr. Pym

The open trading system is extremely important to us and to the Community. We shall approach the GAIT ministerial meeting in that spirit. We hope that every other country will do likewise. We shall do everything that we can to preserve the system.

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