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European Community (Business)

Volume 894: debated on Wednesday 25 June 1975

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

The Heads of Government of the member States will meet in Brussels on 16th and 17th July. The agenda for this meeting has not been confirmed, but it is likely that there will be discussion on commodity matters in the context of relations with developing countries, and on the prospects for dialogue between oil producers and consumers. We expect the Heads of Government to discuss stage III of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe and to exchange views on the general economic situation.

At present three meetings of the Council of Ministers are proposed for July. Finance Ministers will meet on 10th, Foreign Ministers on 15th and 16th, and Agriculture Ministers on 21st and 22nd July.

Finance Ministers are expected to carry out the second formal examination of the economic situation in the Community provided for in the convergence decision of 18th February 1974. They will also consider the Community exchange régime and work in preparation for the IMF meetings.

At the Foreign Affairs Council Ministers will make final preparations for the European Council in Brussels on 16th and 17th July. They are also expected to continue their discussion of raw materials problems in the light of preparations for the seventh special session of the United Nations General Assembly. Ministers will have before them a report on relations with Portugal and possibly the final text for formal approval of the agreement with Mexico.

Agriculture Ministers are expected to consider proposals amending the basic wine regulations and the part of the basic sugar regulations dealing with imports from ACP countries, and for the rationalisation of horticultural production under glass.

I am sure that the House is grateful for that full statement. At the meeting of the Heads of Government on 16th and 17th July, is the agenda not to contain a debate on the future evolution of the Community and its institutions? That seems to be a remarkable omission.

Secondly, I note that the Finance Ministers are to meet on 10th July. Bearing in mind the debate that took place in the House two weeks ago on the Community's proposals for dealing with economic problems of the member countries, will the British representatives at that meeting have available to them the details of the package which the Prime Minister has promised? If they do not, they will be at a disadvantage.

Thirdly, there is to be discussion on relations with Portugal at the Foreign Affairs Council. Can the House be told in advance of the Government's policies towards Portugal in respect of the EEC? Do we favour Portugal's eventual admission to the Community?

The Heads of Government at their meeting may well receive from Mr. Tindemans an interim account of the discussions he has had on European unity and the definition of union. That is very much a matter for him, and if that discussion takes place it will be in a rather informal atmosphere.

Even were it not put on the agenda, I do not believe that the Heads of Government could be accused of dereliction by omitting another examination of EEC institutions. The Government's view is that the EEC is much better served if it gets on with the work of the EEC rather than constantly examining its institutions and mechanisms.

On the Finance Ministers' meeting, the hon. Gentleman must not tempt me to answer questions which are well outside my province. The Secretary of State refused to do something similar earlier today and I intend to follow the path he set.

The Foreign Affairs Ministers' meeting will examine relations between the Community and Portugal. Our attitude to Portugal from within the EEC is clear and has been described many times. We hope that the Community can offer assistance to Portugal, especially assistance that is likely to encourage the development of democracy within Portugal. It is inherent in the Treaty of Rome that Portugal can apply for membership of the Community when the Government of Portugal and the organisation of Portuguese politics are genuinely democratic. When that happens we shall, of course, welcome an application.

Will the Finance Ministers be doing anything to speed up the negotiations which are going on within the Community on the question of the restraint of cheap imports from the Far East?

Secondly, does his reply to the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) mean that the whole question of direct elections to the European Parliament will not be considered by the Council of Ministers except in the context of Mr. Tindemans's report in the autumn?

I said in my initial statement and again to the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) that the agenda for the Prime Minister's meeting is not yet fixed. If there is a predisposition to discuss direct elections I am sure that none of the Ministers present will be reluctant to do so. I cannot assure the hon. Gentleman at this moment that the subject will firmly appear on the agenda.

Discussions on textile imports from the Far East are going on within the Commission. I cannot give the hon. Gentleman an assurance that the subject will appear on any ministerial agenda next month.

When the question of glasshouses is discussed, will my right hon. Friend make clear to the EEC that there is enough vandalism in this country without the Government being prepared to pay for vandalism to knock down that which they paid to put up?

It is not my duty to deal with the substance of this matter. As I understand it, the discussions on the rationalisation of horticulture are intended to give an opportunity to those horticultural producers who find the increase in horticultural costs so severe that they doubt their ability to continue as viable units, to go out of business in a way which causes them the minimum amount of hardship. I regard that as a desirable objective, as I am sure does my hon. Friend.

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to re-examine his policy towards horticulturists in refusing to give them the subsidy allowed by the EEC? Will the right hon. Gentleman also confirm that at the Agricultural Ministers' meeting in July, Ministers will deal with the questions of milk and olive oil swindles that have been taking place in the past? Will he also confirm that the Ministers will be looking at the stock taking report of Commissioner Lardinois, and, taking decisions on that very important document concerning the forward development of the agricultural policy of the EEC? Will he also confirm that it is no good the institutions standing still? Although one does not want to take decisions in a hurry, one must move forward in the development of the institutions over the coming months. Can the right hon. Gentleman also tell us which right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite will be joining us in the European Parliament?

