HL Deb 10 November 1992 vol 540 cc87-90

2.56 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is the current position of negotiations to conclude the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Baroness Denton of Wakefield)

My Lords, since I reported to your Lordships' House on 5th November, both the European Commission and the United States have made it clear that they want negotiations in the Uruguay Round to resume as soon as possible. That aim was endorsed at a meeting between my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and the President of the Commission on Friday, at an informal meeting of trade Ministers over the weekend, and at the Foreign Affairs Council yesterday.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. However, can she add to it by indicating whether anything at all has happened since that last meeting? If not, can she say whether it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to secure that this vital agreement is obtained whatever the President of the Commission, or anyone else, may say?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, I can confirm that the Government's aim is to get people back to the negotiating table as soon as possible. The last discussion took place at the Foreign Affairs Council yesterday where common agreement on this was reached.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, as the President of the Commission, M. Jacques Delors, has now admitted that he interfered in negotiations on the GATT round between the EC and the United States to the extent that the negotiating commissioner resigned, will the British Government be demanding the resignation of M. Jacques Delors?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, the noble Lord seems to have a more direct line in such matters.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

No, my Lords; I just read the newspapers.

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, just reading the newspapers would not, I think, enable me to stand up here and reply. As I said, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and M. Delors had a meeting on Friday. It is confirmed that everyone wants the negotiations to reach a successful conclusion just as soon as possible.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, if there is a failure of these negotiations and sanctions are applied by the United States of America on the European Community, will it not be the case that we shall have a major crisis of loyalty between our own trading interests (which are in free trade) and those of French farmers? If that ghastly scenario should come about, what are the Government's contingency plans?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, we continue to believe that our best efforts should be directed towards finding a solution to the negotiations.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, in the light of the Minister's reply to her noble friend, will she give the House an assurance that Her Majesty's Government will veto any endeavour to save anyone's political skin on the other side of the Channel and that they will veto any question of sanctions against the United States?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, the House showed on 5th November, and, I believe, would agree again today, that retaliatory action is the least constructive move we could make.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, bearing in mind that Commissioner MacSharry was negotiating on behalf of the whole European Community, including this country, can the Government give any opinion about the reason for his resignation? Was it that he disapproved of the instructions that he was receiving from the President of the Commission or was it connected with the fact that there is to be a general election in Ireland, in which country Mr. MacSharry might have ambitions?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, it is not for me to explain Mr. MacSharry's motives. He resigned from the negotiations, and that is much to be regretted.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that it was the French farmers' clout before UK accession that brought the European Community to the verge of collapse on no less than three or four occasions and that since our accession, that lobby, or, as one understands it, political force, has embarrassed not just this country but other member states? Now that the crunch is coming, what attitude will Her Majesty's Government take?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, I point out that France stands to gain as much as anyone from the agreement; for example, it is the world's second biggest exporter of services. President Mitterrand supported fully the Birmingham summit declaration which called for agreement by the end of the year. All our efforts from now on should be directed towards finding a successful solution.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, does the Minister accept from our side that we have always supported the achievement of the Uruguay Round and will continue to support it? It is desperately important. Does she also accept that at the beginning of the British presidency the Prime Minister explicitly said that he would be responsible for driving through the GATT agreement and would ensure that that was done? Is not the problem that the British presidency, after the events of the past few weeks, is in such a state of shambles that anyone—Mr. Delors or anyone else for that matter—can do and say whatever he pleases, having regard to his own domestic political ambition?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, first, I thank the noble Lord for his support of our aims of ensuring that there is a successful conclusion to the Uruguay Round. It is important. It is worth so much to the whole world, not just the developed world but the developing countries. The European Community and the United States have confirmed that they are still working towards an early agreement; that is, before the end of the year. Obviously, I cannot agree with the noble Lord's comments about our presidency. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary successfully chaired the Foreign Affairs Council yesterday: the outcome received total agreement from the Community.

Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that not only has the Prime Minister been giving the main leadership on this point but also that the Commission has, on the whole, been completely behind us and against France? Is she aware that there are a great many people in this country who would be pleased to see sanctions introduced by us against France if it remains as intransigent as it is?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, I endorse wholeheartedly my noble friend's opening remarks. Her closing remarks must be her personal opinion.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, will the Minister now reply to my question? In the event of an endeavour to apply sanctions against the United States, will she undertake that Her Majesty's Government will veto that proposal?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, that is a hypothetical question. At this stage, we shall continue to work to try to solve the problem and to succeed in the negotiations.

Lord Jenkins of Hillhead

My Lords, will the Minister bear in mind that if the wish, which I share entirely, is to obtain a successful deal with the United States, it is highly desirable that this country and this House should live in a world of reality and not of fantasy? Will she note, for instance, that although I disagree with the French Government's attitude, it was supported by no fewer than four other member states yesterday, and that the crucial factor in dealing with the matter is the German Government's attitude? When the French Government are being difficult, the only way to deal with them is to get the German Government, representing broadly the free trade outer looking area, to have an effect upon them. Will she do no such foolish thing as to urge the British Government, having supported, to the surprise of some people, the renomination of the said Delors a year ago, suddenly to demand his resignation? That, in present circumstances, would have about as much of a counter-effect as the Prime Minister's claims that on no account would he accept the resignation of Mr. Mellor or contemplate the resignation of Mr. Lamont.

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, certain parts of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, seem to be wide of the Question. The German Government's role in this matter is crucial. It is perhaps appropriate and fortunate that the Anglo-German summit to be held tomorrow will be able to discuss the issue.

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, what does the Minister consider to be a successful conclusion—giving America carte blanche to flood this country and Europe with cheap grain?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, first, I stress that we are not the negotiator in this matter; the Community is the negotiator. Were there easy solutions such as that suggested by the noble Lord, the matter would have been concluded a long time ago.

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