Skip to main content

European Community

Volume 984: debated on Wednesday 14 May 1980

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Community Legislation


asked the Lord Privy Seal what action he has taken or proposes to take, consequent on the First Special Report of the Select Committee on EEC legislation (HC 543) relating to EEC instruments not deposited in the House.

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and I have discussed this report. We accept that the Committee should be informed as promptly as possible of legislative proposals. Further representations are being made in Brussels to try and improve the service. We shall also ensure, wherever possible, that when no depositable document is produced before a legislative proposal is considered by the Council, the Scrutiny Committee is kept fully informed by use of unnumbered explanatory memoranda.

Does not the right hon. Gentleman accept that there has been a breach of the undertaking, in that a statutory instrument has been made by this House when no document on which it is based has gone to the Scrutiny Committee? Will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that Her Majesty's Government will not in future assent to any directive or regulation in the Council of Ministers until they have a document from the Council which can be put before the Scrutiny Committee of this House, in accordance with their undertakings?

With all respect to the hon. Gentleman who, I know, takes a close interest in these matters, I think that my first answer went fairly far towards meeting his point. We accept that there is a difficulty. We are trying to deal with it. The hon. Gentleman knows that there are occasional difficulties when we have to proceed. We shall do our best to see that there is an adequate document whenever we discuss matters.

Will the Lord Privy Seal look at the Danish system, whereby Ministers are required to come back to the Danish Parliament with detailed propositions before they are decided upon in the Council of Ministers? We would like the right hon. Gentleman, if he is to deposit documents, to make sure that they are deposited in good time.

We would, of course, like documents to be deposited in good time but each Parliament has its various customs. In this matter, I do not intend to suggest to the House that we should follow the Danish example.

The right hon. Gentleman did not answer the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) or his supplementary question. The right hon. Gentleman was asked whether he would state to those in the so-called European Parliament and to these so-called Europeans that we would refuse to carry out any directives unless the papers and documents, are put to the Committee. Will he not simply do his best? Will he tell them that?

Treaty Of Rome


asked the Lord Privy Seal if, following the recent meetings of EEC Ministers, he will take steps to secure the amendment of the Treaty of Rome.

Will the right hon. Gentleman try to persuade the Cabinet to read the speeches that some of its members made when the Treaty of Rome was being debated in the House? Is it not now abundantly clear that the milk and honey promised in at least some of those speeches is totally divorced from present reality and that the main cause is the nature of the treaty? If the Government do not intend to withdraw from the EEC, will they at least try to make fundamental changes in the treaty?

I do not think that it is very good for politicians to spend time reading their own speeches. Some were rather proud of doing that. They probably gain greater intellectual refreshment from reading other people's speeches or other matters. We have no intention of proposing amendments to the Treaty of Rome. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are proposing changes in our budget contribution, but that is a very different matter.

Is not the Lord Privy Seal aware that the continuing deterioration in our trade with the EEC, particularly in non-oil products, points to amendment of the treaty? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware, notwithstanding his injunction not to read his own speeches, that when he told the House a month ago that there had been an improvement in our trade with the EEC between 1978 and 1979, he was wrong? Does he realise that figures published by the Government prove that there has been no change? If the greatly increasing exports of oil to the EEC are removed, is he aware that our trade with the EEC has deteriorated from 83 per cent. to 78 per cent. and the deficit in non-oil trade has doubled to £4 billion?

With respect, the hon. Gentleman is not right. Our trading performance with the EEC is better than it is with the rest of the world. The United Kingdom's performance in manufacturing trade with the world as a whole has been disappointing but. last year, the deterioration in our trade with the Community was less bad than that with the world as a whole and less than that with the United States or Japan.

Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that no amendment of the Treaty is required for the appropriate restructuring of the common agricultural policy since the articles in the Treaty relating to the common agricultural policy are cast in generalised terms? Will he, therefore, press ahead to secure the necessary agreement in the Council of Ministers, which is all that is required for this laudable and imperative objective?

My right hon. and learned Friend is extremely learned in this matter, as in other matters. The House will accept his word. We wish to restructure the budget, but, as my right hon. and learned Friend will know, that is a medium and long-term matter rather than something that can be dealt with during the next few weeks.

By his own high standards, the Lord Privy Seal is being exceptionally complacent in his replies to this question. Is he really telling the House that a Treaty, written 25 years ago, not one word of which was contributed to by a British hand, is not a subject that he ought to be thinking about in terms of major amendment and change after all the experience of failure in matching and meeting its own objectives, let alone our national interest? If he is not thinking about it, he should start doing so now.

