HL Deb 30 June 1977 vol 384 cc1231-9

3.44 p.m.

The LORD PRIVY SEAL (Lord Peart)

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now repeat a Statement being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. The Statement is as follows:

"With permission I should like to make a short Statement on the meeting which concluded at lunch-time today of the European Council. Two Statements have been issued on growth, inflation and unemployment and on the Middle East and both have been placed in the Library of the House.

"The European Council reviewed economic developments since our meeting in Rome and recognised the need for a sustained expansion of world economic activity consistent with a further reduction of the rate of inflation and of unemployment.

"Unemployment was a leading theme of our discussions, particularly employment of young people and of women and I was able to report to the other Heads of Government details of the Youth Opportunities Programme which was announced to the House yesterday by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Employment. This initiative was very much welcomed.

"Following the last European Council I wrote to the Chairman of the Governors of the European Investment Bank asking for proposals from the Bank to promote investment and employment. I reported to the Council that in reply the Chairman has given a positive indication of an immediate expansion in the Bank's activities which could lead to lending within the Community of about £750 million in 1977 and £1 billion in 1978.

"Members of the Council emphasised the importance of the commitments made by some Heads of Government to the achievement of specific growth targets in 1977 and emphasised the need to promote stability and to seek expansion through export-led growth.

"We invited the Commission to study certain sectors of industries in our countries which are adversely affected by structural changes in the economy whilst adhering to the view that a liberal commercial policy was in the best interests of the Community and of the world as a whole.

"I was able to bring other Heads of Government up to date on the passage of events in Southern Africa, including an account of the discussions at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. It was agreed that the situation is growing in seriousness and the Foreign Ministers will continue to exchange views in order to achieve a concerted policy.

"There was a useful exchange of views on East/West relations and President Giscard reported on the recent visit to Paris of President Brezhnev.

"The Statement on the Middle East affirmed that all aspects of Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 must be taken into account and our Statement reflects the leading role which the United States has in promoting negotiations for a peace settlement. It was nevertheless the view of the Heads of Government that a Statement by the Nine at this stage would make clear our view of the need for progress in further negotiations.

"This was a useful but not dramatic meeting which enabled us to review existing policies and where necessary to adapt them to a changing situation".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.49 p.m.

Baroness ELLES

My Lords, I should like to express on behalf of my noble friends our thanks to the noble Lord the Leader of the House for having repeated this Statement. Having said that, I think it a remarkably unhelpful Statement and perhaps it is more remarkable for what it does not say than for what it does say. First, we are told that two Statements have been put into the Library of the House, so that at the moment we are not able to discuss them, although the full text of the Statement on the Middle East has been published in today's Press.

Secondly, I should like to draw to the attention of the noble Lord—and perhaps he will make some comment when he comes to reply—that there is nothing in this Statement referring to the siting of the JET at Culham. I understand, again entirely from the Press, that this was a major matter for discussion among the Prime Ministers of the Nine. One quite accepts that they may not have come to a satisfactory conclusion and, indeed, everybody accepts that it is a difficult problem for us and for other members of the Community. But I think that one is permitted to believe that it is extraordinary in matters of this kind that this particular matter has not been reported to the House.

I should like also to make a comment on the question of the renewed economic activity which was hoped for for Western Europe, bearing in mind that Ireland, Italy and ourselves have by far the largest inflation rates; and that combating inflation in countries like Belgium and Germany—and I understand that the rate of inflation per annum in Germany is 3.8 per cent.—cannot be of such major concern as it is to our own country.

Another point that I should like to raise is the question of loans from the European Investment Bank. I hope that during these discussions, and the programme that follows, considerably more loans from the Investment Bank will go to the private sector of industry in this country rather than the nationalised industries, as last year about 75 per cent. went to nationalised industries and only the remainder to the private sector.

Regarding the programme for reducing unemployment, I am certain that all noble Lords will welcome any positive policies which are going to help in the reduction of unemployment, and particularly in the field of youth unemployment. Again, it was surprising that in the Press there was very much emphasis on the fact that assistance would come from the European Social Fund in order to help this programme along. It is also surprising therefore that that was not included in a statement which is concerned with a meeting of the European Council of Ministers.

