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European Community

Volume 976: debated on Wednesday 16 January 1980

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Community Institutions

22.

asked the Lord Privy Seal when he intends to raise the question of the relationship between the different Community institutions at the Council of Ministers.

The Government do not intend to propose changes in the present balance of powers between the institutions of the Community. However, the European Parliament's rejection of the 1980 draft budget is likely to lead to further discussion in the Council of its relations with the Parliament.

After his recent tour, is my right hon. Friend more optimistic that both the longer-term reform of the budget and the elimination of our excess contribution—the short-term problem—can be achieved in a spirit of genuine compromise? That is the only way in which the Community can move forward. Does my right hon. Friend see a positive role for the European Parliament in the formulation of sensible ideas for reforming the budget structure?

Plainly, the European Parliament has an important role to play. The direction in which it is seeking to alter the budget is a direction which will appeal to many hon. Members, if not to all. It also strikes a chord with public opinion. Exactly how the negotiations between the Council, the Commission and the Parliament will proceed, I cannot yet say. Presumably, the Commission will produce a paper some time next month.

Will the Lord Privy Seal confirm that the present position is that the EEC can pay up only one-twelfth of last year's budget? Will he also confirm that, if the Council so wishes, it can authorise payments in excess of that amount under the Treaty of Rome? Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House whether that matter was discussed at the Foreign Affairs Council that was held on Monday and yesterday? If so, what was the conclusion of such discussion?

I confirm the position about the payment of one twelfth—it is as the hon. Gentleman says. There was no discussion on this matter on Monday and yesterday and, therefore, the position about the one-twelfth payment remains the same.

Is not the position that, if the European Parliament asks for a larger budget sum, differently divided, the Government will go along with that as part of their compromise?

I cannot possibly speculate as to what will happen. I cannot say what will be our reaction to the European Parliament's proposals on the budget until we know what those proposals are. I stress to the hon. Lady that the first step is for the Commission to resubmit the budget. It is not, in the first instance, for the Parliament to produce its proposals.

Will my right hon. Friend go further than he did in his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) and say what changes he believes may be necessary in the relationships between Community institutions in view of the European Parliament's rejection of the Community budget? Should not such changes ensure that, in future years, the European Parliament does not have to take such a drastic step in order to have its views heeded?

That is an extremely important and difficult matter. I am not convinced that any changes in the institutions are necessary. Plainly, some change in the working of the institutions may be necessary, but I trust that, in the future, there will be better relations between the Council and the Parliament. No doubt, more attention will be paid to the Parliament in future. As a result of that, similar constitutional crises will not arise in the future.

Council Of Foreign Ministers

23.

asked the Lord Privy Seal when his noble Friend expects to meet his European Economic Community counterparts.

At the next Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels on 4 and 5 February.

I attended the Foreign Affairs Council yesterday at which we considered the measures which the Community should take as a result of events in Afghanistan, trade with Rhodesia, the appointment of an extra Advocate General to the Court of Justice, staff pay, and the Community's relations with ASEAN, Yugoslavia and Latin America. There was a brief procedural discussion of the United Kingdom budget problem. I am circulating a more detailed account in the Official Report.

Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that the Community can respond quickly enough to the serious and changing international situation? If not, will he put proposals before his colleagues at the next meeting of the Council to improve the machinery for developing Community foreign policy?

It is in the nature of a community, a collection of States or an alliance, that it is able to work less quickly than an individual country. Obviously, there are difficulties in concerting measures in the Community. As my hon. Friend will be aware, important decisions were made yesterday concerning the cancellation of food aid to Afghanistan, the urgent consideration of the refugee problem in Iran, an agreement by the Community not to fill the gap left by the halting of United States' food exports to the Soviet Union and the temporary suspension of butter sales pending detailed examination of further measures. Further action will be contemplated next week. As I have said, I do not believe that we should be paying attention to constitutional changes at the moment.

Did the right hon. Gentleman discuss with his colleagues the question of other measures to be taken as a result of the Afghanistan invasion, in particular the possible cancellation or removal of the Olympic Games from Moscow?

The Olympic Games were mentioned at the NATO discussion, which I did not attend. However, they were not referred to at the discussion yesterday, although they will be in the future. That was because of lack of time, as much as anything else. As the hon. and learned Gentleman knows, the Government have not yet formed a final view. The International Olympic Committee and the British Olympic Association are independent bodies.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it is not entirely satisfactory that the decisions that were reached yesterday by the Community Ministers should be communicated to the House only by way of an accidental question on the Order Paper? There should be a proper statement on the matter which could then be the subject of questions. In the circumstances of Afghanistan, is my right hon. Friend satisfied that the members of the European Community are doing what is required and not merely talking about taking measures? Is he aware that, as an ardent European, I am disappointed by the reaction of our French and German friends-to date?

The question of making a statement is always difficult. Sometimes the House complains of too many statements, while at other times it complains that there are not enough. I appreciate what my hon. Friend has said, but, as I said earlier, it is difficult for a community or an alliance to reach quick decisions. Only the first step has been taken, and I hope that more will be done in the future.

