HL Deb 23 May 1973 vol 342 cc1221-32

3.56 p.m.


My Lords, with the permission of your Lordships, it might be convenient if I repeated a Statement which is being made at present in another place by my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. The Statement is as follows:

"With your permission. Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I will make a Statement about the matters discussed in the Council of the European Communities within the last ten days.

"The Council has met in four capacities during that period involving Ministers concerned with Foreign Affairs, Agriculture, Social Affairs and Energy matters.

"The principal matters dealt with were general policy papers produced by the Commission in response to decisions reached at the Summit meeting last October.

"These concerned: the next stage towards economic and monetary union where there was a brief reference to the joint float, on which the Government's position is unchanged; regional policy and the creation of a regional development fund; the Community's position in the multilateral negotiations under the GATT to be started later this year for the further liberalisation of world trade: the negotiations due to start around the 1st of August for new agreements with the countries now associated with the Community under the Yaoundé and Arusha Conventions as well as those with whom association is envisaged under Protocol 22 of the Treaty of Accession: the development of general guidelines in the field of social affairs: and the development of a concerted policy on energy matters.

"In each case the Council has commented upon the broad approach outlined by the Papers, copies of which have been made available in the Library of the House."

In our case, my Lords, in the Printed Paper Office.

"This now allows the Commission to proceed to a more precise definition of the aims of the Community in these fields and for the next phase of the work to go forward.

"In addition approval was given to an Agreement between the Community and Norway to provide for a free trade area between the two and to bring Norway into line with the remaining EFTA countries who did not seek membership.

"Further consideration was given to the development of a basis for negotiation with the countries bordering the Mediterranean.

"Progress was made towards reaching a formula as a basis for support for the production of coking coal for the steel industry.

"The purpose is to subsidise the production of coal of this sort by any member country for use in another.

"As the United Kingdom is to all intents and purposes self-sufficient in this product, the arrangement affects us very little, though it is likely to procure some small net advantage.

"Discussion also took place concerning the early convening of a conference with representatives of employers and unions to consider the proposals for a Community policy on social affairs.

"I should make clear that the Council's discussion of future regional policy did not cover the quite separate question of determining under Article 154 of the Treaty of Accession those areas of the United Kingdom which are to be regarded as peripheral for the purposes of existing Community rules on the application of Competition Policy to Regional Aids.

"This has been the subject of a number of separate discussions, including talks which took place yesterday in London between my right honourable friend, the Minister for Industrial Development, others of my right honourable friends and M. Borschett, the Commissioner responsible.

"It was made clear to him that Her Majesty's Government are only prepared to contemplate a determination which does not involve cutting back on the present levels and coverage of assistance available under the Industry Act.

"The House will be kept informed of developments."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement which my right honourable friend has just made.

3.59 p.m.


My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Earl, the Leader of the House, for repeating this Statement. It is right and proper that Parliament should be informed of what has been discussed at the Council of Ministers and for the Government to give as much information as they can on the consequences and results of those discussions. I hope that the noble Earl will appreciate that Parliament would be much more indebted if ways and means could be found by which it could be informed some weeks prior to such a Council meeting in order to be able to have some influence on the views of its Ministers who represent this country at the Council of Ministers.

May I say, in particular, that we very much welcome the agreement that has been reached in regard to the Community and Norway. Regarding regional policy, to a certain extent we are reassured by the attitude of the Government in that field. I hope that the noble Earl will understand that we on this side of the House—and I suspect Parliament as a whole—would not be prepared to accept the Community's being in any way entitled to lay down the classification for regional development within our country. That is a responsibility of Parliament and not of Brussels. I hope that the noble Earl, in regard to the last paragraph of the Statement, which lays down that the Government would accept a determination only in certain circumstances, will realise that what we look for in regional aid as a consequence of entry into the E.E.C. is the availability of more money and resources for regional development, and not less. I hope the noble Earl will take that point aboard.

In regard to the economic and monetary union and the brief reference to a joint float, I can understand the dilemma of the Government, with their great claims of a booming economy and great strength, because they are not yet ready to meet the wishes of the President of France for fixing the parity of the pound. The noble Earl can rest assured that, so far as we on this side of the House are concerned, we shall support the Government in keeping the pound in its present flexible situation until such time as a parity can be fixed that not only is fair to this country but has a real relationship to the economic strength of the various other countries in the E.E.C., and in particular the United States and Japan.

In regard to the number of subjects which were discussed by the Council of Ministers and are set out in the Statement, all these are matters about which we certainly should wish to have a great deal more information. We have had from the noble Earl only a statement that they were discussed. I certainly have not read my papers all that fully to-day, but I am not aware of what conclusions or provisional conclusions were reached, and I think the noble Earl as the Leader of the House will have to give careful consideration as to how this House can be kept informed of the progress of these talks. This may have some beating on the report of the Select Committee of this House. I hope that the noble Earl, in view of the importance of these subjects, will accept that it would be quite intolerable for this Parliament to go into the next Session without the proper machinery to understand and to obtain information, and without this House then being able to debate it, in adequate time, in order to influence its Ministers prior to their going to the Council of Ministers for the final deliberations.

