HL Deb 02 July 1985 vol 465 cc1066-74

4.14 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, 28th-29th June, 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 on the European Council on 28th-29th June which my right honourable and learned friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary and I attended.

"Some time in advance of the European Council the United Kingdom had circulated specific proposals for the development of the Community, covering: completion of the internal market, strengthening political co-operation, and improvements in decision-making. Texts of these have been placed in the Library of the House together with the proposal we made at the European Council on exploitation in the market of advances in technology.

"The meeting offered the opportunity for action over a broad range of these proposals and a number of important decisions were taken. The European Council decided that in making progress towards achieving the single internal market for goods and services in the Community by 1992 priority should be given to: the removal of physical and technical barriers to the movement of goods; a free market in financial services; a free market for transport; liberation of capital movements; and full freedom of establishment for the professions. These are the United Kingdom's own priorities.

"On political co-operation, the European Council decided to set in hand the work necessary to reach agreement on the lines proposed by the United Kingdom, taking account also of a subsequent Franco-German text which was very similar. Such an agreement would allow the Community together to wield more influence in world affairs.

"On technology, the European Council expressed its determination to use the large Community market so as to strengthen technological cooperation in Europe in the face of the American and Japanese challenge. As an incentive to manufacturers we proposed that products resulting from collaboration should have a guarantee of genuine access to public purchasing throughout the Community.

"By contrast, when it came to procedures for decision-making, however, a majority of the European Council preferred to postpone action and to put the issues to an inter-governmental conference to be convened under Article 236 of the Treaty of Rome. The United Kingdom's view was that some positive improvements in the Community's decision-making could have been decided in Milan and did not require any Treaty amendment. We regret this unnecessary delay but will naturally attend any such conference and shall continue to press for practical steps to improve decision-making which do not impair our ability to safeguard our national interests.

"As the House will recall, any changes to the Treaty would of course require unanimity and would have to be approved by each sovereign Parliament.

"On the economic and social situation, the commission is preparing a detailed report which will compare the Community's economic structure and performance with other major industrialised countries. It will concentrate on strategies to improve growth and employment.

"The commission also reported on the steps being taken to give effect to the British initiative on deregulation at the last European Council.

"The European Council generally endorsed the report of the Committee on People's Europe which itself recommends cutting the burden of Community legislation and proposes easier access to medical care abroad.

"The European Council agreed on the need for Japan to increase significantly its imports of manufactures and processed food products and to liberalise its financial markets. This unanimous view will be emphasised to the Prime Minister of Japan during his forthcoming visit to Europe.

"I raised the need for further measures to combat terrorism and hijacking, with particular emphasis on the security of airports and air travel.

"Finally, the European Council discussed Famine in Africa. Two-thirds of the cereals food aid agreed at Dublin last December has already reached the countries concerned or is en route. We now intend to work out a co-ordinated programme against the effects of drought in the third world and give priority to helping developing countries themselves achieve greater security in their food supplies.

"Mr. Speaker, by agreeing steps to remove barriers to trade and to strengthen high technology, the Milan European Council contributed to the Community's economic strength and to the creation of wealth and new jobs. It is regrettable, however, that the opportunity available to the council to strengthen foreign policy co-operation and to improve decision-making was not taken. These issues will now have to be discussed in a further conference. The United Kingdom will be present and will make a constructive contribution on the basis of practical proposals rather than vague aspirations."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Viscount for repeating that Statement. I am sure that it was not an easy Statement to draft or indeed to repeat, because the Milan summit must have been one of the greatest anticlimaxes of recent years. We had been led to expect, and so had the country, that historic decisions would be taken and that practical British proposals outlined by the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary in Stresa and later circulated by Her Majesty's Government to her partners in the Community would form the basis of new progress. For the time being at least all this came to nothing and, so far as essentials are concerned, the meeting was a setback.

Of course we must not accept this as a defeat or in any sense as being the end of the road in regard to constructive proposals by Her Majesty's Government. But with regard to the essentials, or what people in this country regard as the essentials, I wonder whether the noble Viscount can say, first, whether any really constructive progress was made towards reducing the high unemployment figures in the Community. That is referred to in passing in the Statement, but may I ask what information there is in the Statement that we do not already have? What will be the purpose of yet a further report on high unemployment, when this must be the central worry of all the countries in the Community?

Secondly, can the noble Viscount say whether there was any further discussion of the common agricultural policy? That again is one of the essential matters which requires clarification. Were any further decisions taken on it and was there any discussion, for example, on grain prices? That again is a matter of acute concern to everybody who knows anything about this subject.

