HL Deb 20 December 1972 vol 337 cc1114-22

4.18 p.m.


My Lords, with the permission of the House I should like to repeat a Statement being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster concerning the principal developments in a series of meetings of the Council of Ministers which have taken place in recent days. The Statement is as follows:

"These developments covered a wide range of issues, particularly in the fields of external commercial relations, agriculture and road transport.

"The three acceding countries participated in these meetings to all intents and purposes as full members.

"They were attended by several of my right honourable and honourable friends including the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Minister for the Transport Industries.

"The following were the main issues upon which the House would wish to be informed.

"First, in the field of external relations:

"Legal effect was given as from January 1 to the provisions of the Community's agreements with the non-candidate EFTA countries.

"Approval was given to the conclusion and signature of trade agreements with the Lebanon. Egypt, and I am very glad to say, with Cyprus, the last-named on terms which will safeguard Cyprus's major trading relationships with ourselves.

[Baroness Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie.]

"Agreement was reached to propose interim measures for countries of the Mediterranean with which the Community has agreements but where those agreements have not yet been adapted to take account of the enlargement of the Community.

"A negotiating mandate was approved for the Commission to institute negotiations for special trade agreements with India and Brazil.

"Second, in the field of agriculture:

"A regulation which provides very satisfactorily for the implementation of the special protocol dealing with New Zealand was agreed. This regulation makes clear provision to allow for the full quantities of butter and cheese provided for in the protocol to be sold into the British market. It also provides for an annual report by the Commission which will allow the Council to review annually the operation of these arrangements.

"Compensatory amounts for apples and pears were agreed which will replace our import quota arrangements on February 1.

"Transitional arrangements for beef were agreed. The initial United Kingdom guide price to apply from February 1 to the end of March will be about £14.20 per live cwt. for adult cattle, and about £17.60 for calves. The same price levels will also apply to the Irish Republic, thus avoiding any change in the trading arrangements between the two countries. Intervention arrangements for beef were agreed to be provided in the future on a permanent basis.

"Export restitutions for whisky are to be further discussed in the New Year with a view to adoption by August 1. These should be within the framework of an overall policy for the Community on alcohol, but if that policy were not finalised by the August 1 then the restitutions would become payable as from that date as soon as the policy had been agreed.

"It did not prove possible to reach agreement on the compensatory amounts for pig meat, poultry and eggs or upon the transitional arrangements for sugar. These questions will be taken up again in January.

"Third, in the field of transport:

"No decision was reached to adopt the common orientation previously agreed by the Six in relation to the weights and dimensions of lorries. As the House knows, my right honourable friend has always made it clear the United Kingdom found that agreed orientation unacceptable. He has undertaken to resume discussion in the New Year with a view to reaching a solution acceptable to all members of the enlarged Community.

"The Six decided to continue for a further two years their experimental system of bracket tariffs and multilateral quotas for the carriage of goods by road between Member States. We are not satisfied with the quota allocated to us for participation in these arrangements, and have made this known to the existing Members. A work group is further to examine this matter in the New Year and to report to the Council of Ministers in the spring.

"In addition to these matters, provision was made for the nomination of the President, Vice Presidents and Members of the new European Commission which will take office in January; for the appointment of new Judges and new Advocates General of the Courts of Justice and for the appointment of new Members of the Economic and Social Committee.

"The Council prepared the decisions necessary under Article 2 of the Accession Treaty to adapt the institutional provisions to take account of the fact that Norway will not join the Community on January 1."

My Lords, that ends the Statement.


My Lords, we are very grateful to the noble Baroness for making this Statement, but I am sure she will understand if I say that here again we have evidence that the way in which we are to participate in decisions taken in the Community machine are not going to be entirely satisfactory. Here we have a Statement which ranges over the fields of external relations; commercial treaties; agriculture, dealing with imports of butter and cheese, apples, pears and guide prices for beef; matters relating to the important product of whisky, and a number of other things—all made in one blanket Statement and without any real opportunity for discussion. I have a number of questions which I propose to put to the noble Baroness. I apologise in advance as I have had no chance of communicating to her what I propose to ask, and if she cannot answer I shall understand.

