HL Deb 25 March 1981 vol 418 cc1172-9

3.36 p.m.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Lord Carrington)

My Lords, I hesitate to come between the admirable speech that my noble friend has just made, which I know your Lordships have greatly welcomed, and the proper congratulations which are due to him, but I would ask your Lordships' permission to repeat a Statement which the Prime Minister is making in another place and I shall do so in her own words. The Statement reads as follows:

"I will make a Statement about the European Council meeting in Maastricht which I attended on Monday and Tuesday.

"The discussions at the meeting covered a wide range of issues, both Community issues and those relating to foreign policy co-operation. There was no formal communiqué but a number of statements were agreed and the presidency on its authority drew certain conclusions. I have placed copies of all these texts in the Library of the House.

"The main themes of the meeting were the economic and social problems confronting the Community; fisheries; and Poland.

"On the first subject, all those present emphasised the need to continue the fight against inflation through the pursuit of sound monetary policies. We agreed on the need to encourage productive investment, particularly in the sectors of high technology and innovative enterprise. We all share the deep concern at the high and rising rate of unemployment, particularly youth unemployment in member countries. We determined to make the best possible use of existing funds and financial mechanisms, among other things, in providing advanced technological training and education for youth. The clear and unanimous view was expressed that short-term demand stimuli would be ineffective.

"On fisheries, there was an attempt to deal with outstanding agreements with Canada and the Faroes in isolation but the measures to improve the fish marketing arrangements which were offered as a quid pro quo did not in my view provide sufficient protection to our industry. I insisted and it was agreed that it would be much better to deal with these external fisheries questions in the context of an overall fisheries settlement, as we have been trying to do for so long. It was therefore decided that the Fisheries Council should meet on Friday of this week to try to reach agreement.

"In our view, agreement on an overall settlement was close in the Fisheries Council last December. If each and every member now has a genuine willingness to settle, it should be possible to find solutions. For our part, we are seeking early agreement on a basis which will secure the vital interests of our own fishing industry.

"The Heads of State and Government decided unanimously to confirm the status quo in regard to the provisional places of work of the European Institutions.

"The third main subject was Poland, where the events of the past few days had naturally caused us concern. Our message once again was that the problems of Poland are for the Polish people to resolve: any other attitude than this could have the gravest consequences for international relations in Europe and worldwide. So far as the economic situation in Poland is concerned, we expressed the readiness of our Governments to continue, in conjunction with others and within the limits of our means, to contribute to the recovery of the Polish economy thereby complementing the efforts of the Polish people itself.

"The Council adopted statements on a number of other political subjects. We took note of the progress registered so far by the Netherlands presidency in following up the Venice Declaration of June 1980 on the Middle East. We endorsed the statement made last week by the President of the UN Security Council in support of the United Nations force in the Lebanon, to which some of our European partners contribute. We pledged our support for any initiative likely to contribute to the restoration of Afghanistan as an independent, non-aligned and neutral state. And, finally, we congratulated the people of Spain on their defeat of the recent challenge to democracy in a country which in due course we look forward to welcoming as a member of the European Community.

"This meeting enabled the Heads of Government to have a businesslike discussion and to reaffirm their determination to work together in tackling the major issues facing their Governments".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

Lord Goronwy-Roberts

My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary for this Statement. We find the paragraph on unemployment particularly among young people vague and disappointing. Apparently, no progress has been made since the last summit in fashioning new and effective policies to deal with this scourge which is afflicting all member states of the Community. This is most disquieting as some members of the Community more than others have reason to remember what mass unemployment, especially among young people, led to in Central Europe in the late 1930s.

On fisheries, we must of course await the outcome of the Fisheries Council on Friday, but we should be glad to know a little more about the Government's intentions on the fisheries question. Today the Prime Minister is reported to have mentioned the possibility of a compromise. If so, can we be assured that the fishing industry in this country has been consulted as to the nature of any compromise which will be advanced at the Fisheries Council by our representatives? This is a vital industry to us and feeling runs very deep on both sides of the fishing industry in Britain. This island may be surrounded by fish, but it seems that it is even more surrounded by French fishermen.

This leads me to the point that we join with the Government in their apparent intention to stand up for vital British interests, particularly in the fisheries field, and in rebutting the accusation that our fishermen—or, indeed, our Government—are guilty of intransigence on this matter. We hope that a firm and clear line will be taken on Friday, a line which has substantially been agreed beforehand with the industry. The dispute over fisheries has gone beyond the question of fisheries itself, as reports today indicate. We are rather disquieted, if not alarmed, by the words attributed to the German Chancellor in an article published in The Times today which says: The Federal Republic agreed to a financial deal"— that is in regard to the budgetary adjustments in favour of this country last May— which caused enormous difficulties and higher taxation in Germany". Herr Schmidt is reported to have continued: I was deceived and disappointed. There is no point in such an agreement if one side does not stick to it". We should like to be assured that no pledge or commitment was made last May in regard to fisheries and fish as part of a deal over the budgetary adjustments. I myself do not believe that any pledge was given, but it would relieve our minds if the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary was able to give us that assurance. For our part, we repeat our assurance that we shall support every effort that the Government make next Friday and in succeeding Council meetings to safeguard legitimate British interests.

