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European Community

Volume 32: debated on Wednesday 24 November 1982

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Reform And Development


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he plans any new initiatives in the Council of Ministers with a view to reforming the institutions and policies of the European Economic Community.

I shall continue to take the initiative in the Council to press for constructive reform and development. Our aims include new policies of benefit to Britain and the Community, such as the ideas on coal now being pursued in the Energy Council, improvements in the operation of the common agricultural policy, and a fair solution to the budget problem, which is one of the things I have been discussing this week in Brussels.

Is not my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State confessing that, after 10 years of membership, we have made no permanent changes whatever to the budget arrangements, which have so far cost Britain, net, over £3,500 million? Will my right hon. Friend explain why, when the remit from the Council of Ministers to the Commission was to produce plans for a permanent solution, it has apparently produced plans for yet another temporary arrangement?

A permanent solution has not been produced because the 10 members are not able to agree about that matter. I am still pressing them to produce a lasting solution, and I shall continue to do so. It is a mistake to say that nothing has been achieved. Already in the past three years over £2,000 million of our contribution has been repaid, which is a major acknowledgement by our partners that the budget was not fair. Britain was placed in an unacceptable position, and they responded accordingly. It is a mistake to underrate what has been achieved. However, I agree with my hon. Friend that there is a lot more to do.

Which institutions of the EEC does the Secretary of State wish to reform, and how?

As I said in my original answer, we wish to reform the CAP, the budget arrangements and the financial structure. We support the enlargement of the EC by the accession of Spain and Portugal, and that has been negotiated. We are taking a positive approach to developments within the Community in many different ways.

Will the Secretary of State undertake, along with his colleagues, to carry new initiatives to Europe in order to provide a meaningful energy programme for the Third and developing world?

As the joint budgetary authority consists of the Council and the European Parliament, must not one of the most important initiatives be that the helpful declaration of 30 June, which was worked out by my hon. Friends, should be translated from good intentions to the completion of the 1983 budget procedure on time and in accordance with the Treaty?

Yes, Sir. I, too, hope that the Council and the European Parliament will be able to reach agreement on the 1983 budget and that it will be adopted in accordance with the Treaty.

Council Of Ministers


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he last attended a meeting of the European Economic Community Council of Ministers; and if he will make a statement.

I attended the Foreign Affairs Council, which was held in Brussels on 22 and 23 November. 1 shall be making a statement to the House immediately after Question Time today.

Will the Secretary of State take an early opportunity to point out to EEC Ministers the difficulties that British manufacturers are experiencing in exporting to EEC countries? Is he aware that some of the tactics that have been adopted by some of our partners, including the French, are adding to the imbalance in manufactured goods in the EEC? Will the Minister make it clear to EEC Ministers and the House that, while Britain remains a member of the EEC, the Government will protect British industry by adopting suitable tactics?

The hon. Gentleman's last phrase suggests something quite different from the first part of his supplementary question. My reply to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question is "Yes, Sir". If, as I suspect, the hon. Gentleman has particular cases in mind, I hope that he will let me have details. However, as to the latter part of his question, it is an essential part of our policy to maintain an open trading system.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the majority of problems for which we are seeking solutions within the Council of Ministers would have existed anyway, whether or not we were in the EEC? Is it not far better to resolve those difficulties within the Community?

Yes. We are trying to do that, although it can sometimes be difficult, particularly in times of recession. We are doing our best in that direction.

Will the Secretary of State clarify rumours, which seem to be circulating on a widespread basis, about the bid by France to block imports of New Zealand butter until a satisfactory agreement about the export of butter to the Soviet Union has been ironed out? Will the right hon. Gentleman comment on the allegations of a secret deal between Paris and Moscow on that issue?

No, Sir. The import of butter from New Zealand was part of the arrangements that were made when we joined the Community. That has been the subject of negotiation every so many years, including this year. We have negotiated, or are within sight of negotiating, a satisfactory agreement. We are entirely against the export of surpluses at subsidised prices to the Soviet Union.

Council Of Ministers


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he hopes to attend the next Council of Ministers meeting; and what subjects he expects to be discussed.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State expects to attend the next Foreign Affairs Council planned for 13 and 14 December. It is too soon after the November Council to forecast the December agenda. The usual monthly statement of forthcoming Community business will be made in due course.

Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance to the House that, should the Fisheries Council fail to reach an agreement with Denmark over a common fisheries policy, the issue will be raised at the next meeting? Does my right hon. Friend agree that an early agreement is essential, not only from the point of view of the fishermen within the Community, but in the wider context of the European Community's development?