The difference between the right hon. Gentleman and myself is that I wish to secure an agreement with the EEC and the right hon. Gentleman does not. The right hon. Gentleman therefore, wishes to maximise our difference with the EEC whereas the Government do not wish to do so.



asked the Lord Privy Seal what discussions he has had with his EEC colleagues on the Council of Ministers about Yugoslavia.

Discussions on Yugoslavia have occurred regularly during recent meetings with my European Community colleagues, culminating in the signing of the European Community-Yugoslavia co-operation agreement in Belgrade on 2 April and the interim agreements on trade and financial co-operation in Brussels on 6 May.

Will my right hon. Friend agree that it is important that the EEC as a whole should be well prepared to deal with any changes that may come about in Yugoslavia, or that may concern Yugoslavia, following the death of President Tito?

I accept entirely the force of my hon. Friend's question. He will be aware that the speeding up of the negotiations between the EEC and Yugoslavia was directly caused by the serious and sad illness of President Tito.

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that, with the passing of President Tito, Britain has lost an honoured friend and wartime ally? Bearing in mind the Kremlin's long-held desire to see Yugoslavia incorporated within the Soviet empire, as part of the Warsaw Pact, will he make clear Her Majesty's Government's determination to do all in their power to secure the continued independence of Yugoslavia including, if neccessary, the sale of defensive weapons?

I entirely agree with what my hon. Friend said about President Tito. It has been a long standing policy of the British Government, including previous Governments, to support the independence of Yugoslavia. We shall do all that we can to see that that is assured.

Foreign Policy Co-Ordination


asked the Lord Privy Seal when he intends to raise the question of the inclusion of new areas and subjects in the region of political co-operation and modifications to the role played by the Committee of Permanent Representatives on foreign policy co-ordination.

The Government attach great importance to political cooperation with our European partners. We wish to strengthen and intensify it. We are always prepared to propose new subjects for political co-operation if they are in areas where Europe can make a useful contribution. We are similarly willing to put forward or support practical proposals which will improve the machinery of political co-operation. The important thing is to build on the valuable direct contact between Ministers and officials of the Nine which political cooperation involves.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that very positive and comprehensive answer. Will he also acknowledge that political co-operation is sufficiently informal and empirical for a number of additional subjects to be included within it? One of those could be, for instance, the establishment of a Community institution in London. Will my right hon. Friend press for this in coming years, to reinforce our involvement in the Community? Will he, for example, consider the European export bank if it is established, or the European trade mark office, which is due to be formed in three years' time?

I agree with my hon. Friend, and I shall seriously consider both matters that he has raised.

Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that it would be inappropriate at this time of disagreement about the budget to agree to any extension of political co-operation other than that which is an obligation under the Treaty?

I cannot agree at all. The Western world is seriously threatened, and the maximum amount of political co-operation that we can achieve among the Nine is clearly in the interests not only of this country but of the free world as a whole.

As terrorists who are wanted in one EEC country are still finding havens in others, does not my right hon. Friend think that one of the jobs that the committee might do is to improve co-operation in counter-terror operations? In particular, will my right hon. Friend invite it to devise a common code of practice for the pooling of criminal intelligence and advance warning and the whole matter of the protection of embassies?

My hon. Friend raises some wide and very important matters. I think that they go rather wider than the question, but we shall certainly consider them.

If there is to be better foreign policy co-ordination, it should surely be in a much wider context than the Nine. Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that co-ordination in the wider world is effective, and is not the Treaty of Rome an obstacle to that?

Of course it is not. There is no doubt that co-operation between the Nine is not an obstacle to cooperation in other forums as well or with other people, such as the United States. The maximum amount of co-operation within the Nine is clearly to the advantage of us all.

Budget (United Kingdom Contribution)


asked the Lord Privy Seal what further meetings have been arranged involving Ministers of his Department concerning the re-negotiation of the United Kingdom's contribution to the EEC budget.

I expect the United Kingdom's contribution to the European Community's budget to be discussed at the informal meeting of Foreign Ministers scheduled on 17 and 18 May and again at the Foreign Affairs Council in Luxembourg on 2 and 3 June.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the farm price deal that has been agreed so far by the other Eight is wholly unacceptable in any circumstances, involving as it does a £1 billion increase in the cost of the CAP, and that it is wholly contrary to the Government's stated intention of reducing the CAP? Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that, in the Government's anxiety to get a deal on Britain's overall budget contribution, there will be no surrender on the farm price deal?

