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European Community

Volume 982: debated on Wednesday 16 April 1980

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Council Of Foreign Ministers


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


asked the Lord Privy Seal when he expects next to meet his EEC colleagues; and if he will make a statement.


asked the Lord Privy Seal when next he expects to meet his EEC colleagues.

My right hon. and noble Friend will meet his Community colleagues at the next Foreign Affairs Council on 21 and 22 April. I myself will be paying an official visit to Cyprus on those dates. I expect therefore to meet Community colleagues next at the Council to be held on 5 and 6 May.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that at these meetings, and at the even more important EEC summit in Luxembourg, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary will carry with them the good wishes of the entire nation when it comes to trying to organise a fair reduction of Britain's contribution? Will the Government be sure not to neglect the more pressing and urgent geo-political priorities at these summits, especially the need for a concerted European approach to the crises in Afghanistan and Iran?

I am grateful for what my hon. Friend has said, I am sure that my right hon. Friend and my right hon. and noble Friend will carry with them the good wishes of the entire country. As regards the second part of his question, that will depend upon what happens between now and the meeting of the European Council, and especially upon what happens next week at the Foreign Affairs Council. However, I strongly take my hon. Friend's point.

In view of the rapidly deteriorating situation in Southern Lebanon, especially the difficulties facing the Irish troops as a result of the activities of Major Haddad, supported by his Israeli advisers, will my right hon. Friend confirm that top priority will be given by his counterparts and himself at his forthcoming meeting to taking some form of initiative to safeguard the peaceful intentions of everyone living in that area?

As my hon. Friend the Minister of State said earlier, he and I talked with Dr. Waldheim this morning about this matter, which is serious and needs remedying. However, I cannot guarantee that it will be given top priority at the next meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council.

When the Minister next meets his European colleagues, will he make it clear to them when they discuss the imposition of any sanctions against Iran in line with President Carter's request, that any decision that they make, notwithstanding article 131 of the Treaty, will be subject to ratification by the House of Commons, as the Prime Minister promised yesterday?

Of course what the Prime Minister promised yesterday will, needless to say, be carried out.

Has my right hon. Friend noticed that in some of the questions put to him on this matter there has been reference to "counterparts" and in others a reference to "colleagues"? It will not have gone unnoticed that my right hon. Friend used the word "colleagues", and in these days of questioning about Europe I am grateful to him for that distinction.

Can the Lord Privy Seal and his counterparts or colleagues think of any good reason why the Soviet Union should want to colonise Afghanistan?

That question should be addressed to the Soviet Union. All we know is that at least 80,000 troops are present in Afghanistan terrorising the inhabitants and causing large numbers of casualties and that this action has been criticised by almost the entire free world, 104 members of the United Nations, and by the Islamic Council. It appears to be supported only by the hon. Gentleman.

When he next meets his EEC colleagues, will my right hon. Friend discover from them whether the Brandt report is to be on the agenda for Venice in June? If so, will he undertake to publish the Government's response to it before that date?

It is too early to say what will be on the agenda in Venice, but I think that I can assure my hon. Friend that the Government's views on the Brandt report will have been published before that date.

The Lord Privy Seal is to discuss with his opposite numbers in the EEC the proposal by Lord Carrington for a neutral Afghanistan. Bearing in mind that he has said today that this neutrality would not be imposed but would have to be agreed, presumably by Afghanistan, would it not have been courteous to have indicated to the Afghan Government the nature of the proposals so that they—after all they will be the Government with whom the proposals will have to be agreed—would have known exactly what was proposed?

The hon. Gentleman has that wrong. The present Government of Afghanistan would not last a moment if the Soviet troops were not there. His views on this subject are, therefore, not all that relevant.

To return to my right hon. Friend's meeting with his counterparts, may we assume that on the agenda of this meeting will be the text of Sir Roy Denman's report, which asserts that the majority of senior Eurocrats are drunk and incompetent?

I cannot give a definite answer to that, but I think that it is unlikely.

When the Lord Privy Seal talks to his counterparts about Afghanistan will he make it clear to them that if there is to be a concerted effort to support the American position over the hostages in Iran that is made easier by the fact that the EEC is now less dependent on Iran for its supplies of oil? That therefore makes the problem political, as opposed to directly economical.

