HC Deb 03 June 1992 vol 208 cc816-8
8. Mr. Gapes

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what the Government proposes to do during its presidency of the Council of Ministers of the European Community.

Mr. Hurd

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister hopes to catch your eye, Madam Speaker, to make a statement later today on the implications of the Danish vote yesterday.

Apart from those implications, the Government will have two main priorities for the United Kingdom presidency—the completion of the single market and preparation for enlargement negotiations. We will also take forward, from the Lisbon summit, the future finance negotiations now under way and develop closer relations with eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

Mr. Gapes

In view of the Danish people's rejection of the Maastricht treaty, which they clearly saw as more about a bankers' Europe than a people's or social Europe, what proposals will the Government bring forward to amend the treaty to get rid of the excessively restrictive monetarist provisions such as the 3 per cent. budget deficit proviso? Will the Foreign Secretary also accept his responsibility for the fiasco caused by the British Government's ridiculous opt-outs on the social charter and on economic and monetary union?

Mr. Hurd

I think that it would add to the clarity of the afternoon if I left questions about the Danish referendum to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister—if he catches your eye, Madam Speaker. Of course, the hon. Gentleman is right: the Community must work and develop for the benefit of its citizens. The completion of the single market and the practical measures needed for that are precisely in the interests not of bankers, but of citizens.

Mr. Burns

Will my right hon. Friend give the House a categorical assurance that during the British presidency and in the few weeks before that begins, the British Government will not agree to the renewal of Jacques Delors' post as president of the European Commission?

Mr. Hurd

No, Sir. Mr. Delors is a highly intelligent and dedicated public servant—[Interruption.]—with whose views on the future of Europe we sometimes strongly disagree. No commitment or decision has been taken by the British Government as to whether he should continue in his present office after the end of the year.

Mr. Skinner

Why does the Foreign Secretary not admit that the Tory Government's wonderfully laid-out plans at Maastricht have fallen apart? Why does he not acknowledge that the halcyon days of the Common Market are over, that political union is now off the agenda, that there will not be a single currency for all the Common Market states, that the European bank has gone out of the window and that the Common Market is crumbling? The sooner the Tory Government and those on the Labour Front Bench understand that, the better.

Mr. Hurd

I am only sorry that, by catching your eye now, Madam Speaker, the hon. Gentleman may have prevented himself from making those observations to the Prime Minister.

Mr. Rowe

Will my right hon. Friend consider, during the British presidency, the enormous importance of the north-south divide and the contributions that the Community and the countries of the Council of Europe, of which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will also be president, can make in alleviating the tremendous poverty in many parts of the world? That poverty is putting great pressure on the frontiers of the European Community as people seek to enter the Community to escape from the conditions at home.

Mr. Hurd

My hon. Friend is quite right. That is one reason why we hope very much that before we take over the presidency it may be possible to reach agreement in the GATT round. We are not so far apart now. It is conceivable that agreement will be reached; and, more than any measures of additional aid, success in the Uruguay round would help to solve the problems of the south to which my hon. Friend refers.

Mr. George Robertson

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that one of the most worrying aspects in Europe—and worrying to everyone in this House, including my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner)—is the rise of racism, xenophobia and right-wing populism which seems to derive from increasing levels of unemployment throughout the continent? Should not one of the top priorities for the British presidency therefore be tackling the growth of unemployment? Is not the fact that that is not a priority evidence that the Government who do nothing about unemployment in this country are encouraging a do-nothing policy throughout Europe?

Mr. Hurd

The best cure for unemployment is a recovery that is substantial and durable and does not fade away because panic measures have been taken too soon. The hon. Gentleman should also look at the experience of race relations in this country and deduce from that the importance of being able to keep in place effective frontier controls against illegal immigration.

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