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European Community (Council Of Ministers' Meetings)

Volume 932: debated on Tuesday 24 May 1977

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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 June. The monthly forecast for June was deposited yesterday.

The Heads of Government of the Member States will meet in London on 29th and 30th June. It is too soon to forecast what subjects are likely to be discussed.

At present, nine meetings of the Council of Ministers are proposed for June. Foreign Ministers will meet on the 21st; Energy Ministers on the 14th; Environment Ministers on the 14th; Development Ministers on the 16th; Finance Ministers on the 20th; Agriculture Ministers on the 20th, 21st and 27th; Social Affairs Ministers on the 28th; and Transport Ministers on the 28th and 29th June. There will also be a tripartite conference on 27th June of the Community with both sides of industry.

At the Foreign Affairs Council on the 21st June Ministers will discuss preparations for the European Council; relations with the Council for mutual economic assistance, Spain, Cyprus and Malta; and fisheries matters.

It is expected that Energy Council Ministers will discuss the general energy situation, including nuclear matters; coal, in particular import surveillance and encouragement of coal use in power stations; proposals for energy conservation; oil, including crisis measures and problems of the Community refining industry; and promotion and protection of Community energy investment.

At the Environment Council, Ministers will consider directives on the quality of drinking water, wastes from the titanium dioxide and paper pulp industries, toxic and dangerous wastes, and a decision on exchange of information on the quality of surface water.

Ministers at the Development Council will discuss EEC financial and technical aid to non-associated developing countries, food aid and a Commission paper on rural development, agriculture and food production in the developing world.

Ministers at the Finance Council will discuss preparations for the tripartite conference. They will also consider a draft banking co-ordination directive.

Agriculture Ministers will meet on 20th and 21st June to discuss proposals for introducing more flexibility into the calculation of monetary compensatory amounts, the labelling of milk products, and matters affecting the balance of the Community wine market. They will also hold a special meeting on 27th June on the future internal fisheries policy and to decide on herring conservation measures after the end of June.

At the Social Affairs Council the main subjects for discussion will be the review of the European Social Fund, and proposed directives on the education of migrant workers' children, illegal immigration and illegal employment and the harmonisation of safety signs at work. The Council will also receive a progress report on other items in the social affairs programme.

At the Transport Council, the main items on the agenda are likely to be the social regulation on drivers' hours and whole vehicle type approval. Ministers will also have a general policy discussion on transport issues.

The tripartite conference on 27th June will have as its theme growth, stability and employment: stocktaking and prospects.

On the meeting about fisheries which the Minister mentioned, have the Government yet had time to consider the judgment of the European Court on the Irish fisheries case? Does that not strengthen their hand considerably in trying to get a 50-mile limit for our own fishermen, and will they use their judgment accordingly in the meeting which the Minister has announced? As regards the Summit meeting at the end of June, may we be assured that before then the House will be able to see, and to debate the Second Reading of, a Bill on direct elections to the European Parliament? Is it not increasingly scandalous that month after month slides by and the Cabinet seems to be paralysed on this matter, so that the House has not yet been able to decide whether the Government's international commitment to a little more democracy in Europe should be honoured?

On the first point, there are some similarities between our position and that of Ireland on fisheries matters. No two countries are, potentially, contributing more than us to a common fisheries policy, in terms of stocks and coastal waters. We are watching the case closely to see what implications there may be for us. As for the Summit, I have nothing to add to what the Prime Minister has already said. The timing of debates, of course, is a matter for the Leader of the House.

Will the Minister undertake that on the agenda of the Energy Ministers, the Environment Ministers and, indeed, the political Ministers there could be some consideration of the extraordinary affair, back in 1968, as to how 200 tons of uranium oxide on its way between Antwerp and Genoa should suddenly disappear? Are Ministers aware that this is not only a question of historical curiosity but one of considerable contemporary relevance as to the safeguards not only of uranium oxide but, more relevantly, of plutonium, and that many people have listened to Commissioner Brunner, Mr. Schleicher and other officials with increasing disbelief and unease? Should we not be told the whole story?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the responsible way in which he has raised that point. I fully share that concern, as do the Government as a whole; it is an issue on which we need to be as fully satisfied as it is possible to be satisfied.