We note that the Government intend to be represented, quite properly in my opinion, at the proposed inter-governmental conference. Can the noble Viscount say what the attitude of the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary will be, when they get to the conference, towards the proposal to change Articles 57 and 100, which seem to lie at the heart of the disagreement which has taken place? We note also that any change or amendment to these articles will involve parliamentary approval.

The Statement also refers to substantial measures which the Governments hope to achieve by 1992. That seems to be a very considerable task. If one reads and thinks about these measures carefully, they really are immense. Are the Government quite confident that these are achievable within a period of seven years?

Does not the noble Viscount also agree that before any major proposal is made by one of the states of the Community adequate notice should be given beforehand? It seems on this occasion that France and Germany in particular put forward in the conference proposals which were not known to Her Majesty's Government, or indeed to Denmark or any other country, beforehand. In view of the substance of the proposals involved, that really seems to have made a breakdown of the discussions virtually inevitable. Would it not be sensible, before starting to think about other procedures, for a new regulation to be made which rendered it necessary for each member to give adequate notice prior to bringing matters of this sort before a summit meeting?

On the question of terrorism and hijacking, we welcome the intitiative taken by the Prime Minister. Was anything decided? There is no indication in the Statement that, apart from noting the point, any further measures were proposed.

Finally, may I end on a more cheerful note by welcoming the easier access to medical care abroad, and also the information about famine relief. Can the noble Viscount give more precise details of the additional help the Community has in mind to assist the countries of Africa and elsewhere?

Baroness Seear

My Lords, we on these Benches also wish to thank the noble Viscount the Leader of the House for repeating this Statement. It is of course a Statement of very great substance and it is not easy to comment on it on a first reading this afternoon. It is surely a matter of such importance and such urgency that it calls for a debate to be held as soon as possible in your Lordships' House, before the Recess. After all, if this inter-governmental conference is to be called in the autumn it will mean that it will be called before your Lordships' House has been able to consider in any detail the outcome of Milan. That would surely be most undesirable. It is highly necessary to get the views of all parties and for employers to be as well informed as possible before that inter-governmental conference takes place. I know it is a great deal to ask at this stage in the parliamentary programme, but this is surely a matter which should be given priority and on which a debate should take place as soon as practicable.

Of course there are matters in the Statement which we greatly welcome. The constructive attitude of the Government towards the further development of Europe is something which we greatly welcome and the emphasis on the internal market, which we understand is being pushed with great energy by the noble Lord, Lord Cockfield, can only be good. So too is the decision for greater co-operation on the technological front. The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, referred to the question of unemployment, and he regretted that the subject was not mentioned here. But of course progress in industry—progress economically and technically—is going to be the key in the longer run to dealing with unemployment. If we can get that collaboration at a European level which will give us some hope of holding our own with Japan and America, that in the longer run must be a major contribution to the unemployment problem.

It is regrettable that the decisions which Her Majesty's Government had hoped would be taken at Milan have, to some extent at any rate, been postponed. But on the political front there are a number of matters which do not depend on the treaty, and it is surely possible for us to push ahead with greater political collaboration so that, as is said in the Statement, we can as a European Community hold our own much more effectively in dealing with the other great powers.

While there are real difficulties over decision making, as the Statement has stressed, we recognise that some changes in the decision-making process would require a degree of agreement by Governments and by their parliaments which it is unrealistic to expect to have been achieved. But the Luxembourg compromise is not part of the treaty and it is perfectly possible, without any revision of the treaty, to move towards a greater acceptance of majority voting. Once that was done, requiring no change to the treaty, it would be possible to make much greater progress towards the development of the European Community as an entity. There is a hint in the Statement that the Government are not very willing to go far in the direction of modifying their attitude towards unanimous voting. Yet it is surely along those lines, within the framework of the treaty, that the greatest progress is going to be made.

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, and to the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, for their comments on the Statement. First, in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, I think it is clear that it was, from the British point of view, a disappointing conference. He suggested that none of our proposals had been taken up. However, some of the proposals which the French and the Germans have put forward are in fact based very closely on some of the proposals that we in Britain put forward. I think it is important to say that. I agree with the noble Lord that it is neither a setback nor a defeat. Certainly it is not the end of the road of constructive proposals, and I am grateful to him for saying that.