We are not in the surrendering business. On the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question, he should pursue his quarrel with his own leader. The Leader of the Opposition said on 29 April:

" I repeat very strongly that we shall support her "—
that is, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister—
" in not giving way on the agricultural price freeze until the budgetary issue is settled."— [Official Report, 29 April 1980; Vol. 983, c. 1154.]

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that the demand by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for a substantial cut in our EEC budget contribution is fully justified, bearing in mind the lethargic and slow method of operation in the EEC, which means that much of our industrial base is being undermined? I refer particularly to the very slow way in which the EEC processes applications for anti-dumping measures and so on.

I am not sure how closely connected the two parts of my hon. Friend's question are, but I agree with him 100 per cent. on the first part.

Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the nub of the negotiations about the budget is the relative GNP per head of the member States in relation to contributions rather than any argument about juste retour, or broad balance?

We have never sought juste retour, and that has nothing to do with our case. The main point is that we are the seventh richest member of the Community and by far the largest contributor. But the matter goes beyond that. On the present basis, if nothing happened, we should be supplying about 60 per cent. of the Community budget. Germany would be supplying the rest, and virtually everybody else would be in surplus. That is plainly wrong.

It is manifestly wrong, as the Prime Minister has made it plain on a number of occasions. But will the right hon. Gentleman make clear to the country that there is no question of trading off a temporary concession on the British net contribution to the budget against a major new imposition on the British housewife and consumer and additional cost through the already over-costly CAP? Will he also make plain that he is trying to get at the heart of the matter, which is the whole crazy system of own-resources and the pattern of budget expenditure?

The right hon. Gentleman should pursue that matter fundamentally with his own leader.

I will. It is worth bearing in mind that the previous Government, which the right hon. Gentleman adorned, as did his hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil (Mr. Rowlands), agreed to average price increases of 7·5 per cent. a year. Therefore, even if we agreed to a 5 per cent. increase, it would be much lower than the average increases conceded by the previous Government.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the 5 per cent. farm price increase would add a mere 0·2 per cent. to the retail price index, whereas excessive wage claims in this country are pushing inflation up to 20 per cent?

That is largely true. Nevertheless, everything that adds to inflation is in itself to be regretted. The 5 per cent. increase is large, but is not large compared with that which was normally agreed to by the previous Government.

Disciplinary Procedures


asked the Lord Privy Seal whether he will publish the memorandum by Sir Roy Denman on disciplinary procedures within the European Economic Commission.

No, Sir. The document in question is, I understand, an internal Commission memorandum prepared as part of the Commission's work on the report by the Spierenburg committee. It is not a matter for Her Majesty's Government.

But as the Prime Minister is so keen on reducing the number of civil servants, and as Sir Roy Denman says that they cannot be dismissed in Brussels even if they are dead drunk all day, what will the right hon. Gentleman do about it?

That extract from the report is clearly grist to the right hon. Gentleman's mill, but as he will be aware, what Sir Roy Denman was saying was that there was security of tenure in Brussels, virtually whatever happened. There may well be too many bureaucrats in Brussels, but compared with, say, the Scottish Office, their number is not great.

While it may not be appropriate for the Government to publish the Denman report, does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that there is considerable, and probably justified, public anxiety about the appointment, terms of reference, general disciplinary procedures and terms of employment of those employed by the Commission? Is he satisfied that they are up to at least the standards in the British Civil Service? If not, what will he do about it?

I did not know that there was anxiety. I should have thought that the general standard of public servants in Brussels was very high.

Would the right hon. Gentleman care to commend staff regulation No. 4 of the European Communities to his own Department and to the home Departments of State? He will recollect, I am sure, that that regulation says that the Commission can take away the pensions of people who take jobs contrary to the wish of the Commission after leaving the service of the Commission. Perhaps he could commend that regulation to the Department of the Industry, for example.

Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether it was on this report that The Daily Telegraph based its article on Monday, pointing out that poor European MPs could not get their £40,000 a year—mostly in expenses—tax-free? Is he aware that many of them, according to the article, are having to apply to their banks for overdrafts? Is it not terrible that these poor people cannot manage on that money?

I was abroad on Monday and did not see the report in The Daily Telegraph. From what the hon. Gentleman said, the newspaper report appears to relate to Members of Parliament. As the Denman report does not relate to Members of Parliament, I think that the connection is unlikely.