With regard to the so-called tripartite conference, who will appoint the representatives of what are called "both sides of industry"?

The right hon. Gentleman should know that both sides of industry will be responsible for these appointments. The employers will appoint their representatives and the trade unions will appoint theirs.

When the Agriculture Ministers meet, will my hon. Friend convey to them the fact that there is a large body of opinion in this country, represented in this House, who would pay scant regard to these Continental laws? Will he tell them that, so far as we are concerned, they can get stuffed with all their regulations about pigmeat and so on? Will he also make some inquiries about the meeting last weekend at Leeds Castle? Since we contribute nearly 20 per cent. of the total income of the Common Market, I want to know what I am getting for my money. I want to know what took place at that meeting. Why did the Commissioners hold their meeting in secret at that castle? What were they talking about? It is all right for the Minister to come here and trot out a few remarks about odd meetings about nothing in the Common Market, but what is happening at Leeds Castle and at Bilderberg Conferences and the like?

I shall certainly bring my hon. Friend's concern on the last point to the attention of my right hon. Friend. On the first point, thanks to the very forceful performance on behalf of British food producers and consumers by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, I think that the Commission and all our colleagues in Europe are well aware of the concerns of the British people.

Will the Minister acknowledge that, if pig farmers have to wait until the meeting on 27th June for the discussion of mcas, many, especially those who are solely dependent on pig production, will be facing bankruptcy by then? Will he explain to some of his hon. Friends that the problem arises because of the disparity in currencies, which is the result of this Government's mismanagement of the economy and not a result of the policies of the Common Market?

The hon. Gentleman will not have to wait as long as that. He has already heard that there will be a statement later this week.

Will my hon. Friend make arrangements with the Agriculture Ministers to place on the agenda the fundamental reform of the common agriculture policy? Is he aware that we should not be subjected to the great difficulties that we have at the moment in the pigmeat industry and in bacon curing and so on if it were not for the stupidity of the CAP? If my hon. Friend will do what I am suggesting he will do a great service to pig producers, bacon curers and the British housewife.

I know that the indignation which my hon. Friend expresses about the imperfections of the CAP is shared by a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House. I repeat that, as a result of the strenuous and effective efforts of the Minister of Agriculture, the position in this country is, I believe, better understood than ever before in the Common Market as a whole. We do not want to see money wasted on unnecessary surpluses. We believe that the rights of consumers should be as fully reflected in the CAP as the rights of producers.

As the Minister now has evidence that all parties in the House are united in favouring the 50-mile exclusive limit, as he is aware that all sectors of the fishing industry in all parts of the United Kingdom are united in favour of it, as he had a demonstration on behalf of all sectors of the Scottish industry when 112 representatives recently visited Brussels, can he hold out any hope, since Commissioner Gundelach is visiting the North-East of Scotland on 24th June, that his mind is still open on the matter? Will Her Majesty's Government say that they insist on this 50-mile exclusive limit and that, if necessary, we shall take unilateral action?

I can assure the hon. Lady that the concern that exists in all parts of the House about the possibility of achieving a 50-mile exclusive fisheries zone has been expressed by me to my colleagues in the European community. Commissioner Gundelach, who is in this country, discussed with me this morning the extent of feeling in the House on this matter.

As the Minister cannot forecast what subjects will be raised at the Heads of Government meeting, can he range his imagination more widely and consider the possibility of direct elections coming on the agenda? If that were so, would the Government have made a statement of their intentions? Would legislation have been introduced and would there have been a debate and vote? In short, what progress does the Minister think that we shall report to that meeting?

I am fully aware of the right hon. Gentleman's passionate concern about and interest in this matter. However, I have nothing to add to what the Prime Minister has already said.

