With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I will make a statement about business to be taken in the Council of Ministers of the European Commmunity during December. The monthly forecast for December was deposited yesterday.
The Heads of Government of the member States will meet in Rome on 1st and 2nd December. There is no formal agenda for this meeting, but preparations for the forthcoming conference on international economic co-operation, direct elections to the European Assembly and financial control in the Community are likely to be among those subjects discussed.
At present eight meetings of the Council of Ministers are proposed for December. Budget Ministers will meet on the 3rd; Environment Ministers on the 8th; Foreign Ministers on the 9th; Transport Ministers on the 10th and 11th; Finance Ministers on the 15th; Agriculture Ministers on the 15th and 16th; Social Affairs Ministers on 18th December; and Research Ministers on a date yet to be set. In addition, there is to be a meeting of Education Ministers on 10th December.
Ministers at the Budget Council will consider the European Assembly's amendments and modifications to the Community's draft budget for 1976.
At the Environment Council, Ministers will resume their consideration of the draft directive on dangerous substances in the aquatic environment.
Foreign Ministers will resume consideration of the preparation for the conference on international economic co-operation in the light of discussions at the European Council. Discussion will also take place on the negotiations with the Maghreb and on the mandate for the Mashraq, and Ministers are likely to give further consideration to the mandates for negotiations with Canada and Portugal. There will also be discussion of the extension of import arrangements for ACP beef in the first half of 1976. Ministers will also consider a draft Council directive and regulation on tax and duty relief for small non-commercial consignments imported from third countries.
At the Transport Council, Ministers will have before them a number of proposals on social harmonisation in road transport and for extending the Community quota and bracket tariff arrangements for international road transport. Ministers will also be considering the possibility of progress on alignment of national taxation systems and harmonisation of weights and dimensions for commercial vehicles. There may also be discussion of a proposal on the reciprocal recognition of navigability certificates for inland waterways vessels.
Agriculture Ministers will carry out an initial examination of the Commission's price proposals for the 1976–77 marketing year. They will also consider proposals for assisting the grubbing-up of low-quality vines and for prohibiting the use in certain milk products of non-milk fat and non-milk protein.
The Finance Ministers, in addition to their usual monthly discussion of the economic situation in the Community, will resume their consideration of Euratom loans for nuclear power stations.
The agenda for the Social Affairs Council is still provisional but is likely to include the Commission's proposed action programme in favour of migrant workers and their families, the draft directive on equal treatment for men and women workers, and the proposals for further interventions by the Social Fund to help the retraining of people in certain industries and regions. Other items are likely to cover the draft regulations on family benefits and on trade union rights for migrant workers as well as a Commission communication on employment statistics.
Ministers at the Research Council will have before them the overall concept for the next multi-annual research programme of the Joint Research Council and proposals for a five-year Community research programme in the field of controlled thermonuclear fusion and plasma physics.
The meeting of Education Ministers will consider a report drawn up by the Education Committee on future action in the field of education.
I am sure the House recognises that the right hon. Gentleman has covered a great deal of ground and has demonstrated that the pace of activity in Europe is accelerating, which is making it very difficult for this House to keep up with what is happening and to obtain from the Government some indication of what is achieved.
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman a few specific questions? First, what arrangements are the Government proposing for statements following no fewer than nine meetings of the Council of Ministers in one month alone? Perhaps, with his right hon. Friend the Leader of the House alongside him, he can indicate whether the practice of making statements after each of these important meetings is to be followed.
Secondly, on the summit, are the discussions of the Heads of Government on direct elections to the European Parliament to have the advantage of Mr. Tindemans' report or will these discussions take place in advance of Tindemans' report or will these discus-man also bear in mind in connection with the summit discussion of financial control that there are many Members, on both sides of the House, who do not believe that our present arrangements for scrutinising the Community budget are in any way satisfactory?
On the matter of Foreign Ministers, can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the agenda will include common policies towards Spain, Portugal and Angola?
When the Environment Ministers come to consider the pollution of the aquatic environment, with which I had some connection when in the Department of the Environment, will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that the Secretary of State attends if possible? There are many people who believe that Britain, having made a very good start on environmental management, is now dragging its feet in European policies in that respect.