I should like to associate myself with the remarks made by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths). I agree that there should have been a proper statement on the matter. As I understand it, the meetings that took place yesterday in Brussels, both at NATO and at the EEC, were of some importance. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman attended the wrong Council meeting. He might have had more serious discussions at the NATO meeting than at the EEC discussions. We hear a great deal about political co-operation—

Was there, at the EEC meeting, or during consultations with the Lord Privy Seal's right hon. and hon. Friends who attended the NATO meeting, any serious discussion of trade policy? If so, what was the response of our partners? Perhaps at the meeting which the right hon. Gentleman did not attend, but of which he will have heard, there was discussion of the Olympic Games.

I believe that the Minisster of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Oxon (Mr. Hurd), said at the end of the meeting that no decision had been reached about the Olympic Games. I have already told the House what was decided about trade in agricultural products at the meeting that I attended.

Following is the information:

I represented the United Kingdom on 15 January at this first meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council under the Italian Presidency.
The Community has agreed that EEC supplies of food should not be allowed to take the place of those from the United States on the Soviet market, directly or indirectly. The Council has invited the Commission to take all appropriate measures to implement this decision, as regards cereals and products derived from them, and to propose further measures if necessary, for other agricultural products.
In addition, the Council decided to cancel the 1979 Community food aid programme to Afghanistan, and to consider as soon as possible a proposal which will shortly be produced by the Commission for emergency aid to Afghan refugees.
This represents a concrete and substantial economic response by the European Community to the situation which has been created, which complements the political positions also adopted yesterday by the Nine Foreign Ministers. It was agreed that work in the Community on this question should continue and that a further report would be made to the next Foreign Affairs Council on 5 February.
The statement on Afghanistan approved by Foreign Ministers recorded their grave concern at the Soviet Union's military intervention in Afghanistan which they viewed as a flagrant interference in the internal affairs of a third country and a threat to the peace of the region. They called on the Soviet Union to act in accordance with the resolution of the United Nations General Assembly and withdraw their troops from Afghanistan.
Agreement was reached in principle to an EEC trade regime for Rhodesia and, eventually, an independent Zimbabwe which will last up to the end of 1980. This regime provides for free access for industrial products and generous treatment for agricultural products—including duty-free access for tobacco. The Council's agreement is subject to the opinion of the European Parliament but that will, we hope, be forthcoming by the end of this week. I should like to record here the Government's appreciation of the contribution made by other member States and, in particular, the Commission towards securing so quickly full agreement on this important subject.
The Council agreed that details of the Community's improved offer for a new EEC-Yugoslavia co-operation agreement should be settled at tomorrow's meeting of the Committee of Permanent Representatives so that the Commission can continue negotiations with Yugoslavia next week in time for a final decision on the new agreement to be taken at the next Foreign Affairs Council on 4–5 February. We welcome this sense of urgency.
No agreement was reached on the appointment of an additional Advocate General to the European Court of Justice or on the annual staff pay review.
The Presidency made a statement drawing attention to the importance of developing relations with Latin America. There was no discussion.
Ministers agreed that the next ministerial meeting with ASEAN should take place when the co-operation agreement is signed. The first week of March will be proposed to ASEAN.
The Council took note of the resolutions passed by the Parliament at its session of 10–14 December 1979. There was no discussion.
The Foreign Affairs Council reviewed progress in other specialist councils. There was no substantive discussion.

24.

asked the Lord Privy Seal when he intends to meet his European Economic Community counterparts.

28.

I met them at the Foreign Affairs Council yesterday. I shall meet them again at the next Council on 4 and 5 of February in Brussels.

Will my right hon. Friend please make a special effort to have further discussions about whether the Olympic Games should be held at a venue other than Moscow and will he see whether his European counterparts have the same views, even if that means postponing the Olympic Games? If those Games are postponed, surely any disappointment felt by a few thousand athletes sould be seen as a minor matter compared with the possible effect upon Russian public opinion that withdrawal might have. It may help to prevent a third World War. Surely the Government are not entirely without influence, as they contribute to the cost through the Sports Council.

At the Council meeting yesterday it was agreed that all possible measures relating to Afghanistan should be considered in Rome next week and therefore discussion of the Olympic Games will take place then. I appreciate my hon. Friend's point about the advantages of finding another place at which to hold the Games, but he will understand that many difficulties are involved because there is such short notice. Other countries, like Britain, do not control their Olympic committees.

Will the Lord Privy Seal tell the House of any benefits that Britain derives from membership of the EEC?

One benefit I hope will appeal to the hon. Gentleman is that the EEC strengthens the Western orientation of Britain. Given Soviet behaviour in Eastern Europe, that should appeal to all hon. Members.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the widespread disappointment at the published reports of the meetings of the EEC yesterday? Will he give the House an absolute assurance that Her Majesty's Government will urgently examine, with all their allies, measures for decisive action against Russian influence in all parts of the world as an unmistakable demonstration of our refusal to march, again, along the path of the 1930s?