What hope can we give to the pig industry when it has been paralysed by an interim injunction from a court before the result of the case is known? The result might be the other way round and we might come out on top. What hope has the pig industry in that situation?

I am certain that my right hon. Friend will deal with points of that kind later this week.

At the meeting of Heads of Government will the Minister emphatically deny the important rumour—which he would not seek to evade—that the British Government will now be seeking a derogation or delay in direct elections to the European Parliament, which would allow other member States to proceed and us to follow later?

I am glad to assure the hon. Member that we do not proceed on the basis of rumour.

On the question of the meeting of the Social Affairs Ministers and the education of migrant children, is the Minister aware that when this subject was debated in another place and in the House last year—alas, without a decision—a clear distinction was drawn between migrant children of EEC parents and those living in this country on a more permanent basis? To which category do these regulations apply?

Discussion on the draft directive was deferred from the last Council meeting. Regulations will be based on the revised compromise text of the directive annexed to an explanatory memorandum of the Department of Education and Science, which was deposited in Parliament on 16th February.

Would it not be a good idea to explain to those who have questioned the Minister about pigs and who blame the fall in the green pound that if we were not in the Common Market there would not be a green pound and we should have a national agriculture policy? As this is the last month of the British presidency, may we have a round-up of what has been achieved? To some of us there seems to have been a step backwards rather than forwards.

My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture has frequently made plain the Government's position on the green pound. We always make full statements to the House after meetings of the Council of Ministers. I hope that that gives hon. Members an adequate opportunity of probing Ministers.

Will the Minister clear up one matter that he has raised today? If the Social Affairs Committee takes a decision on the whole directive on illegal immigration and illegal employment, that will create a new crime in British legal history that will have considerable implications for the immigrant community and for employers. Can my hon. Friend assure us that no decision will be taken without a full debate in the House?

I fully respect my hon. Friend's concern. I shall bring the matter to the attention of my colleagues.

May we have a commitment that no catching of herring for industrial purposes by Danish fishermen will be allowed? May we have an assurance that any herring that is caught will be used first for Scotland? When discussing transport and drivers' hours, will the Government pay particular attention to the special needs of the rural areas in the North of Scotland?

I shall certainly take account of the hon. Member's last point. On his first question, he will know that the Minister has already dealt with that. It is no secret that we would have preferred to see the ban extended for longer than one month, but we were not able to achieve collective agreement on that.

Since it is unlikely that the Fisheries Ministers will be able to reach a conclusion on the herring industry or, indeed, a common fisheries policy, can my hon. Friend undertake to have a contingency plan available for use during further discussions?

I take my hon. Friend's point. It is fairly and squarely on the record that we want to make as rapid progress as possible towards an effective common fisheries policy. The relationship between internal and external policies is of such importance that it is not possible to continue a logical and sensible external policy without a clear internal policy.

May we have an assurance that at each of the long list of meetings that the Minister has described British representatives will raise the subject of the growing volume of paper that is pouring out from the Commission, most of it unreadable and much not worth reading?

I have sympathy with the hon. Member. We want to see the right type of communication between the Commission and the various Parliaments and Ministers. It is on that basis that we shall ensure that the spirit of democracy is alive.

What steps are being taken to hold meetings of the Council of Ministers in public? Public meetings would ensure that hon. Members and the people knew what was being discussed and on what terms.

Various initiatives have been taken in that direction. We have made clear that we want to see more open meetings so that more people may be more aware of what is being done in their names.

To what extent will Energy Ministers be reviewing the attitude of other countries to the Minister of Agriculture and his policies and what impact these will have on the JET decision? Will that be on the agenda? What further discussions of the Carter documents will take place, bearing in mind that there must be a balance between the growth of the use of coal in this country and the fast breeder reactor programme and reprocessing at Windscale and elsewhere?

Our position on JET remains unchanged. We should like to see JET at Culham. We want to see a balanced energy policy in the Community. There is a difference of emphasis between those countries that are producers of energy and those that are mainly consumers of energy. Those distinctions have to be borne in mind.