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European Community (Ministerial Meeting)

Volume 892: debated on Monday 12 May 1975

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asked the Minister of Overseas Development when she next expects to meet the Development Minister of the EEC.

40.

asked the Minister of Overseas Development when she next expects to meet the other Development Ministers of the EEC.

The date of the next Development Ministers Council has not yet been decided but I expect it to be some time in June.

When the right hon. Lady meets the other Ministers, does she not think that they may be a little puzzled by her attitude? If we were to withdraw from the EEC, as I understand she wishes, would it not at least have a serious adverse effect on the Lomé Convention which she played such an important part in creating? If she bases her wish to leave the EEC on her contention that the Community has not yet done enough to assist the Commonwealth countries in South Asia, has she taken account of the fact that, as shown by the Kingston Conference last week, none of those countries wishes us to leave the Community?

The hon. Member should reflect carefully on the position here. If we remain in the Community, I shall continue to press my European colleagues—

Of course I do not resign [An HON. MEMBER: "Why should she?"] If I may put my reply into a comprehensive sentence instead of responding to what one might call heckling from Conservative Members, those of us who believe profoundly in the principle of letting the British people decide will, of course, abide by the decision that the British people make.

Therefore, continuing from that, if we remain in the Community I shall continue to press my EEC colleagues, as I have in the last year unsuccessfully pressed them, to extend their aid to the poorest countries in the Indian subcontinent. If we were to leave the Community, then of course we should have to make the correct arrangements—I state this purely factually—to protect our Commonwealth countries which are partners in the Lomé Convention. I see no great problems in doing that.

What priority are the Development Ministers giving towards South America, particularly the poorer countries there?

A number of countries of the EEC have bilateral aid programmes to Latin America. We have some limited ones, consisting mainly of technical assistance. It is important to appreciate that not all but most of the Latin American countries now have a level of national income which means that they are not among the poorest developing countries. Nevertheless, they have considerable sections of very poor population within their countries and these are the ones to which our own aid programme is directed.

Is it still the Minister's main objection to the EEC in this sphere that it has not done enough to help the Asian members of the Commonwealth? If so, will she explain how the Asian members of the Commonwealth would be helped if she put at risk the Lomé Convention and thus threw the African, Caribbean and Pacific members of the Commonwealth back into confusion?

I think that there must be some misunderstanding about this. The Lomé Convention affects the Commonwealth countries and other countries of the Pacific, the Caribbean and Africa. The problem is that the Asian subcontinent is not part of the Lomé Convention. My efforts over the last year have been to try to get the EEC, as I put it in one speech, to turn a smiling face towards them as well as to its associates. In that I failed, but this is a continuing process. I could only make the assessment that, since this was my major renegotiation objective, on that objective I did not succeed.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm, however, that one of the main topics of discussion at the next meeting of European Development Ministers will be the possible provision of several hundred million pounds precisely to the Asian Commonwealth countries by the EEC?

I hope that my hon. Friend is right. I hope that this will be a matter of discussion at the next meeting of Development Ministers of the Community. The difficulty is that I have been trying to get that precise discussion since April of last year and it certainly had not occurred, despite my efforts, before we judged the results of our renegotiation in March.

But if we remain in the EEC and the right hon. Lady remains in her office, as I understand she wants to do, will it not be difficult for her colleagues in the Council of Ministers to feel the enthusiastic confidence in her that we should like them to feel?

The right hon. Gentleman may find this difficult to understand, but I have friends among the Ministers of the EEC countries.

On a point of order. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the Minister's reply, I beg to give notice that I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment as soon as possible.