HL Deb 05 December 1984 vol 457 cc1330-6

4.1 p.m.

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement on the European Council of 3rd–4th December which is being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. The Statement reads as follows:

"With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a Statement on the results of the European Council held in Dublin, 3rd–4th December. I was accompanied at this meeting by my right honourable and learned friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. The conclusions of the Council have been placed in the Library of the House.

"The Council covered four main subjects. First, we examined the economic situation in the Community on which the Commission had submitted a detailed report. In particular, we discussed the creation of more jobs by: opening up the internal Community market for all goods, services and professions; defining European standards for products; and improving the Community's performance in advanced industrial technology.

"This has to be achieved in the context of—and I quote—'moderation in the evolution of real wages' and 'a pause in the growth of current public expenditure and a decline for several years in its share of GDP'. The Council agreed to set up a review of manpower policy with the aim of directing training to sectors where labour will be needed, of encouraging job mobility and of fostering enterprise, especially among young people.

"Secondly, the European Council reached agreement on the Community's position in the enlargement negotiations with Spain and Portugal. Two major issues had been outstanding: wine and fisheries. Both were satisfactorily settled. Unfortunately, Greece reserved her position on enlargement, linking it with a bid for more money for Mediterranean programmes. However, the enlargement negotiations will now go ahead on the outstanding issues and, we hope, be brought to an early conclusion, with a view to accession on 1st January 1986. The outcome will have to be referred back to the Council of Ministers, especially in view of the position adopted by Greece.

"Thirdly, we gave particular attention to further measures to relieve famine in African countries, particularly in Ethiopia. We agreed that the Community and its member states should provide 1.2 million tonnes of grain in 1985. This is a really major effort which the United Kingdom strongly supports. We appealed to other donor countries to match this effort.

"Fourthly, we had a preliminary exchange on reports from two groups established after the Fontainebleau meeting. These groups are dealing with Community institutions and with practical measures such as easier movement of goods and frontier formalities. The final reports will be substantively discussed at the European Council in the first half of next year.

"The European Council also urged the Environment Ministers to reach agreement at their meeting tomorrow on guidelines for the reduction of lead in petrol—a British initiative within the Community—and on vehicle emissions.

"Within the context of political co-operation the Council endorsed the principles for dealing with terrorism and the abuse of diplomatic immunity, which were adopted in September and are now being put into practice. We discussed East-West relations, stressing the importance of reaching satisfactory arms control agreements, and also the Middle East. In the discussion on Central America we reaffirmed our support for the Contadora process.

"Finally, the Foreign Affairs Council adopted the text on budgetary discipline, including the strict financial guideline for agricultural expenditure. It is the result of considerable efforts over a period of years by Britain to ensure the better control of Community expenditure and a better balance in the Community budget".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Viscount for repeating the Statement. We are very pleased that the negotiations at the Dublin Summit reached agreement on so many fronts. We note that the appointment of all 14 new members of the Commission were, in fact, approved, and that, of course, includes the noble Lord, Lord Cockfield. We, therefore wish him well during his tour of duty, as we do his colleague Mr. Stanley Clinton Davis.

The Statement refers in its final paragraph to budgetary discipline and Community expenditure. I note that at the Summit Britain was guaranteed a two-thirds reduction in its net contribution to the Community, and that there has also been agreement on a system to control the growth of the Community budget. We of course all welcome that. However, what has the noble Viscount to say about next year's budget? As I understand it, the budget as presently formulated would lead to a shortfall at the end of 1985. To what extent is the budget settlement dependent upon reaching an agreement with Greece over the question of development aid allocated to the—and I quote from the communiqué—"integrated Mediterranean programmes"?

I also note in today's press that there is a danger that the Greek demands for a very large sum of money—£1,500 million—in return for agreement to the accession of Spain and Portugal may well threaten the schedule for enlargement. Will the noble Viscount comment on that? While agreeing wholeheartedly that the budget must be held in careful check on all fronts, will he assure the House that the Government will listen to the complaints of all member states as they have listened to ours over the years? Is the noble Viscount confident that the dispute with Greece can be settled at the Summit in March 1985? Is there any danger that the enlargement programme, after so long a delay and so long a wait by Spain and Portugal, will be delayed yet again?

We further note the broad agreement on wine production, on industrial relations, and on agriculture. We also note that we have had successful bilateral negotiations over the question of Gibraltar and we have seen the announcement about the opening of the frontier. But many Gibraltarians remain anxious, as the noble Viscount knows, about the question of sovereignty. Perhaps the noble Viscount can say whether that subject was broached during the summit in Dublin.