The noble Earl said that the papers to which he referred were in the Printed Paper Office. I have not been able to check in the Printed Paper Office. I have checked so far as the Library is concerned, and I can only say that one or two copies of important papers of this character are quite insufficient for a Parliamentary assembly such as this. I hope that the noble Earl will look very seriously not only at ensuring that these papers are in sufficient number in the Printed Paper Office but at the method of notice so that Members of this House can be informed very early on of the existence of the papers. The noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir, has had discussions with me across the Floor of the House in regard to papers dealing with the Associated Territories—those territories which wish to have an association with the Community—for which Parliament has a very special obligation. This paper was printed on April 4. I got it by strange ways, but quite legitimate; but it was only as a consequence of letting the noble Baroness's office know that I intended to raise it in debate that it became available in the Library—


My Lords—


May I finish, my Lords? I think this is wrong, and I am not now being critical. I would ask the noble Earl to devise ways and means by which these important papers should become available to Members of this House, and that there should be a method of notification that these papers in fact exist.


My Lords, I did not wish to interrupt the noble Lord, but I wondered whether he could recall to me which Commission or Community document it was that had the distinction of being produced on April 4—my birthday.


My Lords, I suppose it was as a consequence of the noble Earl's birthday that he was not in the House to listen to the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir. It is a very important document on a subject on which the noble Earl defended the Government when we took the E.E.C. legislation through this House. It is a paper dealing with the Yaoundé and Arusha Conventions. It is an important document. If he doubts it, he should speak to the noble Baroness.


My Lords, I should like to join in thanking the noble Earl for repeating this Statement and to make one or two brief comments. There are a number of proposals which I welcome, including the proposed convening of a conference of representatives of employers and unions to consider social affairs. On the carrying out of the aims of the Community, I wonder whether the noble Earl can give us any idea of the timetable. The noble Earl said that the result of the meeting will allow the Commission to proceed to a more precise definition of the aims of the Community … and for the next phase of the work to go forward. This includes many important matters such as regional policy and the creation of a Regional Development Fund and policy on energy matters. Is it possible to give any indication as to how long this next phase is going to take?

On energy, there are, as the noble Earl is aware, reports in the Press to-day about differences between members of the different member countries of the E.E.C. on energy matters. Are these differences going to hold up the achieving of an agreed policy on energy?—because that is obviously very important. On the last part of the Statement, I note that the Government are opposed to any cutting back on the present levels of coverage and assistance available under the Industry Act. Does that in any way conflict with the cuts that were announced by Her Majesty's Government on Monday this week?

4.8 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, for his considered comments on this Statement. I should like to say straight away that I very much share the general views which he has expressed about the extreme desirability of keeping both Houses of Parliament abreast of Community developments and, where possible, of giving both Houses of Parliament a chance of expressing their views before Community policy finds its final mould. I would also agree with the noble Lord that this matter might appropriately be explored when we discuss the Report of our own Select Committee on Community Instruments: this would afford a good opportunity of discussing this matter. I should like to share Lord Shepherd's expression of appreciation of the agreement concluded with Norway. I think it is true to say that it is satisfactory both to Norway and to the members of the Community, and this is as it should be.

May I revert for a second to the question of information?—and I apologise for putting this, as it were, in parenthesis. I would also agree with the noble Lord about the need for us to keep a sharp eye and continuing look over the supply of papers bearing on developments in the Community for the information of noble Lords. We are, as it were, rather feeling our way here, and this is essentially a matter which we should work out by agreement around the House.

On regional policy, this of course falls into two contexts here. First, there is the Article 154 context, our own national regional aids, which as the Statement says was not discussed at this meeting, although it was discussed at a meeting in London yesterday at which Mr. Borschett, the Commissioner responsible, was present. I can confirm that, as we have frequently made clear, we do not envisage that the Community rules will lessen the incentives we are able to offer under the Industry Act. As the noble Lord, Lord Wade, will remember, when I repeated the Statement made by my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer two days ago he gave an assurance that the rate of regional support would remain unaltered.

There is a second aspect of regional policy, and that is the question of the elaboration, within the context of the Community, of proposals for a joint organic regional policy as a whole and also for the establishment of a Community Regional Fund. As I understand that, the present intention is that the Commission are due to produce specific proposals for the Regional Development Fund this summer. Such suggestions as they have made so far have been of a somewhat tentative nature. I understand that the responsible Commissioner hopes to table his proposals some time in July, and discussion of these proposals is likely to extend throughout the autumn.

On the question of the joint float, to which the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, referred, this is a matter on which it is wise to tread gingerly. All I can again affirm is that the Government's position, as stated by my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, on, I think March 22, remains unchanged.

Turning to the questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Wade, I should like again to welcome his brief comments—and I notice that he underlined the adjective "brief". So far as the timetable is concerned, I think this is somewhat complicated. If noble Lords recall the Summit communiqué of last October, they will know that it varies a little between different subjects; but, as I understand it. on the great majority of subjects the Summit deadline is for agreement by the end of this year. The process of consultation is now gathering momentum and. indeed, is more or less continuous. So far as the energy policy is concerned. which I think was discussed by the Council yesterday, I believe that this was the first discussion by the Council of this vastly important subject, and they have a long way to go. But I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wade, on the great importance of a common position on energy policy.