I agree that it is largely a political problem. The question is how to achieve the objectives that we all have in mind, which are, first, the maintenance and solidarity of the Western Alliance, and, secondly, the release of the hostages.

Order. I shall make a statement tomorrow on open questions on foreign affairs, which is something new.

European Council Meeting


asked the Lord Privy Seal when he expects the new date for the postponed European Council meeting scheduled for 31 March to be announced.

The European Council is now to be held in Luxembourg on 27 and 28 April.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Can he say whether he is now convinced that the worst of the unthinking, narrow-minded, knocking of the Community in this country is over, and that, although the summit was postponed originally for the wrong reasons, the refixing of the new date offers a good opportunity for the Community to reach positive and constructive solutions both on our own budget contribution and on taking the Community forward on a number of important matters?

I cannot tell what will be done by what my hon. Friend called the knockers of the Community. However, I agree with him that there is a great opportunity at the forthcoming Council not only to make considerable progress and to achieve a solution on our budget contribution, but to make progress in other areas.

Has the delay in holding the summit given the Government any more room for manoeuvre over Britain's budget contributions?

We are not seeking greater room for manoeuvre, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has frequently said. We are seeking a genuine compromise, and we have a limited area in which to manoeuvre. However, the enforced delay has enabled various contacts to take place.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that we are much more likely to get a sensible answer to the problems of Britain's contributions if at the same time we show our determination to make the European Community a real force for peace in the world?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. He will be aware that since the Government came into power, and especially over the past two months since the invasion of Afghanistan, we have shown a distinct wish and inclination to do just that.

Has the right hon. Gentleman noticed that one other thing has happened in the interim? At the same time as he has been asking for a considerable change in our budget contributions, his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has managed, by moving to positive MCAs, to increase the contributions. How will he explain that to the Market?

As the hon. Lady will know, or should know, the increase in our contributions as a result of the move to positive MCAs, of which she talks, will be so infinitesimal that I do not think it needs explanation.

Areas Of Disagreement


asked the Lord Privy Seal if he will list the areas of disagreement which are outstanding between the United Kingdom and the other member States of the European Community.

The United Kingdom's inequitable contribution to the Community budget is the main problem affecting the United Kingdom specifically. The Government are determined to negotiate a fair solution. There are other issues for the Community as a whole to resolve, such as the need to control the costs of agricultural surpluses and to modify the common fisheries policy.

In view of the fact that there is, although my right hon. Friend did not disclose all of them, a long list of problems, and therefore the possibility, to say the very least, that these problems will not be resolved, I wonder whether my right hon. Friend will be kind enough to confirm, in just one word, that it would be imprudent for Her Majesty's Government not to have a contingency plan based on the possibility that we do not get agreement, and that therefore we might in the last resort have to have some new policy of positive association with the countries in the Community other than the one that we have at the moment?

If I had to answer my hon. Friend in one word, it would be "No". However, I have told him and the House that I do not believe that what he is saying is a serious option. Britain is a member of the EEC and the Government have every intention of ensuring that it continues to be so.

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House, in his helpful spirit of compromise, to what extent we are prepared to compromise on fish, on energy policy and on our relationship with the monetary system?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have said that we do not believe in a package deal. We believe that all these issues should be decided on their merits.

If it proves impossible for the countries of the EEC to adopt a single and effective attitude towards the crises in Afghanistan and Iran, will my right hon. Friend explain to the House where the British people are likely to see the much-vaunted political advantages of remaining in the EEC?

That is a doubly hypothetical question, and therefore one that I cannot answer.

Will the right hon. Gentleman comment on the fact that we are facing a £1·2 billion deficit in payments and a £2½ billion deficit in trade with the EEC, of which £700 million accounts for textile goods? Has the Foreign and Commonwealth Office any contingency plans to improve the trading position, to seek stern negotiations to improve it or get out, which is the only solution that most sensible people see as the alternative?

I know that that is something that is very much concerning the Labour Party at the moment, but it is not concerning us. The hon. Gentleman is ignoring the fact that our trading performance with the EEC is better than it is with the rest of the world. It is a characteristic of the Labour Party that its Members do not like listening to facts of which they do not approve. The export-import ratio of our trade with the Community increased to 86 per cent., from 83 per cent. in 1978. Since 1973 our exports to the EEC have increased by 350 per cent., and elsewhere by merely 200 per cent.