The stock taking report, which I agree is central to the future of agriculture within the Community, is now being discussed in the capitals. I doubt whether the discussions that are going on in the capitals of the Nine will have moved so quickly and made such progress for the report to be discussed fruitfully at the August Ministers' meeting. Questions of the alleged swindles and subsidies withheld are for the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

Is the Minister aware that due notice will be taken in Scotland that fishing again is not deemed of sufficient importance to appear on the agenda? Is he also aware that since the destruction of food was one of the most repugnant aspects of EEC policy, the idea of rationalisation of horticultural production under glass is lunatic in a world in which food prices are high and many are starving?

I can only assume—I make this interpretation as much as anything out of charity—that the hon. Gentleman does not know what is the intention of the raionalisation of horticultural production under glass, otherwise I do not think he would describe it in such intemperate language.

Turning to the need to discuss fishing problems, I do not deny that there are problems involved in both the Law of the Sea Conference and the EEC fisheries policy. It is important not to confuse talk with action. Our duty is to make sure that a satisfactory fisheries policy emerges from the EEC and from the Law of the Sea Conference. That may be obtained best by bilateral diplomacy rather than by my appearing in the House every month and announcing that we shall soon do something about it.

Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that full consultation will be undertaken with the horticultural industry before any decisions are reached which apply to this country under the rationalisation of horticulture under glass scheme? What representations will be made to extend the arrangements for the ACP countries to non-associate countries? What representations are likely to be made to reduce the skimmed milk mountain?

Neither of the last two subjects that my hon. Friend raised will be discussed next month. On the rationalisation of horticulture, my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Agriculture will discuss any prospects as well as any decisions with the industry. Although the last two subjects are not on the agenda, my hon. Friend knows that a good deal of progress is being made, not least in the provision of assistance to Asian developing countries. Inside or outside the Council of Ministers, we shall pursue that as vigorously as we can.

The Minister of State has informed the House that a meeting of Agricultural Ministers will take place in the latter part of July. Will he give an assurance to the House that the growing crisis in the dairy industry in this country, which could result in rationing this winter, will be on the agenda?

No, I cannot give an assurance of that sort, nor would it be appropriate for me to comment on a question in no way related to the business of the EEC next month.

Can the Minister be more specific about what is to happen to regional policy in the EEC? I am sure he understands that this is very critical to areas such as Scotland and that that is one of the reasons why Scotland voted to stay in the EEC? Will he reassure us that what Mr. George Thomson said in the course of the Referendum campaign was that we had a lot to teach the EEC about regional policy and that that will be translated into facts when we get around the table in Europe?

I certainly share Mr. Thomson's judgment that we have a regional policy in this country which should commend itself to our partners within the Community. Two important things have to be said about the Community and British regional policy. First, during the renegotiations we obtained, without doubt and without any sort of controversy, the certainty that British regional policy could be applied in the way in which the British Government determine and that it would in no way be inhibited by decisions taken outside this country.

Secondly, it is now our duty to press as hard as we can and as best we can for an extension of Community-wide regional policies, many of which already benefit Great Britain and all of which, if we can extend them appropriately, will bring increased benefit to the hard-hit areas of this country.

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us what has happened to the Council of Development Ministers? Is it not a fact that they have not met for three or four months? Are they not faced with an important document proposing large increases in aid to the countries of South-East Asia? Should they not be considering that document?

There are a number of matters which the Development Ministers need to consider, but these raise difficult issues for individual member Governments. Not least is the question of the financing of any project which Development Ministers might rightly want to pursue. Therefore, it was generally agreed two or three months ago that the time was not right for such a meeting. I hope that such a meeting will take place quite soon, but it will not be in July.

Will my right hon Friend be more specific about the subject of sugar in the ACP countries, due to be discussed on 21st July by the Agriculture Ministers? Secondly, does he recall that the debate which we had on the economic guidelines, since the Referendum, was on a motion to take note but that the Minister did not allow the Question to be put? Does he believe that that is a satisfactory state of affairs?

Questions about procedure in this House should be directed not to me but to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. By and large the House has been given the opportunity to debate all issues of substance before they go in front of the Council of Ministers. Indeed, the very issue to which my hon. Friend has referred was one on which we placed a reserve in order to give the House the opportunity to discuss that subject. Because of the tone of the debate and the contributions that were made, the Government felt able to release that reserve after the debate had taken place. Certainly we postponed our agreement until that had happened.

As we are discussing Community business, I should like to take advantage of the right hon. Gentleman's presence—because he is always very helpful—to ask him when it is likely that an announcement will be made about which Members of the Labour Party will be attending the European Parliament?

An announcement will be made very shortly. However, the right hon. Gentleman knows—the decision has already been taken—that they will attend that Parliament. I have no doubt that whichever of my right hon. and hon. Friends are chosen, they will add to the galaxy of talent already there.

Is the Minister of State saying that there will be no chance of discussing in Brussels the very important problem of the milk industry, bearing in mind that there is a surplus in the Community and a shortage here and that unless something is done there will be very serious problems for the British consumer? Will he think again on that, please?

I take the hon. Gentleman's point. I think that there may well be opportunity to discuss that matter. I merely described what was on the form of the agenda as it stands at present. It is always the situation, on days such as these, that I must anounce the agenda as we understand it. I know that there is some discussion at present about limitations of supplies in the Community and the need to increase supplies in Great Britain. That may be the issue to which the hon. Gentleman is drawing attention. If that is an issue that my right. hon. Friend believes should be discussed, I reply that it may well be discussed. My duty, and my only ability concerning matters such as this, is to tell the hon. Gentleman of the form of items on the agenda.