The fisheries issue does, in the opinion of many noble Lords, present quite considerable problems. The Statement says that the issue is settled. Spain has a fleet of 17,000 vessels and if the fleet is retained at that size Spain will make up a large proportion of the total Community fishing fleet. Can the noble Viscount say what proposals are being placed on the table and what are their implications for our own fishermen, especially if the size of the Spanish fleet remains at its present level? The point is: is the size of the fleet to remain the same?

We hope that the remaining obstacles to full European co-operation will be settled as soon as possible. We welcome the agreement reached in Dublin not only on the question of budget and enlargement, but also on the questions of aid to Ethiopia and other drought stricken areas; on economic strategy; on political co-operation and foreign policy; and on dealing with terrorism. Agreement on those matters should be warmly welcomed. Not least we welcome the resumption of friendly relations between Mrs. Thatcher and Dr. FitzGerald.

Lord Gladwyn

My Lords, there are obviously many welcome features in this communiqué, more especially the perhaps rather unexpected agreement on wine and fisheries, which should permit the entry of Spain and Portugal into the Community on 1st January 1986. However, in common with the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, we should like to have details of the fisheries agreement, because it rather depends on them whether or not we shall be inclined to approve it.

The apparent temporary veto on the application of this agreement by Greece is, however, something which must surely be overcome, and overcome quickly. Are we to understand that if Greece should continue its veto it would not be possible to put the agreement into effect? And would this not suggest that, complete and invariable reliance on the unanimity rule not being the way to run a railway, the suggestions made in the Colombo-Genscher plan to modify the unanimity rule—which, of course, does not figure to any great extent in the Treaty of Rome, which we have all signed—will have to be adopted if, in the long-term, the Community is not to run into the sand?

The methods proposed for making the Community work more effectively so far as the economy is concerned seem to be satisfactory in principle, though presumably we must wait and see what actually happens in practice. Much would seem to depend on whether or not the group dealing with the vital question of frontier formalities reaches a satisfactory agreement fairly soon.

Finally, we would certainly congratulate the Government on having, it would seem, taken the lead in the decision to despatch no less than 1.2 million tonnes of wheat to Ethiopia and other countries affected by famine; on having given support to the Contadora process in Central America; on obtaining final agreement on budgetary discipline; and, indeed, on apparently having made some progress on ways and means of overcoming terrorism. On the whole, it was undoubtedly a very satisfactory council meeting.

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords for the welcome which they have given the Statement, and particularly for their welcome of the fact that there was a considerable area of agreement at the Summit—perhaps in marked contrast to some previous ones, and therefore all the more welcome for that.

The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, mentioned first the appointment of the 14 new members to the Commission. I should like to join him in wishing every success to the new commissioners whom we are sending—my noble friend Lord Cockfield and Mr. Stanley Clinton Davis. I am sure they will be very worthy representatives of our country on the Commission, and again I join with the noble Lord in wishing them well.

The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, asked about next year's budget, and particularly about the Greek demands, which could, on the surface, possibly hold up the accession of Spain and Portugal. I understand that in this particular field Greece has been asking for very large amounts. Both the Prime Minister and our major partners, President Mitterrand and Chancellor Kohl, agreed that amounts on the scale for which Greece is asking could not be provided, and there will therefore have to be further discussions about this.

Both noble Lords were anxious whether, by these demands, Greece would frustrate the entry of Spain and Portugal. I understand that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and the other leaders believe that the negotiations with Greece will succeed, and they cannot believe that Greece, although one of the poorer countries with problems in the Mediterranean, and although clearly anxious, would seek to exploit those negotiations to the extent of hindering the accession of Spain and Portugal in 1986. I accept that that is something for the future.

The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, asked for the position as regards fisheries. The details of the agreement are still being discussed by the agriculture Ministers, and no doubt further information on this matter will be available soon. I understand that the Community has established the position on the basis of which the further negotiations with Spain and Portugal will be conducted. The position which has been adopted will safeguard fishing stocks and the traditional fishing rights of the existing member states. I think that transitional measures can then be considered for the future.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, for congratulating the Government on the lead which they gave as regards aid to Ethiopia and as regards the Contadora process. I am equally grateful to both noble Lords for the welcome which they gave to a Summit which clearly achieved considerable agreement.