He suggested that there had been no constructive proposals made as regards unemployment. I was therefore grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, for recognising and welcoming the attitude to the internal market and to the proposals for technological advance, both of which must be contributions as regards employment and both of which were agreements taken at this conference. I think it is important to stress that particular point.

4.30 p.m.

The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, raised the question of the reform of the CAP. I think that what my right honourable friend the Prime Minister would certainly say—and I have heard her say it many times—is that CAP reform does not depend on an amendment to the treaty. It depends on the political will, as the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, will know, of the member states; and the best proof of a real desire for reform would have been for the German Government to lift their veto of cereal price reductions which were accepted by all the other countries. I think it is important to take that point.

As far as the question of any changes in the treaty is concerned, clearly the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, is perfectly right in saying that a change in the treaty would have to be agreed unanimously and accepted by the Parliaments concerned, and that is bound to be a difficult process. As far as the British position is concerned, we do not regard the treaty, as my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said, as in any way a sacred document, but we still believe that what is far more important is the political will, which must be seen to be apparent.

I understand that, as far as Articles 57 and 100 are concerned, these are examples of articles which some consider good candidates for amendment of the treaty. Neither were discussed in detail in Milan, I understand. We are not persuaded of the need for amendment of the treaty, as I have just been saying; but, of course, much of this will be discussed—I can give the noble Lord this assurance—at the proposed conference.

The noble Lord welcomed the points on hijacking and on medical care. He asked about the additional help which had been promised to Ethiopia. I am afraid I can give him no information on that. If I can get some information for him I shall certainly let him know of it.

The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, again mentioned modifying decision-making, and indeed gave a general welcome to the determination to continue the work of improvement of the Community. I am sure that is right. I think that both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness united on one point, in which I agree with them: that it is a pity that more was not achieved in these fields, as it probably could have been, at this conference in Milan. To that extent it is a setback. On the other hand, the conference will come, the United Kingdom Government will attend it, and my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and my right honourable and learned friend the Foreign Secretary will seek to make progress there which they believe, on the basis of what we put forward before the conference, could have been achieved at Milan.

As far as concerns the point made by the noble Baroness about preparation in advance, I think it is fair to say that the British had put forward their proposals, as the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, recognised, and had made them very clear. It is perhaps that which we particularly regret; that our proposals which were put forward and which could have led to progress did not lead to progress on this occasion.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, before the noble Viscount sits down, may I ask whether there is any hope of a debate before the inter-governmental meeting?

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness. That was the first note which I wrote down, and I failed to answer it. It is one of the factors which I can answer on my own account and not on behalf of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. On my own account I can say that most certainly we shall be prepared to look at that through the usual channels. As the noble Baroness has said, it is a particularly difficult time of the year, but if we can fit it in we shall certainly consider that, and we shall certainly agree to discussion through the usual channels.

Lord Ardwick

My Lords, may I remind the noble Viscount that there is a committee of this House which is approaching the end of its work on this very subject of union? The report is now in draft. It may be possible, perhaps, before the end of the month, for the House to debate that particular report. There is the ad hoc committee which is sitting at this very moment.

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord. I gladly pay tribute to the work of your Lordships' European Committees, which have in fact achieved a very considerable amount and are greatly valued both throughout Parliament and, indeed, elsewhere. If such a report could be published—and that, again, could be considered through the usual channels—in time for a debate, that might be a very satisfactory development.

Lord Boothby

My Lords, as one who was a member of the Council of Europe for many years, may I thank the noble Viscount most sincerely for making it abundantly clear that in the view of Her Majesty's Government it is the lack of political unity and purpose that is causing a hold-up right across the European front? Will he repeat that on every possible occasion and make it perfectly plain to the European countries that unless and until the political relationship between the various nations concerned is more clearly defined, and means are found to make it much easier to carry out political decisions reached by the Community as a whole, we shall make no progress in other fields?

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, who very properly reminds us of his considerable contribution to European affairs in the past. Certainly what I have said about political will is abundantly true. I have no doubt that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister will repeat that over and over again. That will be far more important than anything I might ever say.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, would my noble friend keep in mind the very wise suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, as to the necessity for any proposals to be put on the table beforehand so that proper consideration can be given to them by all members? Will my noble friend keep it in mind that many people will think that the Prime Minister's instinct in not wanting the conference that was suggested, and which now has to take place, was very sound? Is there no way of reverting to the old traditional practice of the diplomatic sources sorting out the points of difference before the heads get together, instead of giving the impression of a total breakdown at the top by attending without having made the necessary preparation to achieve progress?

