HL Deb 02 April 1985 vol 462 cc134-42

3.35 p.m.

The Lord President of the Council (Viscount Whitelaw)

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

"With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a Statement about the European Council held in Brussels on 29–30 March, at which I was accompanied by my right honourable and learned friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary. I have arranged for the conclusions of the council to be placed in the Library of the House.

"This European Council effectively completed the negotiations for the entry of Spain and Portugal into the European Community. The Treaty of Accession will soon be submitted to the twelve national parliaments for ratification, opening the way for the entry of Spain and Portugal on 1st January 1986.

"The terms are very satisfactory for the United Kingdom. In particular, there will be quicker dismantling by Spain in the early years of its high tariffs on certain industrial goods, including cars, to the benefit of the United Kingdom exporters. There will be no detriment to our fishing industry: no reductions in the important quotas available to British fishermen and no new access for Spanish fishing boats to the North Sea fishing grounds. There will be a full opportunity for the House to consider these points when the Act of Accession is presented for ratification.

"The European Council also agreed on the financing of what are called integrated Mediterranean programmes over a period of seven years to help the Mediterranean member states adjust to the effects of enlargement on their own economies. A total additional amount of 1.6 billion ecu [about £950 million] will be made available for these programmes. As a result of the Fontainebleau agreement, the United Kingdom financing share will be some 7 per cent. less than £10 million a year. The poorer Mediterranean areas will also benefit from the structural funds and from 2.5 billion ecu of loans from the European Investment Bank.

"We had a full discussion of the economic situation with particular reference to the creation of enterprise and jobs and the achievement of a single large market by 1992. In the course of this I proposed, first, that the European Council should cut the burden of bureaucracy on businesses by reducing the number of existing Community rules and regulations; and should scrutinise any proposed new community legislation with regard to its effect on business. Secondly, we were all greatly concerned to moderate labour costs and remove restrictive practices, especially with regard to new technology.

"The United Kingdom's initiative was widely welcomed in the European Council and is reflected in the conclusions. The Commission has been asked to follow it through.

"We also broadly endorsed the first report of the Committee on Citizens' Europe. This contains a number of specific proposals for easier movement across frontiers, higher travellers' allowances, right of residence linked to proof of adequate resources, easier arrangements for road transport, and mutual recognition of qualifications, all of them designed to bring advantages to individual citizens. With regard to frontiers, I made absolutely clear the need to maintain strong controls against drugs, terrorism and illegal immigration; also that the completion of the single internal market does not imply tax harmonisation.

"The Council agreed the text of the revised decision on the own resources of the Community and I am arranging for copies to be made available in the Library. It will be submitted to national parliaments for ratification. This text provides for new own resources generally to be available from 1st January 1986. It also puts into law the Fontainebleau arrangements for abating the United Kingdom's contributions by reducing the amount of VAT paid over to the Community. It also includes the United Kingdom's 1,000 million ecu abatement for 1984, which will become available after ratification of this decision and without waiting for any general increase in the Community's own resources.

"The European Council discussed the measures to strengthen technology in the Community, in particular through mutual recognition of industrial standards and the opening up of public procurement to competitive tender from firms across the Community.

"We also discussed East-West relations, welcoming the opening of the Geneva negotiations, and exchanged views on the Middle East, Latin America and South Africa, where we expressed grave concern about recent events.

"This European Council marks the conclusion of a period of important decisions in the European Community: agreement on the entry of Spain and Portugal; agreement on the implementation of the favourable budgetary arrangements for the United Kingdom negotiated at Fontainebleau: agreement on the Integrated Mediterranean Programmes; progress on the environment, including the recent agreement on vehicle emissions; and the launching of an initiative truly to open up the common market and to reduce the burdens on business as a means of stimulating the creation of more jobs.

"It is a particular source of satisfaction to us all that 40 years after the end of the Second World War the European Community has further demonstrated in this impressive way its capacity to resolve its problems and move forward in a spirit of partnership and co-operation."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, we are grateful to the Leader of the House for repeating the Prime Minister's Statement. We on these Benches welcome in principle the enlargement of the European Community and we wish Spain and Portugal all success in their membership of it. However, if we are to proceed with realism, a number of important questions arise which I venture to suggest are not clarified in the Statement.