Lord O'Brien of Lothbury

My Lords, since, as I understand it, the German Government wish any decision on enlargement to be linked to the decision to raise the VAT ceiling on the Community's own resources, and since that latter decision will incorporate the Fontainebleau arrangement for the abatement of this country's contribution to the Community budget, may I ask the noble Viscount the Leader of the House when he expects the decision to raise the VAT ceiling to be adopted by the Council of Ministers?

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his question. The budget abatement system agreed at Fontainebleau is due to come into effect in 1986. The Community is also committed by the Fontainebleau conclusions to the introduction of new own resources no later than 1st January 1986. We therefore expect the new own resources decision to be adopted in time to allow these commitments to be met. In the meantime, the council recently affirmed its commitment to make available to the United Kingdom 1,000 million ecus, or £590 million, in respect of 1984 on the revenue side of the budget in 1985.

Lord Boothby

My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware that there is considerable anxiety among the fishing fleets, not only of this country but of other European countries, over the possible effect of a massive Spanish invasion of our territorial waters, which have been agreed by the Council of Ministers—Spain having the largest fishing fleet in the world? Can the noble Viscount give an assurance that that will not be allowed to happen in any circumstances, and that we have the necessary naval power to prevent it ever happening?

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I do not think that it would be in the spirit of the agreement recently reached in Dublin on many other matters if I were to respond to the noble Lord's last point. However, on the other matter, I think that the United Kingdom Government's approach in negotiations to safeguard our fishing position has been one from which we can at least take some satisfaction, although one can never be completely satisfied. As I said, these negotiations are bound to be continuing, and I can assure the noble Lord that our position will be very carefully safeguarded in these future discussions.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, although we must be relieved that this fishing armada will not be sunk, will the noble Viscount take account of the fact that a fleet of 17,000 trawlers is really enormous? With respect to the noble Viscount, it is not a matter of detail. If, as the Statement says, there has been a satisfactory settlement of the fishing issue, it is right to ask the noble Viscount whether the number of trawlers in the Spanish fleet has been agreed.

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I believe that my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture will announce the details of this particular agreement in the near future. I cannot give the details now, but I shall make sure that my right honourable friend gives them.

Baroness Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe

My Lords, can the noble Viscount clarify the position a little about the information given in the Statement on the reduction of lead in petrol and vehicle emissions, and the urgent meeting tomorrow of the environment Ministers? Of course, the noble Viscount will know that the European Parliament has not yet delivered an opinion on the Commission's Directive. We wondered whether he would be able to indicate to us the kind of line the Government will adopt on the Commission's Directive, and, if so, whether he thinks that agreement is likely tomorrow.

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness. I cannot give any definite answer as to how the discussions will go tomorrow. I think, so far as we are concerned, we feel that particularly in air pollution we have a good record. We are opposed to mandatory reductions at arbitrary levels, given continued uncertainty about both causes and effects of different pollutions. At the same time we aim for still further reductions in sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions by 30 per cent. from 1980 levels by the end of the 1990s. I think it can be said that in all these fields we are taking a considerable part and giving a considerable lead.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, I should like to put to the noble Viscount a question arising out of the discussions on economic strategy briefly referred to by my noble friend Lord Gladwyn. It was satisfactory to note that some time was devoted to this matter and that in particular it was considered that an attempt should be made to increase productive employment within the Community by extending the effectiveness of the operation of the Community market, by developing and spreading new technologies, and by spreading acceptable standards. However, these matters have been much to the forefront in the Community's endeavours for many years. Would the noble Viscount indicate to us whether any thought was given as to how these desirable objectives could now be accelerated in their achievement?

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I do not think I can help the noble Lord by elaborating because of course the noble Lord will appreciate that I was not there at the discussions. I can only report what was said in the Statement—that these matters were discussed and that considerable thought was given to how some of the, I agree, generalised objectives could be met. I cannot give the noble Lord any further detail as to how that is to be done.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Viscount the Leader of the House can help me on one point, which relates to the new measures for financial control? Can he say whether these measures will ensure that the Community will continue to be in credit and will not in future need to call on member states to make special loans to the Community, as is the case this year and as in fact will be proposed in a measure which will be laid before this House next Thursday?

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, it would be unwise for me to give any such undertaking. I can say only that the agreement that was achieved on limiting the Community's commitments and on limiting agricultural expenditure must be a step in the right direction. We hope that it will lead to no further demands such as have been made this year, but I could not possibly yet say whether the measures taken will necessarily have that desirable effect.