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European Community (Council Of Ministers' Meetings)

Volume 940: debated on Monday 28 November 1977

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With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I will make a statement about business to be taken by Ministers of the European Community during December. The monthly written forecast for December was deposited on 25th November.

Heads of Government will meet in Brussels on 5th and 6th December. At present seven meetings of the Council of Ministers are proposed for December. Fishery Ministers will meet on 5th and 6th; Environment Ministers on 12th and 13th; Energy Ministers on 13th; Foreign Ministers on 19th and 20th; Transport Ministers on 20th and 21st December and Social Affairs Ministers on a date yet to be agreed. In addition, there will be a meeting of Community Health Ministers on 13th December.

Fisheries Ministers will continue their discussions on the internal régime of the common fisheries policy.

Environment Ministers are expected to consider various proposals relating to the protection of the environment.

Agriculture Ministers are expected to have a preliminary discussion on the common agricultural policy price proposals for 1978–79. They are also expected to consider the Commission's report on the use of the European unit of account in the common agricultural policy and proposals for the phasing out of monetary compensatory amounts, as well as proposals for Mediterranean agriculture, producer groups, a sheepmeat réegime, import arrangements for beef, chilling processes for poultry meat, and the eradication of brucellosis in cattle.

Energy Ministers are expected to discuss the energy situation in the Community and in the world; progress on the achievement of Community energy policy objectives for 1985; nuclear questions; support for joint hydrocarbon exploration projects; financial aid to demonstration projects and a directive on heat generators. They are also likely to resume their consideration of refining problems within the Community; financial measures to promote the use of coal for electricity generation; and aid for financing cyclical stocks of coal.

Foreign Ministers will consider certain external fisheries matters; and the continuation of negotiations on a common fund. There will be a further discussion on steel, and probably on regional policy. The Ministers will also discuss the Community's bilateral textile negotiations and the question of the renewal of the Multi-Fibre Arrangements; a mandate for EEC-Spain trade negotiations; EEC-Yugoslavia relations; and, possibly, enlargement. Mediterranean agriculture and EEC-Turkey relations. They will also consider direct elections to the European Assembly and certain staff matters.

Transport Ministers are expected to consider Community quotas for industrial road haulage between member States; summer time; adjustment of national taxation systems for commercial vehicles; Community driving licences; Community investment in transport infrastructure projects; and hijacking and terrorism. They will also follow up the United Kingdom Presidency initiative on the common transport policy with a discussion on the future programme of work on transport subjects.

Social Affairs Ministers will consider Commission proposals on youth employment. They may also formally adopt the texts on the review of the social fund.

A meeting of Health Ministers of member States will take place in Brussels on 13th December. This is not a meeting of the Council as such, and will not take formal decisions, but is a meeting arranged within the framework of the Council to give Health Ministers an opportunity to exchange views on common problems.

May I take up the Minister's reference to sheepmeat? In view of the disturbing Press reports which we have seen, will he give us an assurance that if there is to be an arrangement—I am not quite sure why there need be one—it will be on wholly different lines from that for dairy products? Since Britain, as I understand it, is the biggest consumer, importer and producer of lamb, will the Minister give an assurance that the interests of our consumers and the interests of British and New Zealand farmers will be fully protected?

The Minister reminded us that we are coming up to the next farm review, which will settle up to three-quarters of the Community budget for next year. Will he use his influence—it is not too soon—with the Leader of the House to make sure, in view of the enormous importance of this—his right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is here—that, whatever the state of the documentation before the Scrutiny Committee, the House has an opportunity for a full-dress debate on the common agricultural policy in good time before the Minister goes to Brussels for the review?

Finally, what is the position about the argument between the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament on the size of the regional fund and the social fund following the cuts proposed by the Council of Ministers? As these funds are—perhaps it might be more accurate to say "could be"—of substantial importance to this country, will the Minister make sure that we are kept informed?

On the question of sheep-meat, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that it is the Government's intention to seek a Common Market organisation which provides adequate returns for producers, prevents rapid or unnecessary rises in prices for consumers and ensures continued, adequate access for frozen imported supplies from third countries, including New Zealand. On the CAP, I shall certainly bring to the attention of my right hon. Friend the point which the hon. Member for Mid-Oxon (Mr. Hurd) has just made.

On the regional fund, it is the technicalities that are mainly under discussion at the moment. We would favour a larger rather than a smaller regional fund. One of the principles which have been absolutely fundamental to our approach in these discussions is that the control of regional policy should remain firmly and squarely with individual member Governments.

Before I call any hon. Member, I would point out that Private Members' motions are set to end at 7 o'clock. I know that hon. Members will bear that in mind. There will be a debate on EEC fisheries later in the day.

Will the meeting of Fishery Ministers be considering a further relaxation of the herring fishing ban in favour of small boats on the lines of the relaxation already given to French fishermen?