Is it not the case that both Spain and Portugal are far poorer than the other EEC countries? Will not that fact in due course accentuate the financial difficulties that we already face as a result of our own membership of the Community? As regards the 1,000 million ecus, which I take it is the old 600 million—the much heralded figure about which we have heard before—and the rebate which was promised to Britain at Fontainebleau, is it not now conditional upon a general agreement to increase the EEC's own resources and ultimately tied to our own increasing payments? In the long run, therefore, will we not be paying for our own rebate ourselves?

Will not enlargement of the EEC increase the already runaway spending on agriculture which already takes up 74 per cent. of the budget? The Statement is totally silent on this critical matter. Is there any guarantee that that percentage will be reduced in the 1985 budget? Will the grain, butter and other food mountains continue to grow while the world's starving millions continue to die of hunger?

The Statement is wholly silent, except once by inference, on unemployment. What practical steps were proposed and will result from the summit meetings about the overwhelming problems of European unemployment? Is it not now the case that there are almost 14 million people out of work in the EEC and that about two in every five of them are young men and women under 25 years of age? Why have we had only vague and, indeed, totally non-commital statements from the summit meetings about this matter?

As half of Europe's top 15 poorest regions are in the United Kingdom why were we not able to extract special help for them as other countries, such as Greece, were able to do for their impoverished regions?

Finally, on a constitutional matter, will the Leader of the House clarify the developing position on majority voting in the enlarged EEC?

Baroness Seear

My Lords, we on these Benches also wish to thank the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement and to congratulate the Government very warmly on the conclusion of the negotiations to get Spain and Portugal into the Community. There were signs that that might be unduly delayed and all true Europeans will receive with the greatest delight the fact that the Community is to be enlarged in this way.

It seems to me that we tend to take rather lightly the great achievement of drawing into a democratic community in Europe two new members both of whom not so very long ago would not have been able to take their place in a democratic community. Politically, this is a great and most desirable achievement. We on these Benches take the view that these political considerations—considerations, after all, which inspired the founders of the European Community—are of much greater importance than the minor issues, important though they are in their own place, which have been raised from the Labour Benches. Not for one moment do I deny the importance of the unemployment issue; of course I do not do so. We on these Benches have always given it the greatest attention. However, we believe that the developments that are now coming forward as a result of this will, in fact, in the longer run give very considerable help to the unemployed if we are prepared to take advantage of a genuine common market—and we have waited far too long for the Community to become a genuine market.

We welcome the opening up that is promised as a result of these negotiations. In particular, we should like to impress the importance of removing the obstacles to transport, which is one of the matters which has held up the economic benefits of the Community. We are very glad indeed that it has been possible to make the fishery arrangements such that the very long, drawn-out and difficult negotiations which had been completed relatively recently, and which have satisfied our fishermen, have not been disturbed. That in itself is a very considerable achievement. We welcome very much the speeding up of the recognition of qualifications throughout the Community.

All these matters will help very considerably indeed with employment issues. Perhaps we may hope that this is the end of the phase in which there has been a great deal of rather niggling and quarrelsome negotiation, and the beginning of a new phase of a strong Community able to advance the interests of all its members, and that that will have a political as well as an economic aspect. Perhaps as a start we may ask the Government yet again to reconsider whether it is not time to become a full member of the EMS. We hope that the Government will give favourable consideration to a much wider use of majority voting without which the Community cannot become a reality.

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, and to the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, for their comments on the Statement. Both the noble and learned Lord and the noble Baroness welcomed the enlargement. I do not think that I would be unduly churlish if I said that I thought that the welcome of the noble Baroness was somewhat more full-hearted than that given by the noble and learned Lord, and I understand that completely. The noble Baroness said that the enlargement was a great achievement. I believe that it is. No one—and here I would accept what the noble and learned Lord has said—would imagine that this can be achieved without a considerable number of problems because, of course, it is true that the integration of Spain and Portugal into the wider Community, bearing in mind the particular economies of Spa in and Portugal, will create problems. However, that is all the more reason for saying that it was a great achievement to have reached an agreement at this stage on the enlargement, and an agreement, as the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, has said, which safeguards the position of our fishermen, which I think is extremely important in connection with Spain. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for what she said.

I also note that she said that she hoped this was the end of quarrelsome and tiresome negotiations. I think I can say to her that certainly the arguments that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and my right honourable and learned friend the Foreign Secretary have conducted over the recent negotiations have borne fruit in that Britain's position has been properly safeguarded, and I would agree with her in hoping that we can look forward to a more constructive period in the future, now that I think that one is entitled to say that some of the very fair requirements of this country have indeed been met.