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I am sure the House will generally agree with what my noble friend Lord Harmar-Nicholls has said. I would not wish to comment any further. If I did it might appear to be a criticism of other countries and of their attitude at this conference. I do not think that would be in any way helpful. I think it is far more important to seek to proceed to the next conference now and to make the most constructive contribution we can to it. Perhaps the best hope is that if other countries were not ready to consider some of the proposals we put forward on this occasion, there will certainly not be that excuse next time. I agree with my noble friend that for that conference adequate and proper preparation at diplomatic level is crucially important.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, could the noble Viscount the Leader of the House help us to understand why the Government take so tragically what might seem to be only a passing setback? Is it not the case that the British plan about increasing majority voting and reducing unanimity was a very sensible plan for minor advance without fundamental revision; and that the proposal of Germany and France and others for a major conference which would be able to compare the relative merits of minor advance without treaty revision with those of major advance involving treaty revision was an equally sensible plan for a more leisurely approach to a more thoroughgoing solution? Lastly, will the noble Viscount do whatever he can to ensure that his colleagues do not go to this conference in October in the belief that they are going to be met by vague aspirations?—because they may find a very formidable and quite cut-and-dried plan.

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennet. I do not think the Government treat the whole result of this conference in any way tragically, My right honourable friend the Prime Minister was, I think, justifiably disappointed, particularly in view of the proposals that the British Government had put forward and she hoped would be discussed on that occasion. But it is certainly not a tragic situation. And, of course, my right honourable friend will go to the next conference with the proposals, and will be prepared to discuss them. I think her feeling was one of disappointment that some decisions which could have been taken at Milan were postponed, and that it would have been better if they had not been postponed. But beyond that, certainly it is not "tragic".

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, in the course of his reply the noble Viscount expressed regret at the veto of the German Government over the proposed reduction in cereal prices. Can the noble Viscount confirm that the Commission have decided, in their administration of the CAP, to ignore the German veto on the reduction in price? If that be the case, will he inform the House where the commission derives its powers so to do and whether he agrees with the exercise of such a power by the commission?

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I am afraid that, though I have heard that said, I cannot at this moment confirm it. Perhaps it is as well, because the noble Lord seeks to lead me on to make comments on that particular action. I am singularly ill-equipped to do so. I shall therefore find out what is the correct position as far as the commission and the cereal prices are concerned, and I shall let the noble Lord know.

Lord Gladwyn

My Lords, will the noble Viscount agree that political co-operation, to which attention is rightly drawn in the Statement and on which we hope progress will be made, does not depend in any way on the Treaty of Rome? If therefore progress is to be made in this direction, it could be made by acceptance of some kind of majority voting, or perhaps by some process whereby those states which did not agree to the proposal made could simply contract out.

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, the point that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister made was indeed that many of the proposals that the United Kingdom had put forward depended for their implementation and for progress to be made on them on political will, rather than amendment of the treaty. That is where we come back to the need for the political will.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, those who support Britain playing a more positive role within the Community will have been reassured by the answers that the noble Viscount the Leader of the House has given in connection with the next conference. It is satisfactory that we shall be adequately represented there and that we shall continue to press for those points previously made.

In connection with the proposals to complete the internal market, on which I asked a Question earlier today, may I ask the noble Viscount whether I am right in interpreting his remarks that we fully support the proposals put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Cockfield, in the White Paper presented in mid-June as to the progressive removal of physical, technical and fiscal barriers, and that we will do everything possible to achieve the elimination of these impediments to a truly free internal market within the time span laid down.

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I understand that certainly the United Kingdom Government would wish to press forward with proposals on the internal market on the lines mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Cockfield, and no doubt will do so at the next conference. I am grateful to the noble Lord for what he said about the conference. Naturally my right honourable friend the Prime Minister will be determined to go there and press forward with the proposals, one of which the noble Lord mentioned, at that time. My right honourable friend's only disappointment is that more progress could have been made now and did not have to wait for another conference; but she now knows that it will have to be done at another conference and therefore she will seek to get the proposals through at that next conference.

Lord Barnett

My Lords, does that mean that the noble Viscount agrees with the noble Lord, Lord Cockfield?

Viscount Whitelaw

Yes, my Lords, as far as I am aware. I am always careful of all these blanket assurances because there may be some part of the proposals put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Cockfield, with which, unbeknown to me, the Government do not agree. If that is the case, I shall let the noble Lord know, but basically I believe the answer to be right.