The first question I would ask relates to the treaties with the non-candidate EFTA countries. Are we to understand that these are the Orders which we approved last week, all of them dealing with the Iron and Steel Community? Have the trade agreements with Lebanon, Egypt and Cyprus been published at all? Have we been made aware of the contents of these treaties? It may be that I am just uninformed, but I should like to know whether it is possible to examine the contents of these treaties now. In the field of agriculture it is stated that: A regulation which provides very satisfactorily for the implementation of the special protocol dealing with New Zealand was agreed. Do these very heavy words simply mean that the terms which have previously been agreed on accession have now been approved? And when the Statement refers to: clear provision to allow for the full quantities of butter and cheese provided for in the Protocol does that mean that they have agreed to the phasing down of the butter and cheese imports into this country? The way it is put here would suggest that we have made a very good bargain. In fact. as the noble Baroness will know, there are many noble Lords on this side of the House who think it a bad bargain from the point of view of New Zealand. Are we to understand that an improvement was made, or does it mean the full quantities of the reduced quotas?

In the matter of beef I wonder whether the noble Baroness can confirm that the guide price of £14.20 per cwt. for adult animals (I speak from memory) is just about 50 per cent. higher than the price was in the markets of this country one year ago. On the agreement on pig meat, poultry and eggs, I wonder whether the noble Baroness can say whether the difficulty here was simply a matter of amount, or whether there is a question of principle involved.

I should also like to ask her about this vexed question of lorries. I read in the Statement, and I heard the noble Baroness say, that agreed orientation was unacceptable. By that is meant, I assume, that we have not agreed to the increase in the size. But can the noble Baroness tell us about this matter of licences. It is suggested in the Press that the number of licences for United Kingdom lorries, the laissez passer, or the permit to travel between one country or another, is smaller in the case of the United Kingdom lorries than for other member countries? Are we to understand that this reduced figure is a sort of punishment for not agreeing to the increased size; and what are we to do about this reduced number of licences? As I said, my Lords, I realise that to fire off a number of questions like this is in one way most unfair; but so far as I can see, it is the only way in which we can deal with Statements of this kind.


My Lords, I think that my colleagues on these Benches will find this account generally satisfactory—in some cases even more satisfactory than might have been expected. There are just two points that I should like to raise: one, the point about lorries, has been raised already, by the noble Lord, Lord Beswick. It has been represented, perhaps wrongly, that the recent French decision, announced this morning, to limit the number of our lorries is a punishment for our non-agreement to the Continental axle weights of lorries, which are considered much too large for this country. I suggest that this is not a punishment; this is the sort of bargaining which goes on within the Common Market. Perhaps the noble Baroness will agree with that. If the French cannot get their way about lorry sizes in this country, we have to accept something which is perhaps limiting the activities of our lorries on the Continent. That is some kind of bargain. and I hope that the noble Baroness will agree that there is nothing very sinister in that particular phenomenon.

The only other point I should like to raise is that I think it rather disturbing that it was not possible to reach agreement, as I read, on the transitional arrangements for sugar, with regard to which, as we all know, the Government gave important undertakings during the negotiations for our entry. I trust that this is not an indication that the interests of so many of our Commonwealth partners, whose economics depend almost entirely on sugar, will be in any way unfavourably affected.


My Lords, my noble friend told us that the parties failed to agree on the arrangements for pigs, poultry and eggs. This means, presumably, with regard to the compensatory payments. I wonder if, when my noble friend replies to the comprehensive list of questions presented by the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, she will tell us what happens with regard to the machinery for compensatory payments when these arangements are introduced on February 1.


My Lords, can the noble Baroness say what is meant by" regular supplies of butter and cheese"—and for how long? Have they not to be reviewed in 1974–75 and progressively reduced, as was stipulated in the terms that we accepted? Can the noble Baroness also tell us why Britain is getting only 99 licences? The Six are getting 2,060 among them, and Holland are getting 2½ times the licences that Britain is getting. If this is bargaining in the Common Market as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, then God help Britain!