As for our membership of the EMS, I am always instructed that it is correct to say on behalf of the Treasury that we will join at the most appropriate time; and I am sure that that is the right thing to say. In regard to the majority voting, I am grateful for what the noble Baroness said about qualifications. At this stage, I have nothing more to say about majority voting.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, suggested that Spain and Portugal were far poorer. But I think the arrangements with Spain, particularly in regard to her exports to this country and the opportunities we shall have to get into the Spanish market, are important for this country, particularly for the motor industry. There is certainly the problem of Portugese agriculture, which will have to be phased in over a longer period. I do not think that anyone denies that that is indeed arranged in the agreement.

In relation to the runaway expenditure on agriculture, one of the problems over recent times—almost more than anything else—has certainly been the problem of the Mediterranean countries. This, to some extent at least, is taken care of in the agreement. The noble and learned Lord referred to the position on unemployment. I think it is fair to say that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister made clear many of the needs which in Europe are required to be met to provide a more successful employment position for all the countries concerned; that is reflected in the Statement and indeed in the Community.

The noble and learned Lord referred to the United Kingdom's position and its benefits from the Community's structural fund. I think it is fair to point out that over the past year the regional fund, for example, has contributed £1,236 million to the United Kingdom. The social fund has contributed £1,245 million to the United Kingdom. The commitment to the United Kingdom in 1984 for the social fund is £352.8 million, and for the regional fund £371 million. These are surely important figures, and I am sure that the noble and learned Lord will agree that they are very valuable.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, I should like to ask my noble friend one question arising out of what I know the House realises is an historic Statement and one which is of particular appeal to some of us in as much as it brings into the Community Portugal, our oldest ally. My question relates to the problem posed by the size—larger, I understand, than that of the whole of the rest of the Community put together—of the Spanish fishing fleet.

My noble friend was explicit that the Spanish fishing fleet would not be allowed to fish in the North Sea. Can he clear up whether other important fishing grounds for the British fishing industry, such as those off the West Coast of Scotland or off South-West England, will be open to the competition of this enormous fishing fleet? In particular, could he say what waters are being opened to the Spanish fishing fleet which were not opened to them prior to the conclusion of this agreement?

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I believe I can go some way to satisfy my noble friend, though perhaps not the whole way. I understand that the Spanish vessels will be subject to strict limits on the number of boats-150 actually fishing at any time. There will be strict reporting and monitoring requirements, and access only to those species controlled by TAC and quota under the CFP for which Spain receives quotas under the EEC/Spain fisheries agreement. I understand that these refer to some fish with which I am not particularly well acquainted: hake, monk, megrim and anchovy. There will be no access to the North Sea. All this is to endure for the full duration of the CFP; that is, until 2002.

The Irish box—this is why I cannot go further for my noble friend—the exclusion zone, including the Irish and Celtic seas, is to last for 10 years. British fishing effort is not to be affected. Arrangements for Spanish fishing are to be reviewed in 1993 after existing mid-term review of the common fisheries policy in 1992, but no change will take place without the council's agreement. I think that, looked at on the whole, although it may not satisfy my noble friend in all particulars, this represents a pretty satisfactory agreement from the point of view of our fishermen.

3.55 p.m.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, will the noble Viscount, at some time—not necessarily this afternoon—publish the calculations, the actual figures, which lead to the statement he has made that as a result of the Fontainebleau agreement less than 10 million extra expenditure a year will be incurred by the Treasury in respect of the admission of Greece? In order that the matter may be reviewed in its correct perspective and in view of the fact that, as he has now said, matters are settled, will he publish a revised Treasury estimate as to what the total net burden on the British taxpayer will be for the year 1985, following not only these negotiations but the Fontainebleau agreements, so that we all know exactly where we stand financially and may judge whether or not we are getting, to use the Government's own words, value for money?

Will the noble Viscount confirm that owing to the provisions of Article 2 of the Fontainebleau agreement it will no longer be possible to apply the Luxembourg convention veto on agricultural expenditure? In view of the application now of the qualified majority it will be quite impossible for the United Kingdom to exercise any decisive influence in the control of agricultural expenditure in the Community.

