HL Deb 05 December 1973 vol 347 cc636-40

4.28 p.m.


My Lords, I think this may be a convenient moment for me to repeat a Statement that is being made by my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in another place. The Statement reads as follows:

"With your permission Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I wish to make a statement about matters considered in the Council of the European Communities since I last reported to the House on October 24.

"There have been six meetings—the Foreign Ministers met twice, the Finance Ministers twice, and the Ministers of Agriculture and Transport once each.

"My right honourable friend the Minister for Agriculture has already reported to the House on the meeting of Agriculture Ministers on November 19 and 20.

"At the meeting of Transport Ministers on November 22 there was a preliminary exchange of views on the Commission's recent document on the development of the common transport policy, which was the main item of the agenda.

"For the rest, agreement was reached on the substance of a measure of liberalisation in international road haulage, on a small change in consultation procedures, and on the need for uniform enforcement of the rules restricting lorry drivers' hours.

"Lorry weights and dimensions and the increase in the new member countries' share of the Community quota for road haulage were further discussed without conclusions being reached.

"The Foreign Ministers met on November 5 and 6 and discussed a wide range of subjects affecting the Community's relations with almost all other parts of the world.

"These subjects were further discussed at the Foreign Ministers meeting on December 3 and 4.

"Ministers have now agreed on the content of trade agreements to be concluded with Brazil and with India.

"The Council made progress on agreeing improvements for 1974 on the generalised scheme of preferences which it offers to imports from developing countries, and on its offer of tariff concessions to third countries under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade as a consequence of the enlargement of the Community.

"Further discussion took place on the mandate for the Commission to negotiate agreements with certain Mediterranean countries. In the expectation that such agreements are unlikely to be concluded by the yearend, a satisfactory understanding was reached on the handling of interim arrangements.

There was a detailed discussion of the main aspects of the Regional Development Fund to be set up by January 1, 1974, as provided for in last year's Summit meeting in Paris. This resulted in a clarification of the position of the various Member States which should help in finalising the arrangements to be concluded by the year-end.

At their meeting on November 9 the Finance Ministers discussed the progress of the Community's anti-inflation programme and the move to a second stage of economic and monetary union. On Monday and Tuesday of this week, the Finance Ministers agreed a resolution on short-term action against inflation. They also made useful progress in further consideration of economic and monetary union and agreed to resume the discussion on December 17.

"Opportunity was taken of the meetings yesterday and the day before to have an extensive exchange of views on the Community's current energy problems. It was recognised that the united approach to a political solution in the Middle East still constituted the primary field for Community action. It was also agreed that the consultative arrangements instituted at meetings in November should be maintained."

My Lords, that concludes my right honourable friend's Statement.


My Lords, I think I must thank the noble Lord the Leader of the House for his good intentions in repeating a Statement which really puts the House in an impossible position. I do not blame him. It simply is not possible, with a Statement full of so many pregnant but totally uninformative expressions, to discuss it at all; and since we have a very lengthy debate ahead of us, with a long list of speakers, I do not propose to attempt to do so.

There were a number of blinding shafts of invisible light which on cross-examination might have given us some answer about what was in the minds of Ministers on this, that and the other subject. I make no criticism of the noble Lord, because I am sure he would agree, as the whole House would agree, that we cannot go on like this, and that to-morrow's debate, which is so important for establishing proper Parliamentary concern and, if necessary, influence over what goes on in the Common Market, takes on an even greater importance. Therefore, I will ask the noble Lord no questions at all, but I thank him for his good intentions.


My Lords, I also thank the Leader for reading out this Statement, which I myself find singularly unilluminating. In spite of the good example set by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, I would ask one question, or perhaps two. What exactly is meant by a "measure of liberalisation in international road haulage"? Cannot he just tell us the sort of thing that is meant by that; and, if they have agreed on this point, tell us what it is? I resist the temptation to ask other questions, but there is one important matter which arises obviously. That is the statement about the possible setting up at the end of this year of a Regional Development Fund and the statement at the end about coming into the second stage of economic and monetary union. Are we to understand that these two matters are linked in any way, or is it still the Government's intention that the Regional Fund must be set up before the agreement on monetary union is forthcoming?


My Lords, I appreciate that the repeating of Statements in your Lordships' House is often unsatisfactory. It may be particularly so for those who are taking part in a debate, because it interrupts the flow of the debate. To-day I am repeating a Statement made by a Minister who was present at meetings in Brussels and I was not. Therefore what I can tell the House of those meetings is, of course, limited by the information I have been able to obtain in advance of repeating the Statement. However, there has been consistent Parliamentary pressure in both Houses for Ministerial Statements to be made after these meetings of Ministers; and it is in response to this legitimate demand of Parliament that Statements have been made in both Houses. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, that the proposal to set up a specialist committee of this House on European Community affairs (which we shall be debating to-morrow, on my Motion on the Report of the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King) may go some way to help achieve a more satisfactory situation in the future.

In reply to the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, I understand that the further discussions on the Regional Development Fund are likely to take place in Copenhagen when the Heads of State and Heads of Government meet there on December 14 and 15. Finance Ministers will still be working on monetary union, and I believe the House would not want me to enter into any exposition on what is meant by "liberalisation of international road haulage," even if I were in a position to do so.


My Lords, before we leave the question of discussions in Brussels, may I say that it is certainly very satisfactory to know that these discussions have been so wide-ranging. May I ask the Government whether we may take it that the functions of O.E.C.D. are still being made use of, seeing that so many of the problems which afflict us—energy, financial, monetary, resources problems—affect the Americans, Canadians, Australians, Japanese and other countries which are in O.E.C.D. but are outside the European Economic Community.


My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord that we do appreciate the valuable opportunities offered in operating through the machinery of the O.E.C.D.