My hon. Friend is right. As he knows, nine members of the Community are agreed on a common fisheries policy and only the Danes are resisting. When the Danish Prime Minister was in Britain earlier this week, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made it clear to him that we have no further concessions to offer. We hope that the Fisheries Council on 29 November will be able to clear the matter up. If it does not it will have to be discussed again at the European Council summit in December.

In view of the complete lack of progress towards a settlement in Cyprus, does my right hon. Friend agree that the time may well have come for the Council of Ministers, meeting in political cooperation, to discuss the matter urgently to decide whether there is some way in which the European Community can play a part in reaching a solution?

The time may come, but we do not think that it has come yet. This is in the hands of the United Nations Secretary General and his representative, Mr. Gobbi, who is active in the matter and with whom we are in close touch.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the agricultural arrangements made earlier this year mean that, no matter what postures or policies are adopted by the Community, the share of the budget devoted to agricultural structure and support will prevent the Community from taking any sensible steps? Therefore, can we see the British Government taking them instead?

The hon. Gentleman knows that there is agricultural price fixing every year. It will remain our objective at the forthcoming Council, and at all discussions on such matters, to bring about a reduction in the rate of growth of agricultural spending.

Common Foreign Policy


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on progress towards a common European Economic Community foreign policy.

The Ten continue to consult closely on such major problems as the Middle East, Poland, East-West relations and the resumed CSCE meeting in Madrid. I discussed these subjects with my colleagues in Brussels yesterday, and we expect to consider them further at the European Council on 3 and 4 December.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that British interests are much better protected when European Community countries speak with one voice on world affairs than when Britain speaks alone as an isolated nation State? Will he confirm also that British interests would be much less well protected if the United Kingdom were outside the Community?

I agree with the latter part of my hon. Friend's supplementary question. There are some situations and some problems when our voice on its own is probably the most powerful, but there are plenty of others when undoubtedly the influence that we exert is much the greater because we are part of the Ten.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that to ask for a common foreign policy from the EEC is rather like trying to build a Tower of Babel? Is it not obvious that it is nonsense and that we would be better out of the institution? What would have happened if they had had a different foreign policy over there from the one that we had, apparently, on the Falkland Islands? What notice would we have taken of it? We do not take notice of the people over here let alone over there.

As the Ten do not have a common foreign policy and have no intention for the moment of having one, I do not see the point of the hon. Gentleman's question.

Does my right hon. Friend think that the difficulties that some EEC countries had with the United States recently over the Soviet gas pipeline helped or hindered progress towards achieving a common foreign policy?

I do not think that they had a great effect on what my right hon. Friend describes as a common foreign policy, which, if I may say so, is a misdescription. There are common positions within the Ten on a number of issues, but there is not a common foreign policy. The activity of Foreign Ministers within the Ten, and certainly the part that I played, contributed positively to reducing any damage that might have occurred as a result of the events to which my hon. Friend referred.

Is it not nonsensical to talk about a common foreign policy without knowing what the principles of that policy are? It is surely nonsensical to talk with one voice unless we know that what is said is what we would wish to say ourselves.

I am not taking about a common foreign policy. I am responding to those who are referring to something that is called a common foreign policy, which does not exist.

Bearing in mind that by next month three years will have passed since the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, and bearing in mind also the extreme pressure that the Afghan freedom fighters are under because of the massive amount of modern Soviet war material, will my right hon. Friend consult fellow Governments in the European Community to ascertain whether it is possible for the free nations of Western Europe to do just a little more to help the Afghans in their battle for freedom?

I agree with my hon. Friend. On almost every occasion when I meet my Foreign Minister colleagues and we have an opportunity to discuss political matters, Afghanistan is a subject to which we constantly refer. We are concerned about what is happening there and we are constantly addressing the Soviet Union about it, as I did when I was recently in Moscow. I am much in support of what my hon. Friend says and we shall do what we can.

As there is a new political regime in the Soviet Union in the sense that it has a new leader, and as peace and detente are important to the future of Europe and to that of the entire world, will the right hon. Gentleman say whether there is any truth in the reports in today's press that he and his colleagues are to monitor the situation in the Soviet Union with a view to ascertaining what trends are likely to develop? Is it not clear that the most important objective is to make good contacts with a view to achieving better relations with the East that will lead to peace—peace being the most important goal?