My Lords, those of your Lordships who visited Brussels and met the Commissioner for the Region, Mr. George Thomson, were impressed by the skill and devotion and energy he is giving to the task of creating a European regional policy. The fear in the minds of many people was that one of the possible sacrifices to be made when we went into Europe might have been the loss of some of our own regional policy advantages. It is clear from the Statement made by the noble Earl that at any rate we are not going to be worse off under the new regional policy. And is it not more than likely that we shall be better off when the new European regional policy comes into operation?


My Lords, these are early days yet, but it is certainly the hope and expectation of Her Majesty's Government that this will in fact be the position—and perhaps, prompted by my noble friend Lady Tweedsmuir, I might elaborate for one second on the question of the timetable. I think that a large proportion of the Summit items are due to be agreed by the end of this year; but, of course, the other end of the spectrum is the timetable for Union in Europe, which as noble Lords who recall the Summit communiqué will know, is 1980.


My Lords, the noble Earl will understand that despite my profound opposition to British entry into the E.E.C.—and I am unrepentant; time will judge who was right on this —I welcome any information that can be conveyed about the proposals that emanate from the Commission in Brussels. But the noble Earl will understand that what he has told us about the proposals is in a somewhat amorphous state and requires to be detailed. Are any of these proposals to be presented to the Parliamentary delegation who sit at Strasbourg? Members of your Lordships' House and of another place engage in debate on many of the proposals which are concerned with our entry into the E.E.C. Do I understand that these proposals never go before the Parliamentary delegation at Strasbourg?


My Lords, I recognise the sincerity and consistency of the noble Lord's position: he remains an unrepentant opponent to our entry into the Community. I remain un unrepentant supporter of our entry into the Community, and time alone will tell—perhaps a little more time than the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, was inclined to permit us at Question Time earlier to-day. I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, that the Statement which I have made, compressing four series of Council discussions, was inevitably rather—I would not say "amorphous", but "general in scope is the term I will use. But of course the noble Lord will find more detail in the documents which have now been placed in the Printed Paper Office.

With regard to consideration by the European Parliament of these various matters I think the amount of consideration varies from subject to subject, and I should perhaps not pronounce any obiter dicta on that particular point because I may get it wrong. Draft directives have to be referred by the Council to the Parliament, and then back again, but on the various types of Community policy documents, which are mentioned in the Statement, I am not quite certain of the procedures carried out: I do not think the same procedure obtains. However, in your Lordships' House we already have eight Members of the European Parliament; I hope we shall soon have rather more, and they will be able to keep us abreast of these matters.


My Lords, I should like to ask another question on this point because it is rather important. I shall not press the noble Earl for an immediate answer, but it seems to me to be necessary to define the function of the members of the European Parliament. Is their function merely to be to talk among themselves or to concern themselves with submissions made from time to time by the Commission, or are they to be completely ignored by the Commission? I think the noble Earl might look into this matter and on a subsequent occasion, perhaps in reply to a Question or perhaps voluntarily, he will inform Members of your Lordships' House what is the actual and definitive function of the members of the European Parliament.


My Lords, I agree that this is an important subject although it only tangentially arises from the Statement which I have repeated. But I do not wish to be pedantic about that. I agree with the noble Lord that this is a matter which we should look at, and in fact an opportunity has been afforded by the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, who has tabled a Motion on European institutions to be debated quite shortly. Obviously that Motion will be a good vehicle for our discussion of this subject.


My Lords, I do not wish to keep this discussion going—we have already been at it for 25 minutes. I do so only in the light of the noble Earl's answer to the last but one supplementary question, in which he referred to these particular documents. He is quite right in saying that these are early documents and, as such are not passed officially to the Parliament in Strasbourg. Not until those documents have been passed to the Parliament in Strasbourg will it be possible for this Parliament to receive them officially. Our difficulty as Members of Parliament is to be able to see these documents in their early and formative period. The noble Earl has said that this is important in order to be able to impress upon Ministers the views of Members of both Houses. And it is that area that I would ask the noble Earl to look into, to find ways and means of enabling Parliament to see these documents as quickly as possible.


My Lords, as is almost invariably the case, I shall be happy to fall in with the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd. I recognise that as he is a member of the Select Committee he has more expert and up-to-date knowledge of this particular point at this particular moment than I have.


My Lords, I do not want to prolong this discussion but the noble Earl kindly looked at the point I raised with him regarding one document in particular, namely, the report of the Energy Committee presented by M. Giraud to the European Parliament, references to which appeared in the national newspapers here the following day but copies of which were not available either in the Vote Office or in the E.E.C. office in London. Although the noble Earl has been good enough to write to me since then to say that copies are now available and that I have one, in fact I still have not obtained a copy of this document and I hope that better arrangements can be made on future occasions.


My Lords, I accept the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. The trouble is that one has to move with the speed of lightning to keep up with the speed of leaks in Brussels at certain times. However, our mechanical arrangements here can certainly be improved.