I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that what we are most concerned about is the paramount importance of conservation. While prevarication continues within EEC circles or elsewhere on effective policies, no one can over-estimate the danger to future stocks as they dwindle beyond repair. Therefore, in our approach to the herring ban or anything else, conservation will be of paramount importance.

Is my hon. Friend aware that if the Government's intentions on sheepmeat are what he says, there is no need for a common sheepmeat policy at all? Secondly, will he say at which of these innumerable meetings the British Government will be bringing forward their own promised proposals for reforming the common agricultural policy?

I agree with my right hon. Friend on his first point. One of our objectives is to remove unnatural inhibitions to intra-Community trade, and that includes sheepmeat as well. Reform of the common agricultural policy is an ongoing process that we keep constantly under review. As I have, said, I am bringing to the attention of my right hon. Friend the feeling in the House that there should be proper and full debate before we commit ourselves to any irrevocable decision.

While the hon. Gentleman is not responsible for all his colleagues who will negotiate, will he at least act as a post office and first try to see that the Foreign Office gets a collective view giving full support to President Sadat's courageous initiative in starting negotiations in Cairo for a Middle East solution?

Will the Transport Ministers make clear that the licences for road haulage are inadequate? Is he aware that a constituent of mine has £200,000 worth of goods for export to France but cannot get the necessary quota to carry them? That system needs radical reorganisation.

Will the hon. Gentleman see that the Agriculture Ministers are prepared to devalue the green pound by anything up to 10 per cent.? It is ridiculous that carcase beef from Ireland can be imported at 13p per pound below cost in this country.

Finally, either at a Heads of Government meeting or at a Foreign Ministers' meeting, will the Government be able to reassure their partners not only that they intend to reach the May-June target date for direct elections but that the party of Churchill, Macmillan, Home and Heath, who have at least proved their Europeanism, has also proved enthusiastic?

The right hon. Gentleman first referred to the initiative by President Sadat. I remind him that the Nine, at their meeting last week, went on record with a formal statement but making plain in that statement that they continued their commitment to the concept of Geneva as remaining vital in the whole Middle East crisis.

Secondly, the next Transport Ministers' Council will discuss the Commission's proposal for increases in Community quotas for international road haulage between member States.

The right hon. Gentleman's third point was about the green pound. While we take as seriously as anyone in the Community the interests of the producers, our objective is to see that the interests of producers in the Community are balanced more effectively with the interests of the consumers. We are therefore working hard to restrain unnecessary price rises, and we are always working to eliminate unnecessary structural surpluses.

Finally, our ability to fulfil the target date for direct elections is in the hands of the House. It is the responsibility of every party in the House to decide whether it is in favour of the target date.

Will the hon. Gentleman raise the most important issue of the question of the rat race for credit guarantees, started by the French Government? This is a very important matter, as it is vital to our exports that there should not be this undercutting competition by French dealing, in this fashion.

Will the hon. Gentleman also draw the attention of the French Government to the fact that in future they will not be allowed to dominate the Council of Ministers when particularly stupid statements are made about the Middle East?

We are all the time seeking ways to ensure that there is no surreptitious, unfair competition by anyone within the Community and that we are operating as effectively in international trade as anyone else.

On the statement about the Middle East, I make the point, having been present at the meeting, that no single State dominated that discussion. The statement that emerged from those deliberations reflected the common concern to do everything possible to promote stability in the Middle East.

In view of the bureaucratic legislation coming from the EEC and the increasing time taken up by the House in considering it, what action do the Government propose to establish greater parliamentary control over that legislation, as set out in the motion by my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing)?

Having, been in several Scottish fishing boats from the West Coast to the Moray Firth, I have again had representations made to me about the feeling of fishermen that the Community system for conservation is futile in view of its abuse by the French and the Danes in particular, and that the only answer is a 50-mile exclusive limit. Nevertheless, the fishermen are proud of the robust line taken by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and wish him to continue it in future negotiations.

The Community is well aware of the anxieties felt, but I take this opportunity to underline again that no one should underestimate the serious and irreparable damage which may be done to stocks unless effective policies are soon reached. In the reaching of those policies, it must be recognised by the Community—this is basically our position—that 60 per cent. of the Community fish stocks come from British waters. For any policy to be acceptable, that fact must be recognised.

Will the hon. Gentleman convey to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food that he should seek to keep to a minimum increases in the price of commodities in surplus but that, as far as the British producer is concerned, he should see that there is a change in the green pound to compensate for increased costs?

I have made plain that the overriding objective in our approach is to balance the interests of producers and consumers, but in our view—this is the underlying theme of my right hon. Friend's approach—the interests of the consumers have not been adequately represented by the CAP. We are working continually to try to improve their lot.

Order. I will call the seven Members who have been getting up, if we can do it in nine minutes.