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, on the first two points that the noble Lord raises about publishing various figures, of course I shall consult with my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but if the Statement made by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister says, As a result of the Fontainebleau agreement, the United Kingdom financing share will be some 7 per cent., less than million a year", I would hope that in fact the noble Lord would accept that.

I can only tell your Lordships that it has been put in my right honourable friend's Statement. The noble Lord will probably know as well as I do, in regard to Governments, that something would not be put in the Statement unless it had been extremely carefully checked. Therefore, I do not see why it should be reinforced by another statement of the finances. As for the noble Lord's second point, I cannot answer that. I am sure it is a trick question. I think the greatest answer, in answer to trick questions—

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

Tut, tut.

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, the noble Lord "Tut, tuts", but the fact of the matter is that a detailed question about qualified voting and all the rest is of course a trick question, and I have been long enough in this game not to respond to trick questions.

Lord Broxbourne

My Lords, in regard to the constitutional point raised at the end of the questions put by the noble and learned Lord opposite will my noble friend confirm that any substitution of majority voting for unanimity would require amendment of the treaty in respect of the articles which call for unanimity, and that that would require the appropriate procedures prescribed by the treaty?

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I understand that my noble friend, who is a great expert in these matters, is quite correct. That is the position, as I understand it, and it has certainly been reinforced by my noble friend's statement.

Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran

My Lords, perhaps I may presume to preface my two simple questions to the noble Viscount the Leader of the House by supporting the congratulations offered by my Leader on these Benches to the noble Viscount and to the Prime Minister on this Statement. However, so far as I understood it, the Statement referred, perhaps indirectly, to two important matters relating to restrictive practices, and the noble Viscount said that the observations and the initiative of the United Kingdom delegation were well recognised and supported in these matters.

Secondly the Statement referred, perhaps generally, to the strength of technology. I had the privilege of being a member of an EEC working party know as CORDI WP 6, in which we considered the difficulties arising from restrictive practices arising from Articles 85 and 86 of the Rome Treaty. I fully realise that I have not given notice to the noble Viscount of my questions for, unhappily, I did not previously know the contents of the Statement. But there was this reference to restrictive practices, and restrictive practices have a very important impact upon international trade in the Community at present. The committee on which I had the privilege to serve made certain recommendations in referring to the strength of technology. I was a founder member of a parliamentary information technology committee on the matter, and strength of technology is of great importance to the industry of this country. Perhaps the noble Viscount may be able to satisfy me in due course if not today, on these highly important matters of concern to the industry of the United Kingdom.

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. I can best satisfy him by repeating what the Statement said about the strength of technology: The European Council discussed the measures to strengthen technology in the Community, in particular through mutual recognition of industrial standards and the opening up of public procurement to competitive tender from firms across the Community". That goes some way towards recognising both the points that the noble Lord has made.

Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran

My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Viscount.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, I must apologise to the noble Viscount for coming back again on this, but he did not answer either of my questions. My questions were not trick questions, unless the Government would like to revise their definition of a trick question by defining it as a question that "we do not want to answer".

The noble Viscount, as a distinguished Member of Her Majesty's Government, knows well the detailed contents of Article 2 of the Fontainebleau agreement. If he does not, he ought to; if he does, he ought to be able to inform the House. Moreover, unless there is anything particularly suspicious about the £10 million figure which he gave, what is the objection to publishing the calculation?

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, on the second point that the noble Lord made, I said that I would discuss with my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether it was necessary to publish any more. It is fair to say that if the Statement says in categoric terms that that is the position, quite frankly, it is the position. I shall read it again: As a result of the Fontainebleau agreement, the United Kingdom financing share will be some 7 per cent., less than £10 million a year". That is a pretty categoric statement. I cannot prove it, and, if I may humbly say so to the noble Lord, nor can he; but if that is what is said in the Statement, it is plain and clear and I do not think it should be questioned. However, if any further information can be provided, naturally I will discuss it with the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

On the other point, I think that I answered my noble friend Lord Broxbourne very plainly about the majority voting and unanimity, which is what I understood the noble Lord was asking about. If it was not, I am sorry, but I thought I made it clear that that was exactly the position as stated by my noble friend. I still do not quite see what further the noble Lord requires of me. If I was a little flippant in saying that it was a trick question, I would say that I have over a period of time become used to questions about particular articles and the rest being at least in the nature of showing that the questioner knows more about it than does the answerer, and in this case it may very well be true.