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Council Of Foreign Ministers

Volume 978: debated on Wednesday 13 February 1980

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41.

asked the Lord Privy Seal when next he expects to meet other EEC Ministers.

43.

asked the Lord Privy Seal when next he intends to meet his EEC counterparts.

44.

asked the Lord Privy Seal when he next expects to meet his European counterparts.

I refer the hon. Gentlemen and my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave earlier to the hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton).

If the Lord Privy Seal fails to obtain a broad balance of the payments, and if we are still contributing a net £1 billion plus to the EEC, what action does he propose to take? If the EEC refuses to curtail cheap imports of textiles from America and Romania, what action do the Government propose to take, or do they not care about the loss of textile jobs in Lancashire and Yorkshire?

The hon. Gentleman will know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade told my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Trippier) on 7 February that the United Kingdom had submitted an application to the Commission for safeguard action. The Commission is due to respond in five working days, which is by 15 February. On 5 February the Council of Ministers accepted that the United Kingdom was facing special difficulties. In spite of the hon. Gentleman's jibe, I do not have to tell the House that the Government are fully aware of the difficulties involved.

When the Lord Privy Seal next meets his counterparts, will he inform them of the rising tide of dissatisfaction and antagonism towards the EEC on the part of people in this country who believe that they are being bled white by the Community and are being pushed to the sidelines by the Franco-German axis?

I do not think that that is the right way to approach the problem. We have made it clear that the present position on the budget is totally inequitable. My right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer said the other day that our case is open and shut. We shall continue to argue that case to the Community. I am confident that it will accept our argument.

Does my right hon. Friend recognise that there are continuing important issues other than the question of the budget? Will he impress on his colleagues in the EEC the importance of concluding the new co-operation agreement with Yugoslavia, taking into account the ailing health of its President?

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. He will be aware that the last two Foreign Affairs Councils gave considerable impetus to the matter. It was made clear that it was a matter of the utmost urgency and priority. I hope that negotiations will be concluded soon.

When the Lord Privy Seal meets the other Foreign Ministers, will he discuss with them the dangerous position that is developing in Southern Lebanon? Will he discuss what initiative should be taken, within the United Nations, to strengthen the United Nations peace-keeping effort in that part of the world, since otherwise we may face an explosive situation?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Nine made a statement on the matter last September. It is a dangerous position, but I cannot guarantee that it will be discussed at the next meeting. I shall certainly bear the hon. Gentleman's remarks in mind.

When my right hon. Friend is negotiating reductions in the United Kingdom contribution to the EEC budget, will he make it clear that he will not be fobbed off by back-to-back grants for Government projects that would, in fact, entail increased public spending in this country to match them?

I am not quite certain what my hon. Friend means by back-to-back grants. He will be aware that the problem has, essentially, two components. The first is the excessive contribution as such, and that will be dealt with largely by what was virtually agreed at Dublin. The second component, and it is by far the greater part of the problem—at least 60 per cent. of it—is that our receipts from the European Community are well below average. They are less than half of the Community average. That is by far the greater part of our problem.

Will the Lord Privy Seal reconsider the reply that he has given to my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley) about the European response to the position in the Lebanon? He referred to a meeting last September. As another bloody civil war is about to begin in the Lebanon, surely speedier action than he is proposing is required.

I did not think that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley, was proposing speedy action. I said that I could not guarantee that the matter would be discussed at the European Council.