HL Deb 12 October 1993 vol 549 cc92-5

3.15 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter asked Her Majesty's Government:

What action they are taking to secure a successful conclusion to the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Strathclyde)

My Lords, the Government continue to argue forcefully both within the European Community and with other key players for a successful conclusion to the Uruguay Round. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister and the rest of the Government take every opportunity to press this message home. The Government fully support the work of the European Commission in its role as the European Community's negotiator in Geneva.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the Question on the Order Paper asks what action the Government are taking? In view of the immense importance—increased by the falling-off of European imports during the last day or two—of securing that the French are not allowed to block the Uruguay Round negotiations, will my noble friend say what action the Government propose to take to break the French control?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, the United Kingdom Government are a major force in ensuring that the Community maintains a liberal trade stance. For instance, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary played a key role in obtaining a satisfactory outcome of the Council of Ministers' meeting on 20th September. The Government also play a wider role; for example, the work of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in securing the progress made in Tokyo in July. At present the Commission and the members of the Community—and that includes the French Government—are united in their desire to obtain a GATT agreement as soon as possible.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, have the French Government any power to veto a conclusion arrived at by all the other nations? How far can they go in holding up this vital agreement?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, hypothetically any member state would have an opportunity to stop the Community nations agreeing a GATT, but that would not be in the interests of any European member state.

Lord Ashley of Stoke

My Lords, I wish to express my support for the view expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter. Will the Government keep in close contact with the governments of Australia and New Zealand, whose countries will be gravely affected if GATT fails?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, we shall all be gravely affected if GATT fails.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the disagreement as regards agricultural matters and the protection of the French farmers is not the only snag holding up the agreement of a GATT?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, indeed. Agriculture is being seen less and less as the blocking point. There are aspects on tariffs and the services agreement where we have particular problems with Japan, America and other Asian countries.

Lord Eatwell

My Lords, what action are the Government taking within the GATT negotiations to safeguard the quality and scale of Britain's television and film industries? In particular, will the Minister tell us why, at a meeting of the Council of European Ministers who are responsible for the audio-visual industries, held at Mons on 4th and 5th October, when the specific subject under discussion was the significance of cultural industries in GATT, the only country not represented at ministerial level was the United Kingdom?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, as regards the film and television industries, in our GATT negotiations we are interested that the Commission should protect the existing broadcasting directive regime.

Lord Peston

My Lords, I welcome the noble Lord to his new role as Minister at the Department of Trade and Industry. He has a difficult act to follow but I am sure that he will carry out his job extremely well. I believe that the question asked by my noble friend Lord Eatwell is of central importance. Within the media, including films and television, the United States, which has a massive home market, can unload its products on Europe very cheaply using free trade, which we generally believe in, and so undermine the cultural objectives of the countries concerned. One does not have to be xenophobic or anti-American to wonder about excessive free trade in this area. Is that not a matter which the British Government should take at least as seriously as agriculture?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Peston, for his congratulations on my appointment to the Department of Trade and Industry. I hope that our relationship will be as good as that which I have had with other Members on the noble Lord's Front Bench.

This is an important issue. That is why we support the Commission in its desire that the text should include a protection under the existing broadcasting directive. That is the direction in which we should go. We do not agree that a total exemption of the audio-visual sector would be in the best interests of the industry as a whole.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, to what degree is the United States in charge of the distribution of films in this country? How many of the cinemas in this country are under United States' control?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, that is an extremely interesting question but I am not sure of its pertinence as regards the GATT negotiations.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on his appointment to the Department of Trade and Industry. I ask him to press for action to be taken to insist upon ratification of the GATT agreement whatever obstruction is put in the way, in particular by the French Government. Will my noble friend make it clear that the British Government are not prepared to sit down under French obstruction?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right to emphasise the importance of GATT to the future of this country. I can certainly pledge myself and the rest of the Government to working towards a GATT agreement as soon as possible.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, the Minister appeared to play down the importance of agriculture in the Uruguay Round.

Lord Strathclyde


Lord Stoddart of Swindon

The Minister did: he should read what he said. Is it not a fact that the French Government, by their attitude to the agreement already negotiated and agreed by the European Commission, are putting the whole of the Uruguay Round at peril? Is it not foolish for them to do that? Will the Government not become very tough with the French, especially bearing in mind the Chief Secretary's remarks that the agricultural policy of the EC costs every family of this country £1,200. I hope that the noble Lord agrees that we cannot sleep on this matter. Will the noble Lord also answer the question about the position of Australia and New Zealand, put to him by my noble friend Lord Ashley.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, I have absolutely no desire to play down the importance that agriculture plays vis-à-vis GATT. Indeed, one reason that it has taken so long to reach agreement has been the difficulties surrounding agriculture. At the same time, we should not underestimate the very real success achieved in the negotiations between the Community and the United States. Whatever the noble Lord may think of the French, that agreement is still in place. The November 1992 Blair House agreement between the Community and the United States is still in place and has not been re-opened. We support the view that it should not be re-opened.

I believe I said to the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, that we agree with Australia and New Zealand on the importance of an agreement in respect of the GATT negotiations.

Lord Richard

My Lords, does the Minister agree that there are now signs that the French Government are trying to extricate themselves from the position in which they seem to have painted themselves? Does he not agree that the Government's time would be perhaps better employed in trying to ensure that that takes place and that an agreement is reached rather than pandering to the somewhat anti-Gallic noises which one hears from time to time?

Lord Strathclycle

My Lords, the noble Lord has not heard any anti-Gallic noises from me this afternoon because I have been trying to talk up the French. The point is that we have an agreement on the agricultural side and we wish to maintain it.

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