In conclusion, it is clear that a great many matters were discussed at the Council of Ministers' meeting this time. I am grateful to the noble Lord for having read a Statement which does not make us very much wiser. It is regrettable that the last Council of Ministers' meeting which took place in this country under the Presidency of the United Kingdom should be rather uninspiring.

3.52 p.m.


My Lords, we on these Benches would likewise like to thank the Minister for repeating this Statement. So far as it goes, it seems to be virtually unexceptionable. We can all agree with the proposals for increasing the promotion of investment by the European Investment Bank. We gather from the final paragraph that it was a useful but not dramatic meeting. Does that mean that if, by any chance, any decision had been taken, it would have been dramatic? But so far as I can understand it, no decision was taken.

More especially—if we can judge from the Press—no decision was taken on the matter which has been outstanding now for a year or two: namely, the Joint European Torus Scheme. That is wholly deplorable. Is the Minister able to tell us why it is impossible to get a decision at long last? And if a decision cannot be taken by the European Council, by whom can it ever be taken? I suggest it is no good referring it back to the Foreign Ministers—they cannot take decisions if the Prime Ministers cannot. Indeed, if I may be allowed to say so, this meeting was more in the nature of an amicable fireside chat, doing no harm but no particular good. Whether it was worth while assembling these Heads of State from all over the Community in order to arrive at no decisions is anybody's guess.

There is another Statement which I understand we have not seen, on Palestine. We gather from the Press that the Council came out strongly in favour of the eventual constitution of a Palestinian State. I do not know whether that is so: perhaps the Minister will be able to tell us. But, if that is so, is the Minister in a position to say whether, in the opinion of the Government, they should not proceed in the direction of the constitution of a Palestinian State until such time as all the Arab States have freely admitted that the State of Israel is a sovereign State which will continue to be in existence, and whose sovereignty and integrity will not be prejudiced, whatever the eventual agreement on boundaries may be?

3.56 p.m.


My Lords, I was rather surprised that the noble Baroness said that the Statement was unhelpful; I cannot be blamed for that, in any case. After all, when you have had a series of meetings and discussions at a high level you cannot cover in a Statement everything that has happened. A Statement obviously must be relatively brief. The complaint that I have usually had has been that Ministers, when making Statements, are too long and tedious. I welcome receiving a shorter and briefer contribution.

I was asked specifically about JET. I take an interest in that and this matter was raised earlier. This issue has been discussed. As noble Lords know, the main problem has been the choice of site. There are problems if the design team at Culham is to be kept in being, and I believe that a decision is urgent. That is the view of the Prime Minister. It has been agreed that Foreign Ministers should meet before the end of July in order to reach agreement on this issue. The next meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council is on 26th July. Noble Lords know that the question is whether the site should be at Culham or Garching. There have been difficulties over this. It is the view of the United Kingdom that a decision on the site should be taken on the merits of the case. We believe that we have a good case. That is important.

Baroness ELLES

My Lords, would the noble Lord allow me to intervene? I wondered if there was any truth in the newspaper statement that the offer of a site at Culham was connected with budget contributions. Was this just a newspaper red herring?


I think so. As I have said, my Lords, it is our view that the site should be at Culham. We have a long tradition of plasma physics research there. Noble Lords have taken an interest in that, especially the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone; he was once responsible for science and, I know, took a great interest in that. We are anxious to have the site at Culham; we believe that we can make a major contribution. That is not anti-European or anti-German in any way. We feel that we have a lot to offer in this direction.

The noble Baroness, quite rightly, mentioned about new economic activity. She pointed out the problems of inflation which hit us of course. She quite rightly compared us with Germany. This is a problem that we have to conquer here. Mention was made of the European Investment Bank, and whether more loans will go to the private sector rather than the nationalised industries. I cannot give a specific assurance on this; but I will certainly convey the point to Ministers who are responsible. I want investment to be achieved—especially as we have a mixed economy—in the private sector as well as the public sector. I do not think there should be any rivalry here.

I was asked also about the programme for reducing unemployment. Of course this was the theme that was developed by the Prime Minister. He felt that, because we have problems peculiar to our own country—urgent problems affecting our young people—this should be a major theme in Europe. This was taken up and I am sure that much will come out of the Community on this aspect as policies work out in the future.

The noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, asked one or two questions. He thought that the meeting was more like a fireside chat, a cosy chat. I would rather have that than some of the conferences that I have seen with other people representing our country at larger organisations in the United Nations. He will know, as a former ambassador, that often conferences which highlight things where there is controversy do not produce results. It is not a bad idea that sometimes our leaders can have cosy chats. I am sure that behind the scenes there were hard debates. I do not see why there should be this criticism of what has emerged from the Community. Some useful work has been done. Indeed, the noble Lord, lord Gladwyn, said this. The work was not dramatic; nevertheless, something has been done.

I was asked specifically about Palestine. A Statement is available in the Library. The emphasis is that we believe—and we have said this over and over again—that it would be a mistake to comb the Statement for novelty. Our purpose is to make clear our view of the need for progress towards negotiations which might lead to an ending of the tragic conflict in the Middle East and our support for efforts being made to bring this about. I will not quote from the Statement—it is rather lengthy—but we recognise the sovereignty of Israel. We also recognise that there is a problem which affects the Arab community as well. When noble Lords have read that Statement I think they will be satisfied.


My Lords, I wonder whether the Leader of the House would answer this question. He spoke of East-West relations being discussed with particular reference to Mr.Brezhnev's visit to Paris. Could he say whether there was any mention of relations with the Chinese People's Republic, in view of the fact that a European Commission delegation is proceeding there at this moment? Does he know the terms of reference of this delegation?


My Lords, I am sorry, but I do not know. When I leave the Chamber I will certainly try to get the terms for the noble Earl. Whether or not matters affecting China or relations with China were discussed, I cannot say. It was not in the Statement or the documents to which I have had access.


My Lords, so far as I understand the Statement on the Middle East which the Nine have produced at the end of this conference, I think most of us would be very pleased with it and I only regret that they did not do it rather sooner. Since we in Britain took the initiative which produced Resolution 242 which is to be the basis of the peace talks and the discussions going on, may I ask the noble Lord why, according to the newspapers, should we seem to allow France to claim credit for it. Why do we not speak more loudly of the part that Britain has played? was very glad that the noble Lord did not fall into the trap so artfully set for him by the noble Lord, the ex-diplomat, on the other side. It would be disastrous if we started trying to decide which of the steps should be taken and in what order. Resolution 242 has lasted for a decade and is now the basis for peace talks, simply because it took care to be even-handed on that matter.


My Lords, I am most grateful for the remarks of my noble friend Lord George-Brown, a former Foreign Secretary and distinguished politician who has been pre-occupied with Middle East affairs. I would accept that Press comments give the impression that France was the only country that had taken the initiative and it ought to be stressed that we, the British, have played a major part. This is an all-Party issue, and I am sure the House would accept that.


My Lords, after having listened to what my noble friend has just said, is it not rather difficult to understand why at this particular time, instead of emphasising the resolution which has been explained and made clear on so many occasions, and instead of appearing to deviate from that and from Resolution 338, consideration should have been given to the past timing of the Statement? Does he realise that there are a very large number of people like myself who are very disturbed by the report which appeared in the Press and which we feel will give encouragement to those who are determined to destroy Israel? Would my noble friend make it clear that Resolutions 242 and 338 stand, and that there is no question of anything additional to them?


My Lords, I will give that assurance. Indeed, if my noble friend reads carefully the Statement which is in the Library he will see that it sets out that the Nine have stated on many occasions in the past, for example, on the 6th November 1973, 28th September 1976, and 7th December 1976, their view that a peace settlement should be based on Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, and if I may repeat, on the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force; the need for Isreal to end territorial occupation which it has maintained since the conflict of 1967; respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of every State in the area—and I could go on repeating. I hope my noble friend will read that Statement. I have the two resolutions here from which it will be seen that there is no contradiction. We stand by our original policy.


My Lords, I am very much obliged to my noble friend. The Foreign Minister is much to be congratulated on having left the main responsibility for this somewhat ignoble and oil-serving Statement to the French.


My Lords, I cannot agree with remarks like that.


My Lords, I should like my noble friend to realise that none of us has yet had an opportunity of seeing the Statement. I was speaking about the statements which were made in the Press. It is important that the opponents of Isreal should not take advantage of any interpretation they put upon what has been said and given as a true report in the Press, which indicates that we are deviating in the slightest way from Resolutions 242 and 338.


My Lords, my noble friend has long experience as a politician. He knows the Press and that one cannot always accept what is said there. You have to make your own judgment when you have read the Statement in the Library.