The Government's objective is to maintain the peace. Yesterday we discussed the change of leadership in the Soviet Union. Her Majesty's Government will make a constructive response to the change. We want to see a more constructive relationship that will lead to a safer peace. At the same time, we must wait and see what changes in policy, if any, are made by the new Soviet leadership. We want to be in the positive position of exploring the minds of the Soviet leadership and seeing what they will do in present circumstances. In the meantime, we shall be ready to respond to any change. We cannot be sure at this stage whether the change will necessarily be for the better, but, naturally, we very much hope so.

Council Of Ministers (Decision-Taking Procedure)


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he is satisfied with the way in which decisions in the Council of Ministers of the Community are taken.

With the looming prospect of the European-wide recession turning into a full-scale depression, does my right hon. Friend believe that the Council of Ministers has the necessary determination and wisdom to take collective measures to save Europe, to bring renewed economic expansion and to merge so-called narrow national interests into the much wider and stronger community of collective interests?

I am not sure precisely what my hon. Friend has in mind. As he knows, the different forms of Council of Ministers spend much time discussing the economic recession, working out their relationships with the rest of the world and trying to co-ordinate their own policies. That is as far as they can reasonably be expected to go at present.

Does the Minister find any difficulty in reconciling his responsibilites in the Council of Ministers of the Ten with the Council of Ministers of the 21 of the Council of Europe? Is there not quite a deal of duplication and unnecessary paperwork which he has to follow through? Is there any way in which there could be much better co-ordination between the Ten and the 21, which would save him much hard labour?

There is a problem. We try, both in the Community and in the Council of Europe, to prevent the overlap to which the hon. Gentleman has referred. We have recently agreed that in cultural matters the Council of Europe has pre-eminence.

Will my right hon. Friend undertake to publish any recommendations that he receives, from either the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food or the National Farmers Union, that are designed to reform the CAP so as to make it less expensive and less protectionist?

That is the aim of the Government as a whole, including my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.

Revenue Raising


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what proposals have been considered by the Council of Ministers of the European Economic Community for raising additional revenue.

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that any increase in the 1 per cent. of VAT which automatically goes to Brussels from the pockets of British citizens will not take place until the House passes an appropriate motion or approves the relevant instrument? Are there any other means whereby the Council or the Commission can increase significantly the EEC's revenue from the United Kingdom in a way that does not require the permission or assent of the House?

The hon. Gentleman's assumption is right and the answer to the first part of his supplementary question is "Yes". In the Government's view, the own resources of the Community are sufficient for its needs and the priority should be, within existing resources, to establish effective control over the rate of growth of agricultural spending.

Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that he will not allow the enlargment negotiations with Spain and Portugal to founder because of the restriction on the Community's own resources?

It is important that the negotiations should not founder. We see no immediate connection between the negotiations and the issue of own resources.

Policy Changes


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent changes have been made in Community policy of relevance to the United Kingdom.

The policies of the European Community are constantly evolving and most are relevant to the United Kingdom. Recent developments of particular relevance have included the settlement of our 1982 budget refunds, the steel agreement between the Community and the United States, and further progress towards a common fisheries policy.

Will the Minister confirm that the United States reacted to a 6·3 per cent. import penetration by European producers rather more vigorously than the Government have reacted to enormously larger penetration of our steel markets by our European partners, who are clearly cheating and dumping in an astonishing way? Will he accept that it is his duty to ensure that his colleagues in the Council of Ministers are aware that we will not tolerate these activities any longer?

The hon. Gentleman had an opportunity to question my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry earlier this week on this issue, when the matter was explored at some length. I have no information to gave in addition to what my right hon. Friend said.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the considerable sympathy and support in the Council of Ministers for Britain's problems, particularly as a postindustrial and urban area? Does he agree that so long as the budget is geared 75 per cent. towards agriculture Britain's urban areas will continue to have a raw deal?

My hon. Friend is correct. That is why we favour the expansion and increased effectiveness of the regional fund, the social fund, and the energy policy, to which reference has already been made. The growth of those funds must depend upon success in curbing the rate of agricultural spending.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I should be grateful for your help and guidance with regard to the composition of Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs questions. Out of a total of 46 questions tabled to the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, only 11 were reached in 35 minutes, whereas only nine questions were tabled on EEC matters, to which 20 minutes were devoted, in which time eight were dealt with. As this has happened frequently, and as most of the more important matters happen to be directed to the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, would it not be better if EEC questions were confined to 10 minutes and the remainder of Question Time on Wednesday devoted to, say, 50 minutes for the much more important matters of Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs?

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. First, I must say that it is not a matter for me but for the usual channels to agree. Secondly, I must remind the House that every time I moved on this afternoon from one question to another some hon. Members were disappointed at not being called. That happened every time.