HC Deb 25 October 1989 vol 158 cc837-9
9. Mr. Yeo

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he last attended the European Council of Ministers; and what subjects were discussed.

Mr. Maude

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs attended the meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council on 3 October. Issues discussed included the television broadcasting directive, assistance to Poland and Hungary, trade relations with the United States and Japan and renegotiation of the Lomé convention.

Mr. Yeo

Does my hon. Friend agree that enthusiastic British support for rapid progress towards a free market for goods and services inside the Community should be accompanied by robust resistance in the Council of Ministers to some of the bureaucratic lunacies emerging from the Commission?

Mr. Maude

We shall resist bureaucratic lunacies from whatever source they emanate. We look extremely carefully at every Commission proposal to ensure that it is properly framed within the competence of the Communities and under the proper legal base. My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to our enthusiastic support for the completion of the single market, and to our pleasure that this is now broadly following a liberal approach of the sort that we can strongly support.

Sir Russell Johnston

Following the Government's enlightened decision not to sell the Hawk trainer aircraft to Iraq, have they taken the opportunity to follow this issue up in the European Council, with a view to trying to ensure that the Iraqis do not get the Alpha jet as a substitute?

Mr. Maude

I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman that that matter has been pursued in the Foreign Affairs Council, but certainly my right hon. Friend and I will want to reflect on what he said to see whether that is appropriate.

Mr. Gow

How much satisfaction is given to my hon. Friend by the prospect of one of Her Majesty's Ministers being summoned before the Court of the European Community to answer allegations about the condition of our drinking water?

Mr. Maude

We have every confidence that the quality and standard of our drinking water are exceptionally good. We strongly regret the action that the European Commission has taken. The Commission accepts that we are doing everything that we can to bring water up to the required standard. No one has suggested, not even the Commission, that any time scale more rapid than that which we propose is possible, and its action in taking infraction proceedings against us, as it has done against many other member states, is irrelevant and harmful.

Mr. Robertson

I welcome the Minister to the Dispatch Box on his first appearance as the Minister with responsibility for Europe. His predecessor, the right hon. Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker), was ditched because she showed a slight glimmer of independence of mind. It seems clear from his career that he is in no such danger. Let me bring him back to the subject of the social charter. Why is it, according to today's newspapers, that when even all the other Right-wing champions of the social charter seem willing to accommodate the foot-dragging views of the British Government, we will still not agree to the charter? What sort of Community does the Minister envisage when we stand alone so consistently and regularly against proposals that all our partners believe are essential for the correct working of the single European market?

Mr. Maude

The hon. Member must not be too fulsome in his compliments. I can tell him what sort of social charter we would find acceptable. It would be a charter that accepted the principle that the Heads of Government enunciated at the Madrid Council with respect to the principle of subsidiarity, which leaves as much as possible to the national practices and voluntary traditions in other countries. The present draft of the social charter does not do that. That is a matter of considerable regret, and we hope that there can be further changes that will make it acceptable.

Mr. Aitken

Can my hon. Friend explain why he did not resist signing the television directive, which surely has nothing whatever to do with the creation of a single market? It was condemned by the United States Government representative, Carla Hills, as being one of the worst examples of protectionism and anti-Americanism and fortress Europeanism, and it makes it mandatory for television companies throughout Europe to carry 50 per cent. of European content. This has nothing to do with the single market.

Mr. Maude

I can remember discussing this matter with my hon. Friend on another occasion when I was in my previous role. This is an important measure which does have something to do with the single market, because it prevents national Governments from erecting barriers to transfrontier broadcasting. It is quite an important single market measure. My hon. Friend may not have read it as carefully as others have. The formulation in the directive makes it clear that it is not possible for countries, the European Commission or national Governments to insist in all circumstances that over 50 per cent. of the programming is of European content. The United States Government made representations at a late stage in the discussions and the formulation that was arrived at was much more liberal than that which was proposed originally, to the extent that considerable embarrassment was caused to the French Government.

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