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Council Of Ministers

Volume 950: debated on Wednesday 24 May 1978

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asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what he proposes to put on the agenda of the next EEC Council of Foreign Ministers.


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what are the principal subjects he expects to discuss at the next meeting of Foreign Ministers of the European Community.

The usual written forecast of Council business was deposited on 23rd May and I except to make an oral statement tomorrow.

Will the Minister of State raise with his European colleagues the subject of the renegotiation of the common fisheries policy? Will he emphasise to them that on this occasion Britain is not being difficult but that the House and the nation are anxious to see the establishment of a viable and effective United Kingdom fishery industry? Will he explain to them that this means obtaining an exclusive 12-mile zone for coastal States and national control of the fishing effort up to 50 miles?

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that no one who participates in meetings of the Council of Ministers is unaware of the strength of feeling on this issue in all parts of the House. Ministers frequently represent this as graphically as possible to their colleagues. As I and my right hon. Friends have said more than once, we are determined that in any common fisheries policy that emerges the special needs of the British fishing industry shall be recognised. These needs cover items such as conservation, preference within a 50-mile zone, the need for recognition of our losses in distant waters and the fact that we contribute more than 60 per cent. of the fish stocks to what is known as the common fish pool.

When my hon. Friend meets the other Foreign Ministers, will he take up with them the way in which the Commission has reneged on the Multi-Fibre Arrangement and the way in which it proposes to allow additional low-cost imports from Portugal? Will he take up this point from the aspect that this matter is being carried through unconstitutionally and say that if these imports are not prevented the already shaky faith still held by a small minority of my constituents and other textile workers in the Common Market will disappear completely?

The Government are well aware of the human problems in many parts of the country associated with the textile industry. When the Council of Ministers works out the stand to be taken on multifibres or any other issue, we expect the Commission to fulfil the terms of its mandate and not to depart from it.

Will the Minister ensure that Africa is on the next agenda of the Council of Ministers so that African interests may be defended? We have just experienced a situation in which a so-called rebel force has driven Europeans out and succeeded in wrecking an African economy, at any rate temporarily. May it be clearly understood that Europe will clearly ensure that African interests are preserved by protecting European safety in Africa against anybody who attempts to attack it?

It is right to argue that the more effective we can become in working together with our friends and neighbours in protecting our legitimate interests and the well-being of our people, the better this will be. But I repeat that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister dealt with this matter fully at Question Time yesterday.

Is my hon. Friend aware that anybody who has been to Portugal recently will know that that fragile democracy is facing acute problems? Will he raise this matter with the Foreign Ministers and try to ensure that every possible assistance is given to that country, even if it means assisting its inhabitants on textiles?

I believe that in all parts of the House there is a deep commitment to preserving democracy and stability in Portugal. It is no good simply talking about the matter. If we are to achieve that aim, it is important to match our words with economic support. That in no way alters the fact that, after careful and detailed deliberation in the Council of Ministers, when a mandate is agreed for particular negotiations we expect the Commission to abide by its terms.

Do not recent events in several parts of the world, not only Africa, show that the Community now takes decisions on trade and finance which are of great political importance for Turkey, Portugal and Australasia but that it has not yet learnt how to use that economic strength to promote the broader interests of the West as a whole? Is not a concerted European policy in all areas of stress a matter not for the luxury of a leisurely debate but of urgent and absolute need?

If we can tackle political questions effectively in our mutual interests within the context of the political co-operation of the Nine, we must learn to do so, and we will want to do so. But we must not forget that the Treaty of Rome does not apply any disciplines or legal ramifications in this respect. Therefore, all that we can achieve has to be achieved on the basis of voluntary co-operation. The Government are determined to work at the problem.