I turn to my final point. Those of us who, from the early days, have worked for—and many have fought for—the principle and the fact of European unity saw in political co-operation the main prize of such a unity. Is it not becoming increasingly clear from one summit to another that until we have a rational economic policy in Europe, the goal of political co-operation —the true objective of European unity—will elude us? I say this because part of the Statement refers to massively important questions, such as Southern Africa and the Middle East; they are mentioned as having been discussed, but not, I think, with the sense of urgency to which they are entitled. One has the feeling at the end of this particular summit that Europe must look at its economic arrangements in order to free itself from these repetitive disputes which keep it from its real objective of achieving effective political co-operation among the nations of Europe in the councils of the world.

Lord Gladwyn

My Lords, we from these Benches should also like to thank the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary for repeating this very important Statement. We note the quite satisfactory nature of the discussions on various social questions and on Poland. On fish —and here I differ slightly in emphasis in what I shall say from the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Robert—salthough, of course, everyone is in favour of our trying to obtain the best possible deal for our fishermen (no one would dispute that), I think that the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary might perhaps agree that this is really not the right way to run a railway!

As it seems to me, the Community will not work if everybody, in effect, insists on what he or she wants to achieve, even if in a minority of one. Short of things which obviously affect the safety of these islands, I do not think that any such attitude should be adopted by reason of the possession of a national veto.

Will the noble Lord also not agree that the Community is only likely to work in the future either on the basis of major deals, such as Chancellor Schmidt thought he had concluded but now finds that he apparently did not—which seems to me to be a perfectly reasonable way of proceeding—or on the basis of majority voting, save of course in cases which actually affect vital national interests? Clearly, this would be in the general interest, including our own, because if in some cases we should not be able to get everything we want, in others, for instance, in the CAP, we might very well get considerable satisfaction if majority voting was adopted.

However, as things stand, we can only hope that some reasonable arrangement will be reached on Friday at the next meeting of the agricultural Ministers. I might perhaps add that, subject to some agreed quid pro quo, I would doubt the wisdom of holding up the Canadian deal simply for the purpose apparently of inducing the French to be, as we would think, more reasonable. In any case, I imagine that all would agree that if we really cannot reach agreement, all fishermen in the European Community, including our own fishermen, are likely—in the long run, at any rate—to be very much worse off than they are at present.

Lord Carrington

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, says that this is not the way to run a railway. But the fact is that this is the way at present the railway is run, and if you are travelling on the railway, you had better operate according to how it happens to be run. I do not think that it is any good discussing that at the present time. May I make it clear—and I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord GoronwyRoberts—that there is no reason for any assertion that we have been intransigent about fisheries. Very far from it. We have been very accommodating indeed about fisheries, but there comes a time—and the time has come—when every country has to look after its basic industries and its basic interests.

The noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, asked me whether a commitment was made on 30th May last. The Council said that there should be an agreement on fish by the end of the year, and there would have been an agreement on fish by the end of the year had the French Government allowed it, because eight countries were prepared for the agreement to be made on the basis of the proposals which were made by Britain. So it was not we who blocked it. There very nearly was an agreement on 16th December.

I do not believe it to be impossible that there can be an agreement on Friday if everyone actually wants an agreement and seeks an agreement. There is no question of compromise in the sense in which the noble Lord spoke. The Prime Minister is saying that she believes a deal is possible which would be acceptable to everyone—to the French, ourselves and the other members of the Community. I feel sure that that is true. Of course, our fishing industry will be one of those who will have to be asked whether they, too, will accept it. There is no question about that.

The noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, is quite wrong when he said that we were unable to agree to the EEC-Canada fisheries agreement because we were putting pressure on the Germans in order to put pressure on the French. If the noble Lord looks at the situation he will see that if in isolation we had agreed on the EEC-Canada arrangement we would have had another very large tonnage of fish landed in this country, partly because of the strength of sterling at the present time. It would have been impossible for us to agree to any such arrangement unless the Commission were prepared to devise means whereby that fish did not come on the market, or at any rate there was a higher withdrawal price. This was not forthcoming and therefore it was not possible for the British Government to agree to it. I very much regret it, and I quite understand the disappointment that the Federal Chancellor has expressed. He has his political problems but so have we, and what we have to do is to find an overall settlement about fish which will be acceptable to everybody and which will get this out of the way for good and all.

The noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, talked about majority voting, and the rest of it. I hardly think that this is the moment to go into that. I would only point out to him—and I imagine that he knows this better than I do—that there is something called "the Luxembourg compromise which, on the whole, works extremely well. It is going to be very difficult for countries of the Community to give up their vital interests unless there is some sort of compromise of that kind which reassures them on matters which are of real interest to them.

The noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, was disappointed that there had been nothing very significant said about unemployment. There was a long discussion in the Council about unemployment. The social and regional funds of course already play a useful part in tackling unemployment—in a fairly minor way compared with the problem—and the Council has asked the Commission to give higher priority to measures to help advanced technological training and education for youth; and of course also for a co-ordinated effort to encourage the development of high technology which, in the end, is going to increase competitive strength in Europe and which will, although not in the short term, do a great deal for unemployment in Europe.

Lord Ardwick

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that those of us who still have faith in the European idea are a little upset perhaps at the slightness of the economic side of the Statement that he has made this afternoon? We all agree that there must be a fight against inflation. We can all see that there could be dangers in short-term stimulus, but there used to be in the Community even two years ago an idea of a concerted effort to deal with recession. There was the idea of a concerted plan of growth. Have those ideas been posponed, or have they been abandoned?

Lord Carrington

My Lords, I think that the noble Lord is mistaken if he thinks that there was not a very significant discussion about the economic situation. This took up most of one of the days. I also think that one should recollect that the idea of the European Council was not to make decisions. The idea, which was originated by President Giscard, was that the Heads of Government in Europe should meet twice or three times a year so that they could reflect upon the problems of the Community and other problems outside the Community and not take decisions, and not to supersede the institutions of the Community. Therefore, I think it would be a mistake to think that decisions are going to come out of the European Council, and I do not think that that is what it is for.

Lord Boothby

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether he is aware that at the moment the whole fishing industry of this country is a stricken industry? Can he give us any assurance that on Friday Her Majesty's Government will stand absolutely firm on the basic essentials for its survival, which include the 12-mile limit in its entirety, and certain special areas in the Irish Sea and in the Minch?

Lord Carrington

My Lords, I think that the Government have made plain what the noble Lord has said, that we understand very well the difficulty in which the fishing industry finds itself, and there are certain essentials for it. I do not want to go into what they are but there are obviously certain essentials. I would however say that I think it would be greatly to the benefit of the fishing industry of this country if we could come to an agreement, because there is at the moment enormous uncertainty. After the end of next year it is, strictly speaking, possible, according to some interpretations, for there to be no fishing agreement at all and for there to be a free-for-all in the North Sea with no conservation measures or anything of the kind. Therefore, a fishing agreement is really essential, but I of course give an undertaking to the noble Lord that the British fishing industry will not be abandoned. Of course not.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I am sure that the whole House and also the country will congratulate the Government on the firm stand that they have taken in defending the British fishing industry and its interests. But will the Government bear in mind in these crucial talks that while uncertainty is the enemy of all fishermen, and that all the fishermen in the EEC will want uncertainty to be ended, none the less the fishing areas, the fishing grounds round Britain, and particularly round Scotland, are the most prolific and fruitful ones because of conservation measures in the past, whereas the coastal areas off France, Belgium, and the other Continental countries have been more or less fished out? Therefore, there is a danger of the remaining fruitful areas round the coasts of Britain being fished out also unless there really is a satisfactory agreement.

Lord Carrington

Yes, my Lords, that of course is very much in the mind of the Government. Conservation is one of the issues which has very much been in the minds of all of us when we have been trying to negotiate this agreement. I agree with my noble friend. He will of course also accept that there are complications, like historic rights, which cannot be ignored.

Lord Pargiter

My Lords, can the noble Lord say what funds are likely to be available from the Community to deal with the problems arising from unemployment, having regard to the huge amounts required for the common agricultural policy?

Lord Carrington

My Lords, not, I am afraid, without notice; but the thrust of the noble Lord's question is clearly right, that if two-thirds of the available resources of the Community are employed on the common agricultural policy there is consequently less for anything else.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, is it not also right to remember that it is much more difficult to run the Community when all of the Community is in a state of economic recession, and therefore vital interests of each individual country come more to the surface and produce perhaps more clashes than would be necessary in time of prosperity and rising employment and growth, and that really the Ministers, and especially my right honourable friend, should be congratulated on keeping the temperature as cool as even the press have allowed it to be?

Lord Carrington

My Lords, my noble friend is clearly right, that if there is nothing to quarrel about one does not quarrel about it, and that would be a very happy situation. I hope that gradually we are removing the areas of disagreement in the Community. I think it is a mistake to over-emphasise one particular issue and to ignore all the benefits which have accrued as a result of membership of the Community, some of which are extraordinarily difficult to quantify and to explain. But the fact remains that we have to get these irritants and difficulties, and in particular the fisheries policy, out of the way because it is of very great importance to this country and to our fishing industry.

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