HC Deb 06 July 1988 vol 136 cc1048-51
5. Mr. Anthony Coombs

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the European Council meeting at Hanover.

8. Mr. Brandon-Bravo

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the European Council meeting at Hanover.

14. Mr. Dykes

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the recent European Council meeting at Hanover.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said on 30 June, the outcome of this Council was very satisfactory. We have confirmed that the way forward in Europe lies in the creation of wealth and jobs. British firms will be well placed to take advantage of the opportunities that the single market in Europe offers.

Mr. Coombs

Does my right hon. and learned Friend welcome the rapid progress that has been made in the past year by the EEC towards trade liberalisation in accordance with the Single European Act? Will he confirm, however, that physical harmonisation does not necessarily mean uniformity of taxes and that the danger of full monetary and economic union is the possible loss of economic sovereignty to this country? Therefore, will any such proposals by the Delors committee be firmly resisted as being premature?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I should like to agree with my hon. Friend about the important progress that has been made in the Community in completing the single market, to the benefit of United Kingdom industry and consumers, Under the German presidency, which has just finished, more than 50 such single market measures have been completed.

Progress towards European monetary union has been a proclaimed objective in Community texts for many years, but any change in that direction that involved any major institutional change would require not only unanimity within the Council but ratification by national Parliaments, so the matter will be fully available for consideration over the many years ahead when it will be on the agenda.

Mr. Brandon-Bravo

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, in an upbeat statement last week on this topic, said that one third of the menu of things to be done had already been completed under the momentum of the. German presidency. I think I am right in saying that the next six months will be under the presidency of Greece, a country whose priorities may be a little different. Would my right hon. and learned Friend care to comment on that?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I certainly endorse my hon. Friend's comment that the national personalities and priorities of the member states vary from half year to half year. I expect that the six months that we spend under Greek presidency will be different from the six months that we have had under the German presidency.

My hon. Friend is also right to emphasise the large number of measures towards the single market taken in the past six months. Indeed, since June 1985 about 200 measures have been taken. For the next six months, it is important to emphasise that the Hanover European Council, with full Greek participation and endorsement, agreed four priorities for the coming months: opening up of public contracts; liberalisation of banking and other financial services; mutual recognition of standards; and progress on so-called intellectual property—trade marks and patents.

Mr. Dykes

With this harmonious and positive summit, and the fact that since the internal market campaign was launched by the Government the Commission office in London has been inundated with many more inquiries and expressions of interest by a public who are increasingly enthusiastic about the development of the Community, does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, as the member states get used to working more reciprocally in these legitimate areas with majority rule, this country would derive more benefit from that system of democratic majority rule that by insisting on a rearguard action to preserve outdated and anomalous traditions?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I must confess that I was exhilarated by the enthusiasm of my hon. Friend's question for about its first 85 per cent., but I was dismayed that a member of the Conservative party should dismiss traditions quite as brusquely as he did. We are able to achieve the proper balance between those matters. In the provisions of the Single European Act we have retained and stressed unanimity in cases where it is appropriate, but, under the British presidency, as a talisman of our willingness to make headway, more decisions were taken by majority decision that in any preceding presidency.

Mr. Rees

Were there any formal discussions about Northern Ireland between the Taoiseach and the Prime Minister in Hanover?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The Prime Minister and the Taoiseach had a meeting at Hanover at the conclusion of the European Council meeting and a short press statement was issued thereafter.

Mr. Tom Clarke

At its last meeting, did the Council consider the view expressed by the Iranians that, at the monthly meeting with European ambassadors, the only empty chair is that of Great Britain? Would it not be in the interests of dialogue that that chair be filled, and is not dialogue now important?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The hon. Gentleman will find that the seat that would be occupied by the British ambassador in Tehran is occupied by the Swedish ambassador, who looks after our interests there.

However, on the wider question, we discussed in the House last week the obvious desirability of being able to establish normal relations with a country as important historically and prospectively as Iran, but I went on to make very clear the need for Iran to recognise the number of steps that it should take—suspending the sponsorship of terrorism, according proper guaranteed rights to diplomats, treating prisoners in Iran in accordance with consular rules, and abiding by the provisions of resolution 598. Those are the steps that need to be taken if the revolutionary regime in Iran is to come to terms with the way in which it should live in company with other nations.

Mr. Corbett

What recent discussions have taken place at the European Council to secure the territorial integrity and independence of Cyprus and the removal of Turkish troops? Will the Foreign Secretary undertake to raise that matter with President Evren when he visits London later this month?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

We have certainly discussed the Cyprus question on a number of occasions, most recently in the context of the association council proposed with Turkey on 25 April, which did not in fact then take place. Certainly we attach importance to progress in Cyprus in response to the initiative of the United Nations Secretary General. Whenever either I or the Prime Minister meet the Head of Government or the Foreign Minister of Greece or Turkey, we raise the question on that basis, and I have no doubt that it will be discussed in the course of President Evren's visit next week.

Mr. Soames

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that the British Government are wholeheartedly committed to examining the possibility of the creation of a European central bank?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I confirm that the Government wholeheartedly accept the commitment, in the study established at the European Council, for the consideration of concrete steps towards the objective, reaffirmed in the Single European Act, of progressive realisation of economic and monetary union. Those words have been endorsed by the House and by successive Governments for many years. How far and how fast that requires us to go towards the establishment of a central bank is one of the questions for consideration by that committee.

Mr. Robertson

Has the Foreign Secretary noticed that the excellent Greek Government, on assuming the presidency of the Community, declared that one of their main priorities would be to press for social policies such as job creation, health and safety, retraining and sexual equality up to the completion of the internal market by 1992? Since those commendable policies were comprehensively rubbished by the Prime Minister at the Hanover summit, something which brought strong criticism from the German press, will the Government and the Foreign Secretary be supporting the Greek presidency in its objective, or will the Government yet again stand alone in ensuring that big Europe will be only for big business?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The hon. Gentleman retains one qualification—the ability to coin the odd phrase. The trouble is that the phrases that he coins have nothing to do with the real world. The European Council agreed on a programme of measures to be given priority in the months ahead. I have already identified them. They are measures designed to continue the liberalisation of the market in the European Community. The Community also agreed that the promotion of economic prosperity, and of economic growth by that means, provides the best foundation for employment and social measures. The unemployment rate in the United Kingdom is below that of the European average. Our percentage rate fell by 2.5 per cent. last year—faster than any other country in the Community. In the years 1983 to 1986 we created 900,000 jobs, which was more than the rest of the European Community put together. That is the best way to achieve the social progress that is wanted by all members of the European Community.

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