President Of The Commission


asked the Lord Privy Seal when next he expects to meet with the President of the European Community.

I expect to meet the President of the Commission, Mr. Jenkins, when I next attend the Foreign Affairs Council on the 5–6 May, if that is what the hon. Gentleman has in mind in his question.

That is what I have in mind. I apologise for the mistake in terminology. When the right hon. Gentleman meets the President of the Commission, will he explain to Mr. Jenkins, and will he explain to us now, why the Government will not accept finance from the European Community if it also involves finance from United Kingdom Government sources? Does he accept that this exacerbates our budget problem?

No, I do not. I am not certain on what the hon. Gentleman bases his question. As he knows, there have been Commission proposals to spend EEC money in Britain, which we have welcomed.

Does my right hon. Friend recall the judgment at the time of our original application to join the EEC, namely, that the cost of membership would be high and easy to quantify, and that the benefits of membership were unquantifiable but certainly very much higher? Does that judgment still not hold good? Does it not account for the ease with which one can set out the disadvantages and the relative difficulty in setting out the advantages?

Of course, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. It will not have escaped his notice that the Labour Party, when unfortunately, it is m government is in favour of the EEC, and that when it is in opposition it always turns against it.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his answer about the balance of trade between the EEC and the United Kingdom is misleading? The figures that he used include the trade in oil. If he considers the trade in manufactured goods, which must be the test of any industrialised nation, he will see that Britain has suffered again and again as a result of its membership of the EEC. Have the positive and substantial benefits of the balance of trade that were promised by the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) in the 1971 White Paper come about?

That is because our economic performance in general declined sharply under the previous Labour Government. The fact remains that we are doing better with the EEC than we are with the rest of the world.

Official Documentation (Availability)


asked the Lord Privy Seal is he is satisfied with the form of official documentation used in the EEC Council of Ministers and the arrangements he has made for relevant documents to be made available to public and Parliament.

Documents are generally made available to Parliament within two working days of receipt in London. There are occasions, unfortunately, when Community documentation is not available as early as we would wish, but we shall on these occasions continue to make every effort to ensure that the House has the documentation as quickly as possible.

I thank the Lord Privy Seal for that reply. However, will he consider the matter again and make sure that on all occasions proper documents of the EEC Council are available? If he should find that there is no proper documentation that can be placed before the public and Parliament, will he take action to ensure that during the meeting of the Council of Ministers proper documenta- tion is provided to form the basis for scrutiny and debate?

I shall have another look at this. I agree with the drift of the hon. Gentleman's argument. It is desirable that, when possible, documentation should be available. We shall do everything that we can to ensure that it is. I cannot give the hon. Gentleman any guarantee, because these things are not necessarily within the British Government's power.

When the Council is legislating, would it not be a good idea for it, occasionally at least, to hold some of its sessions in public, with the press present?

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is difficult to examine all the directives and regulations that flow from the Council if those documents are not available? Would the right hon. Gentleman like to suggest a new method whereby no directive becomes operative in the United Kingdom until it has been examined by the House of Commons?

I agree that it is difficult to examine a document if we do not have it. I have nothing to add to my original answer.

Council Of Foreign Ministers


asked the Lord Privy Seal when next his noble Friend expects to met his European Economic Community colleagues.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the unanimity shown by the Council of Foreign Ministers last week over Iran represents a significant step forward in the development of an EEC foreign policy? Will this process continue at the meeting?

I think that we would all agree that next week's meeting will be very important. As my hon. Friend the Minister of State said, it will not be the be-all and end-all of our policy on Iran.

When my right hon. Friend next meets his European Economic Community colleagues, will he raise the subject of the operation of the European Investment Bank and of our contribution to it? Does he agree that we have our own Commonwealth Development Corporation, which is more worthy of the contributions that we make from our limited resources? Will he reduce our contribution to the European Investment Bank in favour of the Commonwealth Development Corporation?

Both institutions are important. I shall certainly look at the question, but it is unnecessary to denigrate one while praising the other.

If the Lord Privy Seal were a stubborn Iranian, would a blockade with the possibility of a military threat make him more, or less, amenable to releasing hostages?