HL Deb 23 June 1986 vol 477 cc7-9

2.57 p.m.

Lord Rodney

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what will be their priorities when they take over the six-month presidency of the European Communities on 1st July.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth, Office (Baroness Young)

My Lords, our priorities will be: completion of the Common Market; easing of burdens on businesses; creating conditions for employment growth; continuing reform of the CAP; sound management of the Community budget; launch of a new GATT round and renewal of the multifibre arrangement; sensitive handling of trade relations with the United States and Japan; and to ensure that the 12 member states act together in important matters of foreign policy in the spirit of the new treaty provisions signed in Luxembourg which were based on a British initiative.

Lord Rodney

My Lords, that seems to be quite a full programme. May I welcome the reference by my noble friend the Minister to the reform of the CAP? Can she confirm that the Government will do all in their power to reduce the surpluses without prejudicing the interests of the British farmer?

Baroness Young

My Lords, as my noble friend will be aware, world agriculture has been facing a crisis of over-production, but there has been substantial progress on the CAP over the last few years. Indeed, there have been cuts in real prices over the last four years. It is very much a continuing discussion that needs to go on, and MEPs voted for the Provan Report on 17th April; that is to say, the Parliament voted for a price freeze and cuts in production for surplus products. This was translated into a tough price package. The report of 26th February of the Public Accounts Committee of another place said that the introduction of budgetary discipline and the financial guidelines were significant steps towards improved control over total CAP expenditure.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, we wish the Government well in this ambitious programme and look forward to the results at the end of six months. Is the noble Baroness aware, for example, that the Prime Minister has said that during the British presidency positive action will be taken in relation to South Africa? Can she indicate what that positive action means, and does it include definitive and decisive economic sanctions? On the question of unemployment, which is also on the agenda and which the Foreign Secretary has described as the most "important issue facing the Community, can the noble Baroness say what new and positive proposals the Government have to deal with this?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I welcome the first remark of the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, because the policies that we shall be actively pursuing during the next six months have been British initiatives over some period of time. On the specific point that the noble Lord raises about South Africa, the European Community Heads of Government will consider policies towards South Africa, including the possibility of further measures, when they meet later this week; that is, on 26th and 27th June. On the noble Lord's second supplementary question about employment, the joint Anglo-Irish-Italian paper on unemployment growth into the 1990s has been presented to the Social Affairs Council and discussed within the Commission. It emphasises the promoting of enterprise and employment, flexible employment patterns, training and helping the long-term unemployed. The paper was deposited in both Houses on 3rd June. It will be discussed at the European Council and we hope that it will form the basis of a Community labour market strategy which can be adopted during our presidency. This is an issue to which we attach great importance.

Baroness Burton of Coventry

My Lords, may I ask the noble Baroness whether the liberalisation of air transport in Europe is included under the list she has read out? If it is, will she please ask the Government in their presidential six months to see whether they can give this a "push" because nothing else seems to have any effect?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I am well aware of the interest that the noble Baroness has in this subject. It is one of the issues which is of concern to us in regard to the whole question of the completion of the full Common Market. Transport is included in that.

Lord Belhaven and Stenton

My Lords, would sanctions against South Africa help the unemployment situation?

Baroness Young

My Lords, your Lordships will have the opportunity to debate the whole question of South Africa on 4th July. Perhaps I may suggest to my noble friend who raises a very important matter that this is something which we might leave to that occasion.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, may I take it that the list that the Minister of State read out was not ranked in order of importance? If it was, the question of the development of a common foreign policy in the Community should not have been last, but somewhere right up near the top.

Baroness Young

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, knows of the importance which the Government attach to the development of a common view on foreign policy matters in the Community. The particular list was grouped with a number of economic points and the political points came at the end, but that does not in any sense downgrade them. They are important, and all the points I have raised are important.

The Earl of Bessborough

My Lords, my noble friend will not find this question unexpected: will the matter of our joining the exchange rate mechanism of the European monetary system also be included in the items which are given priority during the six months?

Baroness Young

My Lords, my noble friend will be aware of the Government's view on the EMS—a matter which was recently the subject of debate in your Lordships' House. I could not go beyond what was said on that occasion.

Lord Mellish

My Lords, the Minister read us a list of priorities which are very exciting and very thrilling. Can she tell me what chance we have of success in any of them?

Baroness Young

My Lords, the Government have achieved a number of successes in the Community, not least our success in our rebates from the Community budget and, indeed, the success to which I referred in answer to the supplementary question of my noble friend Lord Rodney on the CAP. We attach great importance to these various economic measures which we believe will be of great benefit to all the people in this country, and they are well worth working for.

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