Finally, on the question of the Transport Ministers, will the right hon. Gentleman say what is meant by the term "social harmonisation"? Does that include tachographs?
Will the right hon. Gentleman also say whether British Ministers will be discussing with their colleagues in Europe such schemes as the extension of the Dock Labour Scheme in this country which no other European country is so foolish as to attempt? Above all, what arrangements are there to be to keep the House informed of these important matters?
The hon. Gentleman asked me certain questions and made a trivial party point at the end. Let me deal with the several questions.
With regard to statements following the meetings of the Council, we shall follow the normal practice, which is to make a statement if the outcome seems to warrant it and to justify utilising the time of the House. As, I am sure, the hon. Gentleman follows these matters with close scrutiny, he will know that the majority of items which I have reported as due for discussion have been examined by the Scrutiny Committee and regarded by it as being unsuitable for occupying the time of the House, and we should not occupy the time of the House with statements on those items.
On the question of the summit, Mr. Tindemans will be there. His report will not be formally available, although it is expected that in a wide-ranging discussion he may give some views on the interim conclusions to which he has come.
I accept the hon. Gentleman's view that the procedures for budget scrutiny are unacceptable. They are particularly unacceptable when there is disagreement between the Assembly and the Budget Council and there is the necessity to resolve that disagreement within a brief time. We have done our best to make that possible within the scrutiny procedures, but we are also trying to change the time scale within which the budget is considered in order that the House may have a better opportunity to examine these matters.
The Foreign Ministers, I suspect, will consider Spain, Portugal and Angola within the context of the political co-operation machinery, but it is not our practice to announce political co-operation machinery programmes or decisions in the House, and that will continue to be our rule.
On the question of the aquatic environment, I have absolute faith in my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of the Environment. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham Small Heath (Mr. Howell), who represented us before, will represent us again and will do the same next time as he did last time and attempt to get a common decision, but at the same time not sacrificing the interests of British industry.
The reference to social conditions in road transport includes hours and conditions of working. The hon. Gentleman will know that we have already obtained certain derogations.
Does not all this suggest far too much Government interference in the lives of people? Can my right hon. Friend say in particular whether we are to have a full statement on the final decisions taken by the Council of Ministers on the stocktaking document on the common agricultural policy? This is of great importance, because Press reports suggest that the results are very disappointing.
I am sorry that my right hon. Friend makes the joke about too much government. I have always taken the Tawney view, which I thought my right hon. Friend also took, that the absence of government is not the same as the presence of freedom. We on this side of the House should pursue that contention.
There is a great deal of work to be done on stocktaking machinery. If we are going to make a radical improvement on CAP, it will appear on many agendas of the Council of Ministers. We shall report it faithfully and my right hon. Friend will have an opportunity in the not too distant future of debating these matters.
Can the right hon. Gentleman explain what is meant by "social harmonisation in road transport"? Secondly, as direct elections to the European Assembly are to be discussed at meetings of the Heads of State, is there to be a preliminary consideration of the matter in this House so that the Prime Minister may be armed with the preliminary views of the House, or is he going to abstain in that discussion as he did on a previous occasion?
On the second point which concerns the business of this House, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is here and will, no doubt, take into account the point which the right hon. Gentleman has made. The matter of time for debate is for him and not for me. The phrase "social harmonisation in road transport" relates to hours and conditions of service.
Mr. R. C. Mitchell:
Will my right hon. Friend ask the Minister for Transport when he goes to the meeting to take a copy of the resolution of this House of about two years ago, I think, stating that this House opposes larger and heavier lorries? Secondly, may I ask whether any part of the meeting of Education Ministers is to be in the form of a meeting of Ministers in Council.
I take note of the first point made by my hon. Friend. On the second point, the Education Ministers are meeting in what I describe, with their forgiveness, as an ambiguous form. They are taking decisions on what it is competent for a Council to do with its rights and responsibilities. They are meeting partly in an informal way discussing matters connected with European co-ordination but within which there is no European competence.
In terms of controlled nuclear fusion, it will be valuable to have a statement from the Secretary of State for Energy on the JET Tokamak plasma fusion project and the extent to which we should co-operate with our friends in the Community, Might not independence in our hydrocarbon policies, such as has been expressed by the Foregn Secretary, make it difficult to direct some of this work to Culham?
