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European Economic Community (Business)

Volume 885: debated on Wednesday 29 January 1975

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I will, with your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, make a statement about business to be taken in the Council of Ministers of the European Community during February. The monthly forecast for February was deposited yesterday.

At present four meetings of the Council of Ministers are proposed for February. Agriculture Ministers will meet on 10th to 12th February, Foreign Ministers on 10th to 11th February, Energy Ministers on 13th February, and Finance Ministers on 17th February.

Agriculture Ministers will resume their consideration of farm prices for 1975–76 and other associated measures. They also expect to have before them the Commission's "stock-taking" report on the CAP.

At the Foreign Affairs Council, Ministers will be concerned with budget renegotiation on the basis of the Commission's report on the details of the correcting mechanism. They are likely also to discuss the operating procedures for the Regional Development Fund; freedom of establishment and mutual recognition of qualifications for doctors; two proposed directives on pharmaceutical products and preparations for the multilateral trade negotiations. They may also discuss the relationship between the EEC and the International Energy Agency and the preparations of the oil consumer/producer dialogue. Foreign Ministers may also need to consider the preparations for the next Heads of Government meeting in Dublin in mid-March. Energy Ministers will continue their discussion of the general objectives for the different energy sectors.

Finance Ministers will have their usual monthly discussion of the economic situation in the Community, and may consider a draft regulation on European monetary co-operation.

I thank the Minister for his business statement, which once again demonstrates, if I may say so, the wide range of matters of mutual interest and concern which Ministers can discuss within the framework of the European Communities. However, will the Minister clarify one point? He has said that the Ministers at the Foreign Affairs Council may also discuss the relationship between the Community and the International Energy Agency and the preparation of the oil consumer/producer dialogue. Will he give an assurance that the Government will press for that to be included on the agenda, because it is obviously a matter of great concern to all people in this country and in Europe?

I give the right hon. and learned Gentleman that assurance gladly. I assure him that our twin aims during those preparatory discussions are to make sure as best we can that there is a co-ordinated community position and that the national interests of Great Britain are adequately recognised.

The Minister referred to the fact that the Foreign Ministers Council will be talking about the operating procedures for the regional fund. Is he yet in any position to give an indication of the Government's attitude towards the composition of the proposed advisory council for the regional fund that will be established throughout the Community, and how Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the regions of England, will be represented on that?

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary told the Council of Ministers this month that he hoped to see the fund in operation in March and that, as part of our hopes of making speedy progress for its organisation, we have made proposals about the committee to which the hon. Gentleman refers. I think it would be wrong for me to say today what our bid is within the committees of the European Economic Communty. I assure the hon. Gentleman that he will discover, when the conclusions are published, that we understand the various national needs and will insist on those national needs being fully safeguarded.

Will my right hon. Friend say something about the timetable? This is very important in view of the fact that we are working towards a time in respect of the referendum.

The Prime Minister told the House, I think, fourteen days ago that he hoped that the ministerial stage—the Brussels and Luxembourg stage—of the renegotiations would be completed by Easter. As my hon. Friend will see from the items of business I have announced this afternoon, we expect to see a good deal of progress on several fronts to be made in February. If that progress goes as we anticipate, the Prime Minister's timetable will be acceptable as being the one that turns out to be the case.

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the House has not yet taken note of the papers relevant to the meeting of the Ministers of Agriculture. Will he give an undertaking that the House will have an opportunity to do that before the meeting?

I understand—the right hon. Gentleman will correct me if I am wrong—that the House has debated this already. It will have a second opportunity to do so in the near future. However, I take the point made by the right hon. Gentleman.

Will the right hon. Gentleman agree that, whilst we debated the agricultural price review in Europe a couple of weeks ago, we shall be debating the other orders referred to by the right hon. Gentleman next Wednesday. However, could he elaborate further concerning the meeting of the Agriculture Ministers? Will the Agriculture Ministers be dealing with the MCAs at that meeting? What is the position of the Government regarding accepting the proposals?

Clearly, to discuss, as we expect to do, both the stock-taking report of the CAP and the price machine for the coming year, there is bound to be some discussion of the MCAs. The Government's attitude is a matter of substance which must be raised with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture.

The right hon. Gentleman said that the Foreign Ministers would be discussing the correcting mechanism. I presume that he meant the correcting mechanism in respect of the national contributions to budgets. Is that an entirely separate matter from the taxes which in theory are supposed to form the so-called "own resources" of the Community, and, if so, is it still the Government's position that they find those taxes representing the so-called own resources an unacceptable proposition?

The two are not entirely separate and, had the hon. Gentleman's Question on the subject been reached earlier, it was my intention to try to explain that. Certainly the Government were critical of both the incidence and the level of those taxes. The correcting mechanism is concerned with levels, and in a number of areas we have insisted that the incidence—for instance, the zero-rating of VAT—is also a matter for national determination. I think that we are fulfilling our obligations on both counts.

Can my right hon. Friend help hon. Members who represent the North-West Region of England on a matter which affects the textile industry and redundancies resulting from the importation of foreign cloths? Can he and his right hon. Friends arrange to put this matter on the agenda for discussion in order to give some protection to the British textile industry, especially that part of it operating in Lancashire?

If I understand my hon. Friend's question aright, it deals with knitted cloths of one sort or another from the Far East. If that is what my hon. Friend has in mind, I can assure him that it is now under urgent consideration. My hon. Friend will be reassured to know that it is not necessarily a matter of putting it on a series of Council of Ministers agendas. Whenever there has been a serious problem of this kind we have been able to talk to the Commission about it informally and quickly and to obtain derogations from damaging rules in a period of 24 or perhaps 36 hours. It happened to cotton yarn when Lancashire was in difficulties before Christmas. We shall look at this problem with equal urgency.

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman two questions? First, in the discussion on the preparations for the Dublin summit, will there be any discussion of the secretariat? Secondly, can the right hon. Gentleman yet say, in the discussions on setting up the operating mechanism for the regional fund, how the money will be raised originally and whether there is to be virement of the kind referred to in the summit communiqué?

I cannot answer the hon. Gentleman's second question immediately without notice. With regard to his first question on the setting up of the secretariat for the Heads of Government meeting, there will be no secretariat set up in and for the Dublin meeting. That continues to be a matter of discussion in the Community, and the British Government view continues to be that, although there may be a case for some body, it would be a small body with a minimum of staff and a minimum of obligations.

May I reinforce the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens (Mr. Spriggs)? The Lancashire textile industry was grateful and pleased to note the restriction on yarn imports, but I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the fact that yarn is now finding its way into the country in the form of grey cloth and that there is some evidence to indicate that yarn from Turkey and Greece, on which restrictions were imposed, is now finding its way into Belgium, where it is woven into cheap cloth and then sent into this country. Will my right hon. Friend make sure that action is taken about this?

If my hon. Friends care to see me about this matter, I shall welcome it, and I shall try to do something similar on this occasion to what we did just before Christmas.