I understand from newspaper reports, and from the House today, that there is some disappointment about our achievements. However, as I have said, alliances and communities can move only slowly. No doubt my hon. Friend is aware that my right hon. and noble Friend the Foreign Secretary is now touring the area adjacent to Afghanistan. He will return at the end of the week and we shall consult as to what further measures should be taken.

Is it true that yesterday the French even opposed the complete cancellation of sales of cheap butter by the EEC to the Soviet Union?

It is not the custom to reveal the attitudes of individual Governments in Council meetings. There have been reports on that matter.

European Parliament

25.

asked the Lord Privy Seal what is the cost of holding plenary sessions of the European Parliament in Strasbourg and Luxembourg, and committee meetings in Brussels; and what would be the saving if the Parliament were based in a single place.

According to a recent report of the European Parliament's Committee on Budgets, the cost of the three centres including rent and accessory items amounted to approximately 17·1 million European units of account—£11·39 million—or 20·3 per cent. of total expenditure in 1978. If the member States were to agree that the Parliament should be established in one place, savings would no doubt be possible. But no official estimates have been made.

While it was bad enough in the previously indirectly elected Parliament, is it not absurd that a European Parliament of 400 Members should be peripatetic and unnecessarily caravanning around Europe?

With his European experience, the hon. Gentleman will know that this is a matter for the Parliament and the European Council. It can be changed only by unanimous vote in the Council.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that there would be an even greater saving if there was no European Assembly?

Of course, all parliaments cost money. However, no one would regard that as a reason for abolishing the European Parliament. I would have thought it was common ground that the European Parliament has already shown its great usefulness and that it is a great asset to the Community.

Legislation

26.

asked the Lord Privy Seal what steps he is taking to reduce the amount of EEC legislation.

The Government have made clear on a number of occasions that they are against unnecessary legislation and standardisation for its own sake.

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that we need a drastic reduction in legislation? Is he aware that the legislation is a particularly heavy burden on small businesses, it is costly and it is unnecessary? Does he appreciate that such a practice spoils the good legislation that can come out of Brussels? Will he make a special effort to ensure that a drastic reduction in legislation occurs? Perhaps my right hon. Friend will bear in mind the stupidity of the directive concerning harmonisation of bathing water.

I do not remember that particular incident, but it seems a most cogent example.

Does the Lord Privy Seal agree that some public scrutiny would help to curtail the mass of legislation from the EEC—most of which is trivial and absurd? Rather than keep the decisions of the Council of Ministers behind closed doors would it not be of help to open those doors to the public, so that they may know what is going on within an absurd Common Market?

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman is against excessive legislation, but if that is so within the context of Europe, that is a matter for him. It would not be helpful for Council meetings to be open to the public. As the hon. Gentleman will have noticed, a good deal leaks out, despite the so-called privacy. Apart from anything else, there is no space in the room. There is, therefore, a good technical reason for leaks.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there should be reductions in all forms of legislation, both nationally and within the Community? Will he remind the House that it is always constitutionally open to the Council of Ministers to say "No" to the Commission if it wishes to on any proposal?

Is the Lord Privy Seal aware that these EEC regulations have the force of law and that there is great disquiet in the House about the number of decisions that are taken without giving the House an opportunity to discuss them? Will he look at this question again and will he bring many more issues before the House as quickly as possible before decisions are taken, rather than afterwards?

I was not aware of great discontent. I thought that we had been most scrupulous. I shall certainly look at the point.

Emergency Calls

27.

asked the Lord Privy Seal what arrangements have been proposed or agreed to within the European Economic Community to harmonise statutory regulations for the recording of urgent calls for fire services, police, and ambulance services in accordance with the arrangements now in existence in France and Germany; and if he will make a statement.

No arrangements have been agreed to within the Community and I am not aware of any proposals for the harmonisation of recording procedures for such telephone calls.

Is the Lord Privy Seal aware that Britain is sadly lagging behind in modern technology for very important emergency services? Is he aware that both France and Germany have improved on our efforts? Although that might not come within the province of Common Market harmonisation, will he make representations to the Home Office to bring us up to date?

The hon. Gentleman has baffled us with his question. He seems to be making a case for harmonisation within the EEC, and perhaps there is such a case. I shall draw the attention of the Secretary of State for the Home Department to the hon. Gentleman's remarks.

Official Visits

29.

asked the Lord Privy Seal when he expects to make a statement concerning his recent official visits to Governments of various member States of the EEC.

My round of visits is not complete. I have so far visited Rome, The Hague, Luxembourg and Brussels. I shall be visiting West Germany tomorrow and the remaining Community countries next week.

I have at present no plans to make a statement to the House. I can, however, say now that I am not discouraged by my discussions so far.

Is the Lord Privy Seal aware that yesterday when he was at the EEC Council his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, in answer to a question from me, changed her objective of £1,000 million to "vastly increased receipts"? Can he tell the House what that figure is?

The hon. Gentleman's premise is wrong and I therefore cannot answer the question. After Dublin, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made it clear that it was the Government's policy to seek a genuine compromise with our partners and she added that we had little room for manoeuvre. At a time when the Government are pursuing negotiations, it is quite impossible to give figures or disclose our exact negotiating position.