On the subject of transport, will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that the quota increases are well below double for Ireland, Denmark and Great Britain and more than double for the original six EEC members, and will he consider the Conservative amendment put forward when it was discussed last time?
On such an important matter as budget scrutiny, does not my right hon. Friend think that it is unfortunate that neither the Comptroller and Auditor General nor my right hon. Friend's Department advised our European Assembly delegates on that subject, and that it is generally believed that his Department has never consulted the Comptroller and Auditor General on that issue?
Does my right hon. Friend realise that he has not said what the Education Ministers will discuss? Will he make plain that, unlike some European countries, the custom in this country is to leave decisions on educational curricula to the educational institutions and not have them determined by the State?
If the advice that the Government have given on the procedures to be followed and, indeed, the merits of the budget have proved inadequate, I can only say that I am sorry. We are anxious to provide adequate services for hon. Members who wish to comment on European matters either here or in the Assembly. If my hon. Friend has any suggestions for improving the service, we shall certainly consider them as creatively as we can.
On the final part of my statement concerning the formal and informal consultations between European Education Ministers, I hope my hon. Friend will rest assured that there is no wish within the Community to impose on Great Britain or any other country a centralised, dictated system which is universal throughout the Community, but there are a number of education matters which are appropriate for co-operation. I give as examples language training for immigrants and common acceptance of qualifications. That is the sort of subject which the Community's Education Ministers will consider in December.
In the interests of preserving what is left of the English language, may I ask the Minister of State to confirm that when he uses the phrase "the aquatic environment" in his statement he means the sea? If not, I should like to know what he does mean.
Secondly, on the subject of direct elections, at the last meeting the Danish Government withdrew most of their reservations. Is it too much to hope that Her Majesty's Government will show some enthusiasm for the principle of direct elections in spite of reservations about the timetable?
Thirdly, does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the Government should resist further transport regulations which increase cost and decrease the flexibility of road transport?
Again, the second and third questions asked by the hon. Gentleman are a temptation to me to enter into the merits of proposals, which I must resist. On the first question, I must apologise to the hon. Gentleman and the House. I know that the language of European statements always leaves a great deal to be desired. Were I to write it in English which would be acceptable to the House, my statement would consist not of three pages but of 20 pages. I suspect that the House prefers five minutes of peculiar English to 20 minutes of elegance.
Will my right hon. Friend say when the Trade Ministers will meet, so that the problem of the substantial and growing deficit of British trade with the other EEC countries can be resolved? Is he aware that in the first nine months of this year our deficit with the other eight countries in the EEC was £1,900 million, which is £240 million more than it was in the first nine months of last year? If we could wipe off that deficit, we should have no balance of payments problem in any part of the world.
Once more, I shall not enter into the merits of these arguments or fight again battles which have been completed and won or lost. My right hon. Friend gives me the opportunity to answer the question asked by the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) about the definition of "aquatic". It means not the sea but inland waterways and areas immediately at the end of inland waterways which might be influenced by possible pollution.
There will be considerable disappointment that the Minister of State has not referred to further discussions by Agriculture Ministers on the common fisheries policy. Is he not aware that the policy is heavily weighted against our fishermen and that his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food gave an undertaking that the matter would be raised? Does not the Minister of State agree that the common fisheries policy would be a more appropriate subject for discussion than the grubbing-up of low-quality vines?
I assure the hon. Gentleman that I am deeply aware of the need to make progress in a variety of fishing matters. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and I are making as fast progress as we can in the Community in forming a new common fisheries policy which is acceptable to the United Kingdom. Sometimes getting answers as quickly as possible is not the same as getting answers that the hon. Gentleman and I both want. Our promise is that we shall progress as quickly as possible consistent with getting the right answers.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that the other eight members of the EEC have imposed VAT on transport and are annoyed that Britain has not. A direction has been issued by the EEC which will have to apply to the United Kingdom. Will my right hon. Friend say whether and when it is likely to apply, and to what extent it will help to reduces fares and the cost of living and assist our anti-inflation programme?