Can the hon. Gentleman indicate whether, in the discussions of the Agriculture Ministers, the future of the Milk Marketing Board is to be a subject? Will the hon. Gentleman give an assurance yet again that the structure of the Board will remain and that the excellent work that it does will continue in this country?

Secondly, will the hon. Gentleman give an assurance that the Secretary of State for Trade will maintain the most robust attitude on the renegotiation of the Multi-Fibre Arrangement and will not budge an inch to undermine the excellent textile industry that we have in this country?

I suspect that in his first point the hon. Gentleman was referring to his underlying anxiety about the references to producer groups. They are mainly in other member States and in this respect probably do not relate to this country. I see no real reason for anxiety about the Milk Marketing Board at this juncture, but I know that hon. Members take this issue seriously, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that it will be very much in the Government's mind. I note what the hon. Gentleman said about trade. The Government are well aware of their responsibility to the British textile industry.

Will the hon. Gentleman make clear to his colleagues in Europe that it is unlikely that the Bill for direct elections will be through this House very quickly because it is unlikely that the Opposition would be so ham-fisted as to support a guillotine on a Bill which they have already described as of great constitutional importance?

The hon. Gentleman referred in his statement to a proposal for Community driving licences. Did he not make clear in Europe that we do not need them, just as we do not need Community passports, that they will be purely cosmetic, giving a lot of jobs to bureaucracy, and that all that is necessary is to recognise the British passport throughout the Community and vice versa?

I will bring to the attention of the hon. Gentleman's Front Bench what he has said about direct elections. I note the strength of the hon. Gentleman's views about a Community driving licence. I think that many people in this country would think that there was a good deal of logic in what he said.

The hon. Gentleman said that at the meeting of Transport Ministers there would be discussion of terrorism and hijacking. Bearing in mind that Home Affairs Ministers have already considered this matter, and that the months go on and incidents increase, will he make a point of suggesting to the Transport Ministers that they arrive at some conclusions and take some action? Will he see that the Secretary of State for Transport makes a statement to this House about what is actually being done?

I know of the hon. Gentleman's continuous interest in this vital subject, which everyone takes seriously. Obviously, if we are to get convincing international arrangements, they have to go wider than the Community. Therefore, the Community, in this context, will act as a catalyst in trying to press the international community as a whole to take the necessary effective action.

In view of the significance on a Community scale of the beef premium scheme as a means of securing fundamental reform of the common agricultural policy, may I ask the Minister to say why that subject does not feature on the agenda of a meeting of the Council of Agriculture Ministers?

The short answer is that I do not know. I will ask my right hon. Friend and we can get in touch with the hon. Gentleman.

Will the Minister give an assurance that when he or the Foreign Secretary discusses Turkish matters in Brussels they will bear in mind two points? The first is that Turkey is in association with the Community and, therefore, should expect some privileges in terms of textiles as compared with the other exporting countries. Second, can the Minister give a firm assurance that when financial aid is being considered for the island of Cyprus we shall not lose sight of the fact that no money should go to Cyprus unless it is used in the interests of all the people in Cyprus, irrespective of race?

I can certainly assure the hon. Gentleman that the Community takes extremely seriously its economic relationship with Turkey. This is likely to be under review in the forthcoming weeks. On the political level, as we move towards enlargement, the Community takes equally seriously the importance of its political relationship with Turkey. It is determined to see that this does not suffer as enlargement moves forward.

I recognise the importance of what the hon. Gentleman has said about Cyprus. The Community is at pains to ensure that the objective the hon. Gentleman has in mind is fulfilled. I took the opportunity, at the last meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers, to bring home to the Community as forcibly as I could the point that it was no good moralising and posturing about the situation in Cyprus and about our responsibilities towards Cyprus unless we were prepared to put our financial actions where our mouths were and to fulfil our general political obligations to the island.

Since the Energy Ministers will be discussing some important initiatives for a conservation incentive programme in Europe, on which our Secretary of State has been dragging his feet, may we have a statement from the right hon. Gentleman before the recess?

That is a question for my right hon. Friend. I will bring it to his attention.

Further to what the Minister has said about Turkey, may I ask what specific criteria he will adopt in any discussion with the Turkish Government about Mediterranean agricultural projects in the light of the application from Greece for membership of the Community?

What is fundamental in this context is that the Community is currently reviewing its own policy to-wards its existing Mediterranean member countries. Its ultimate policy in other directions will be related to this review. In terms of the enlargement, we have repeatedly emphasised that we want to have no pre-conditions. We want to move ahead towards enlargement looking at each country on its merits.

Is the Minister aware that this country has an obligation to ease our exchange control regulations by 1st January in the context of the European Economic Community? Are these matters to be discussed at ministerial level between now and the end of the year and will the Government honour their obligation?

The Government always honour their obligations. I will bring this point to the attention of my right hon. Friend.