HC Deb 20 July 1983 vol 46 cc371-2
65. Mr. Hardy

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when next he will attend a meeting of the Council of Ministers of the European Community.

67. Mr. Roy Hughes

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when next he will be attending a meeting of the Council of Ministers; what subjects will be discussed; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Rifkind

The next regular Foreign Affairs Council is due to take place on 19 and 20 September. We will not know what items will definitely be discussed until nearer the time, but it is possible that the agenda will include European Community-United States steel, Greenland's application to withdraw from the Community and the regional development fund regulation.

My right hon. and learned Friend will probably also attend the special Council due to take place on 30 August to continue the discussion of the future financing arrangements of the Community.

Mr. Hardy

Will the Minister seek to retrieve the unseemly situation that has led our Industry Ministers recently to stress that there will be no further contraction of Britain's steel industry until our European partners fulfil their obligations to contract? Is he aware that substantial redundancies and contractions were being arranged in Britain at the very time when the Ministers' supposedly robust comments were made? Is this position not completely preposterous, and does it not demonstrate that our partners must regard Britain as an extremely soft touch?

Mr. Rifkind

The United Kingdom has made substantial reductions in the capacity of its steel industry. That has happened primarily because of our own assessment of the industry's needs. Those reductions must be taken into account by other Community countries in the light of the Commission's further proposals.

Mr. Roy Hughes

Will the Minister and his right hon. and learned Friend express concern and disgust at the present hold-up of investment in the British steel industry by the Common Market? Will he draw its attention to the fact that not so long ago it was turning a blind eye to expansion of the Italian steel industry while our industry, under its direction, was being cut to ribbons?

Mr. Rifkind

The bulk of the cuts that have been made in the steel industry in the Community have been made by the United Kingdom industry. Italy has increased its capacity over the past few years.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

How can the British Government support a further contraction of the British steel industry when the Government, out of their own mouth, have admitted that the British steel industry has cut its capacity more than any of its competitors in Europe? How can the Government accept that there will be a reduction in the duty on wines, which come from countries outside the United Kingdom in the main, and an increase in the duty on beer, which is a great and traditional product of this country? I ask my hon. Friend for an assurance that the Government will stand up for British traditions and British interests.

Mr. James Lamond

Drink British.

Mr. Rifkind

We are considering the implications of the recent judgment of the European Court and I have no doubt that my hon. Friend's comments will be taker into account. The Commission has submitted proposals for small additional cuts in the steel industry to the British Government. We are considering our response to the proposals and we shall take into account the considerations raised by hon. Members on both sides of the House.

Mr. Jim Callaghan

Will the Minister give the House an assurance that when he next attends a meeting of the Council of Ministers he will not agree to any increase in our VAT contributions to the EC budget?

Mr. Rifkind

During the Stuttgart summit my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister indicated that any consideration of an increase in the own resources of the Community could be considered only if the Community were able to accept a firm guideline on expenditure and to consider a proposal for redistributing the burden of the expenditure of the Community among the member states. We have said that if these conditions are met we shall be prepared to hear the reasons why other Community countries feel that an increase in own resources would be desirable. We would then proceed to consider the matter on its merits.

Forward to