My Lords, would the noble Baroness explain what she means by a guideline on beef of £14.20 a live cwt.? Beef to-day in our market is round about £18 to £19 a live cwt. Does this guideline mean a guaranteed price such as we used to have, or what does it mean?


My Lords, the noble Baroness mentioned something like this: restitution payable in respect of whisky. May I ask whether this covers something which will be to the detriment of the Scotch whisky industry and its exports, or to its advantage? I ask that question as one who never drinks it.

4.32 p.m.


My Lords, I will do my best to try to answer a long series of questions. May I say, first, to the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, that I agree with him that this is a" blanket Statement", as he called it; but the reason is that there were three Council meetings taking place over a period of two days, and as this House particularly is due to rise to-morrow it was felt that it would be for the convenience of the House to make a Statement at the earliest possible moment. Any formal agreement will be published in the Official Journal in English after January 1 when we accede as a full member.

The noble Lord asked me, first of all, about the agreements with the non-candidate EFTA countries. These were the free trade agreements, and the Council approved regulations which gave legal effect in the Community to the agreements between them in all these respects. He then asked me about the Lebanon and Cyprus and Egypt. In the case of Cyprus and Egypt, who have concluded adaptations, to take account of enlargement to the agreements with the present Community we have ourselves gradually applied the provisions of them, although in the case of Cyprus we shall continue the provisions of the Commonwealth preference scheme under the first stage of the agreement—that is, until 1976. In the case of the remaining countries with which the Community has agreements, we shall continue to treat them as we treat other third countries until adaptations of the existing agreements are agreed.


My Lords, I asked about the terms. Are they published anywhere?


My Lords, they are not as yet published; but I think I said that any agreements will be published in the Official Journal in English after January 1. The noble Lord then asked me about New Zealand, as did the noble Lord, Lord Blyton. I think the best thing I can do is to quote what was said by the new Minister for Overseas Trade in New Zealand about this agreement. He publicly recognised that the regulation implements the provision of the protocol in Community law. I am glad to say that he has expressed the New Zealand Government's appreciation of the good will shown by the Commission and the representatives of the Nine. The noble Lord, Lord Beswick, asked me whether the price quoted in the Statement on beef was not 50 per cent. higher than it was a year ago. I cannot give him an answer in relation to a year ago, but I can say that with these new arrangements we do not expect the price to rise more than very little. He also asked me about pigmeat, poultry and eggs, and why no agreement was reached: was it because of the amounts, or was it a question of principle? I am afraid it was a question of time, because when the Council were considering agricultural questions they only finished in the early hours of this morning. Therefore this will be carried on in the New Year.

The noble Lord then asked me about the size of lorries and whether there was in some way a link between that and the amount of the quota of the licences granted to this country; this point was also raised by the noble Lords, Lord Gladwyn and Lord Blyton. The Community were not prepared to accept the figures which were proposed by the acceding countries. It is apparent that some member countries do see a link between the various aspects of the Community's common transport policy. However, these issues are for the moment in abeyance until we are full members in the New Year. We shall then return to the charge and hope to get a satisfactory arrangement. The noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, asked me about sugar. This also was a question of time and the fact that the Council did not finish until the early hours. My noble friend Lord Nugent asked me about the compensatory payments—and I think he was referring to beef.


My Lords, I was referring to pigs, poultry and eggs.


My Lords, I apologise to my noble friend. I have just written down" compensatory payments", and I thought he meant beef. On that, the reply is the same as I gave to the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, earlier. The Council have not yet discussed this question because of the shortage of time, although I understand that it is quite usual to go on late into the early hours, as indeed Parliament does. I think I have answered the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Nunburnholme, on the guidelines for beef. Lastly, my Lords, I return to a Scottish question about whisky restitution—or rather, alcohol. I am glad to say that the interest of the Scotch whisky industry is fully taken into account by this arrangement. I understand that there are to be discussions on what is described as a new alcohol régime for the enlarged Community which are to be opened early in the New Year.


My Lords, I should just like to say that the apprehension I voiced about firing so many questions was clearly unfounded—I say that with deep admiration—and in future we shall be able to ask even more.


My Lords, may I say how much I appreciate those comments.