The right hon. Gentleman will have noticed the wide range of questions put to him. I hope he will discuss with his right hon. Friend the Lord President—whom I am glad to see in his place—and perhaps with other parties in the House the need to examine the reporting arrangements. It is not a matter for the Scrutiny Committee to decide which conclusions of the Council of Ministers should come back to the House. The Scrutiny Committee is concerned simply with documents. I hope that the Government will not miss from today's occasion the lesson of the need to consult and inform the House about the conclusions reached on all the important matters which have been referred to today.
The object of my statement is to make sure that the House does not miss that opportunity. By means of the oral statement and the written statement which I deposited yesterday, every right hon. and hon. Member can monitor the progress of the European Council and know which documents are to be discussed. Legislative proposals automatically go to the Scrutiny Committee for its consideration and recommendation. All the normal processes and proceedings of the House are open to hon. Members. This is the only item of Government business on which we go out of our way to warn the House of how it can hold the Government to account on what they have been doing. I regard that as altogether proper, but it is in excess of what happens on any other business.
Will my right hon. Friend make sure that Government representatives on the Council which is to discuss direct elections make abundantly clear to other Heads of State that no mention of this subject was made either in the popular version of the referendum paper or in the official renegotiation White Paper? Will my right hon. Friend also make sure that the House has a copy of the Assembly's report on direct elections and an opportunity to debate it before the subject is discussed in the Council of Ministers?
I understand that the report of the Assembly is already in the Library and is available to my hon. Friend and to all right hon. and hon. Members who care to read it. As to our attitude to the White Paper on direct elections to the Assembly, of all hon. Members my hon. Friend, who reads the small print on European matters more assiduously than do any other 10 people, must know Article 138 of the Treaty of Rome. No doubt he advanced it during the referendum campaign. He knew what the article said then, and it means the same now.
In confirming that the Tindemans report will not be formally available for the next summit, will the Minister give us the timetable for its formal reception, perusal and publication? Will he confirm that the report may well refer in some detail to direct elections but that that will not be its principal preoccupation?
I confirm the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question. It is impossible to consider or even define political union without referring to elections within the Community. I confirm what I said at Question Time. In matters which involve serious constitutional innovation we have a duty to make sure that the country is consulted and that the House has an adequate opportunity to express its opinion. We shall, of course, discharge that duty.
Mr. Mark Hughes:
I ask my right hon. Friend to take seriously the matter raised by the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Henderson) about the fisheries policy. The Commissioner for Agriculture at the European Assembly promised that proposals would be forthcoming at the end of the month. That date is long past, and delay in decisions can lead to bad decisions. Will my right hon. Friend please press for this matter to be raised in the Council of Ministers? May I also ask that the subject of the sheep meat trade, which has serious consequences for New Zealand, Ulster and consumers in this country, should be raised at the earliest opportunity?
On the question of sheep meat, I agree that a new system or regime needs to be discussed and determined very soon and I shall see that my hon. Friend's representations are passed on to my right hon. Friend. I could get my hon. Friend a statement on a common fisheries policy by the end of December, but it would not be the statement he wants. I would much prefer to get the right statement rather than one which comes quickly but is totally unacceptable to British interests.
Is it not becoming progressively more evident, as was apparent to the Select Committee dealing with the procedure to be adopted on EEC matters whose report was published a few months ago, that these problems cannot be satisfactorily dealt with in the interests of our constituents by firing questions at a Minister of State who is making a statement on future business of a formal kind? Is it not a fact that we cannot expect him to be Minister of Agriculture, Prime Minister, Foregn Secretary and Minister for Transport all rolled into one? Does he agree that it would be better, as suggested by the Select Committee, to have a limited number of debates from time to time in which each one of these subjects can be debated for a whole day rather than haphazard bits of debates which satisfy nobody and cause great confusion?
My hon. Friend has my wholehearted and passionate agreement when he speaks of the undesirability of one Minister trying to answer all the various points that are raised. It is an impossible task. I try to avoid it by sticking as rigidly as possible to the business and no more. The House has a scheme by which we have regular debates on European matters and I have no doubt that one of them will not be long delayed. That is the occasion for my hon. Friend to take up the suggestions he has made.
In view of the fact that neither this Government nor any previous Government have ever had a transport policy, can my right hon. Friend press his right hon. Friend for a debate on the social harmonisation of transport on which he has reported today?