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European Community (Meetings of Council of Ministers)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 28th April 1976.

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Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook 12:00 am, 28th April 1976

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I will make a statement about business to be taken in the Council of Ministers of the European Community during May. The monthly forecast for May was deposited yesterday.

At present, four meetings of the Council of Ministers are proposed for May. Foreign Ministers will meet on 3rd and 4th May and on 31st May and 1st June, Finance Ministers on 17th May and Agriculture Ministers on 17th and 18th May.

As part of the follow-up to the European Council meeting on 1st and 2nd April, Ministers at the Foreign Affairs Council are likely to resume consideration of the Tindemans Report and direct elections to the European Assembly. Passport union is also to be discussed. Ministers will hope to conclude negotiations with Portugal and to discuss the resumption of negotiations with Spain. There will be preparations for an Association Council meeting with Cyprus and consideration of the negotiating mandate for Greek accession. Ministers are expected to consider the Community's external commitments, including the insertion of financial chapters in the Mashraq agreements.

Ministers are likely to consider the stage reached in the continuing dialogue between industrialised and developing countries. This will entail a review of the work to date of the four Commissions of the Conference on International Economic Co-operation, and consideration of the Community position for UNCTAD IV in Niarobi. Foreign Ministers will also consider the question of the siting of the JET experiment, which is to be the centrepiece of the Community's five-year fusion programme up to 1980.

Ministers at the Finance Council are likely to have their regular discussions of the economic situation in the Community and may consider Commission proposals for reform of the budget unit of account.

Agriculture Ministers are likely to consider amended arrangements for beef imports, the proposed Community sheep-meat regime, arrangements for New Zealand butter imports for 1978–80 and a number of proposed measures for improving agricultural structures. They may also discuss improvements in the market organisation for fish.

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Oxon Mid

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his usual comprehensive statement. Does he accept that we are in some difficulty about the discussion by the Council of Ministers of direct elections? The Minister told us earlier that the Foreign Ministers will discuss this subject at their meeting on 3rd and 4th May. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we have had no clear statement from the Government of their view on the vital question of the size which they will advocate for the European Parliament at this meeting? As this is of such importance to all hon. Members, particularly those representing Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that before 3rd May we know what proposals the Government will take to that meeting?

Secondly, will the Minister say something about the emergency meeting of Agriculture Ministers which I understand from the Press, is being held tomorrow. It does not perhaps, by a few hours, fit into his statement today, nor did it fit into his previous statement. Will he confirm that one purpose of the emergency meeting is to consider the high rate of subsidies paid by the Community under the common agricultural policy to this country to help protect British consumers from the failure of British Ministers to sustain the value of the pound?

Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook

The hon. Gentleman again asks me to make a precise statement of the position we shall take up during what is essentially a negotiation, and I think that he will understand why it is impossible to do that. I assure him that the Government's position on the size of the Assembly remains as it was when the matter was debated in the House three weeks ago, when the Prime Minister—the then Foreign Secretary—made clear that we favour larger alternatives rather than smaller, because larger alternatives give a better chance of a proper distribution of seats within the entire United Kingdom and a better chance of the creation of manageable constituencies by individual European Members of the Assembly. We are on the side of size and will do our best to make the Assembly fit those needs and those justifications.

The hon. Gentleman is right in assuming that tomorrow the Agriculture Ministers will consider the present rate of the green pound and proposals made for a change in its value by the Agricultural Commissioner. Of course, the hon. Gentleman will not expect me to comment on the political remarks he felt it necessary to make at the end of his question. Let me assure him that the Minister of Agriculture will not accept any revision in the green pound rate—as I said in reply to an earlier question—which does not make sure that the guarantees of costs and advantages within the CAP which are stipulated in the Treaty of Accession are properly observed.

Photo of Mr Nigel Spearing Mr Nigel Spearing , Newham South

In respect of the discussions about UNCTAD IV at the next Foreign Ministers' Council, will my right hon. Friend confirm that the new Foreign Secretary is also de jure the Minister for Overseas Development, and will he explain to the House the extent to which any decision taken at that meeting will bind this country in respect of negotiations at UNCTAD IV in a way which it would not have done before we became a member of the Community?

Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook

The United Kingdom will be represented individually at UNCTAD IV. While I hope that we can assume a common position with our colleagues in the Community on these matters, the word "bind" is inappropriate to the decision we might take in what I hope is the inconceivable prospect of the nine members of the Community disagreeing on what the decision should be.

Photo of Mr Peter Blaker Mr Peter Blaker , Blackpool South

Should not trade Ministers be making an effort to concert policies on trade credits for the Soviet Union? Does not the position in which member countries are falling over each other to be more and more generous to the Soviet Union at the expense of their taxpayers need re-examination? Will the Minister invite his right hon. Friend to ask his colleagues to meet him to discuss that subject?

Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook

I can almost never resist answering questions which are in part concerned with substance rather than business, but as that question is concerned entirely with the substance of Government policy I must ask the hon. Gentleman to put it down to the appropriate Minister.

Photo of Mr John Mendelson Mr John Mendelson , Penistone

Is it not clear that the Opposition—particularly Front Bench spokesmen—are again trying to belabour my right hon. Friend, who is making a simple announcement about the forthcoming business at Common Market level? Questions of policy arise which cover at least half a dozen Ministers. Should not the Select Committee on Procedure have referred to it the vital business of how to deal with policies which affect the Common Market so that a reasonable procedure can be established for considering all policies, instead of expecting my right hon. Friend to act for six Ministers each time he makes a simple announcement?

Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook

I am a passionate supporter of the point of view put by my hon. Friend. I perform this task each month because it is required of me under the Government's acceptance of the Foster Committee's Report on how the House can be informed of Government proposals and commitments to the EEC Foreign Ministers during the following month. I share my hon. Friend's implied comment that what the statement amounts to is an invitation to any hon. Member to ask any question he chooses about any aspect of Government policy. I cannot help wondering whether hon. Members find it a rewarding exercise, as I am not qualified to answer seven out of 10 of the questions put to me.

Photo of Mr Gordon Wilson Mr Gordon Wilson , Dundee East

If I may add to the Minister's temptation, may I ask him to comment on the fact that the renegotiation of the Common Market fisheries policy does not figure amongst the business for this month? There is only the merest mention of fish marketing. Does he realise that unless the fisheries policy is renegotiated there may be no fish to market? Will the Minister comment on the part played by the Scottish Office in such negotiations in the Council of Ministers?

Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook

Representing Her Majesty's Government, I propose to make a further statement about our need—I do not think "demand" is too strong—for changes in the common fisheries policy, I hope at the beginning of business on Monday afternoon. Although it is not a formal item inscribed on the agenda, I shall be under the strongest instructions to make a number of robust points. I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman of the involvement of the Scottish Office in terms of ministerial attendance on Monday and Tuesday. but It has been the practice for Scottish Office Ministers to attend those meetings when they believe that a Scottish point of view has to be put. My right hon. Friend the former Secretary of State for Scotland—a job which he occupied with distinction for so long—came to Luxembourg some weeks ago. I have no doubt that the present Secretary of State for Scotland will continue to take such an interest in these matters.

Photo of Mr Edward Leadbitter Mr Edward Leadbitter , Hartlepool

My right hon. Friend has mentioned that in May the subject of the siting of the JET project is to be discussed by the appropriate Ministers. Bearing in mind that my right hon. Friend has admitted that he is not qualified to make a categoric reply to many questions, may I ask him to take the opportunity of assuring the House that the Secretary of State for Energy will come here and make clear what is the Government's policy? May we know what stand the Secretary of State will take, bearing in mind the serious interests we have in the Culham Research Laboratory?

Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook

By a happy chance this is a question which falls into the category of the 30 per cent. of the questions I am almost entitled to answer. I can assure my hon. Friend that it continues to be our view that the JET project should be located at Culham. We shall continue to press for that.

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , Oswestry

Arising directly out of that last question, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to say whether the siting of the Joint European Torus will be discussed at the Ministers' meeting on 3rd and 4th May or at the later meeting of 31st May–1st June? In the light of the motion that has already been passed by this House, can the right hon. Gentleman say who from the Department of Energy will accompany the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister at this meeting to ensure that the technical factors which overwhelmingly point to Culham as the site for this project are fully maintained and sustained in the discussions?

Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook

The first discussion is to be held at the early meeting, on 3rd and 4th May. It is not our intention to have a Minister from the Department of Energy present because it is the wont of Common Market Ministers to go over the general and sometimes political implications of a project before it is dealt with in more detail, and perhaps more sensibly, by technical Ministers. On this occasion there is a meeting of research Ministers scheduled for 18th June, when a Minister from the Department of Energy will represent the United Kingdom and will make the technical points to which the hon. Gentleman refers. On Monday and Tuesday it is a matter of making the political points about Culham. The hon. Gentleman will understand that perhaps argument about the siting, which we believe overwhelmingly favour Culham on technical grounds, may also have some political content. It is that argument which will take place on Monday and Tuesday.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner , Bolsover

In view of my right hon. Friend's earlier suggestion that Back-Bench Members will not be allowed to know what is taking place in the discussions at the Council of Ministers, may I ask him to take advance notice from me of two subjects which I should like to see discussed by the Council, namely, the question of removing some of the coal stocks that are piled up in this country—30 million tons at present—and also, as regards employment, the suggestion that there should be retirement at the age of 60 for all those engaged in heavy industrial work?

Photo of Mr John Davies Mr John Davies , Knutsford

In view of the right hon. Gentleman's anxiety about being exposed to such a wide range of problems in this period, might I ask him whether he does not recognise that the very democratic form of control which he was advocating just now requires the House to be informed in this way so that it may be in a position to probe Ministers on these issues? For instance, without wishing to ask the right hon. Gentleman a specific question of substance, might I say that it would be of great interest to the House to know whether a change in the unit of account as applied to the budget would have a profound effect on the budgetary contribution of this country. It would be interesting to know what effect there would be in the years 1975–76 and 1976–77. It would be unreasonable for the House to expect the right hon. Gentleman to reply to that question but it is a valuable opportunity to be able to put it.

Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his confidence. I am happy to reiterate that I am per- fectly prepared—indeed, I am under instructions—to make the statement for as long as the House wishes it to be made. I am also prepared—it is one of my principal duties—to ensure that the Committee which the right hon. Gentleman chairs and other organs of the House are given the opportunity of expressing their views on Community matters in time for them to influence the judgment of the Government. I have made the point because my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson), with some wisdom I thought. drew attention to the shortcomings of this procedure. If anyone has a scheme by which more authoritative answers can be given and departmental Ministers can be enabled to answer on behalf of their Departments, thereby satisfying the needs of the House in a much better way, I would not stand in the way of such a scheme.

Mr. loan Evans:

As regards the meeting of Agriculture Ministers tomorrow, may I ask my right hon. Friend to convey to the Minister of Agriculture our views about the harmonisation of high food prices in the Market which are causing discord among consumers, especially when accompanied by a British beef mountain and a British dried milk mountain? Will my right hon. Friend suggest that the Minister of Agriculture goes to this meeting not to amend the common agricultural policy but to end it?

Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook

My hon. Friend knows that it is not within the power of the Minister of Agriculture to end the common agricultural policy. I am sure that he will take note of what my hon. Friend has said. I feel that much of the spirit of my hon. Friend's comments is shared by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture. I am sure that he will take with him tomorrow some of the sentiments which have been expressed.

Photo of Mr Hugh Dykes Mr Hugh Dykes , Harrow East

Can the right hon. Gentleman say when the Council of Ministers will get round to discussing the draft proposals for a European export bank? Will the right hon. Gentleman give a firm assurance on behalf of the Government that this will not be proceeded with further without a searching scrutiny of the operational consequences and the financial implications of such an institution?

Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook

In reply to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question, I can say "Certainly not next month." I can assure him on the point he has raised in the second part of his question.

Photo of Mr Douglas Jay Mr Douglas Jay , Wandsworth Battersea North

Since my right hon. Friend is representing the whole Government, at the Box at this moment anyway, may I ask him to give an assurance that Ministers, whether at this week's meeting or at any other meeting, will not accept further manipulations of the green pound which will lead to further rises in food prices in this country?

Photo of Mr Neil Marten Mr Neil Marten , Banbury

As the Commission has now taken over negotiations on behalf of the United Kingdom with our old Commonwealth sugar producer partners, and as I understand that in these negotiations the Commission is fairly grinding down the faces of the Commonwealth sugar producers to reach the minimum price possible, may we have the opportunity of a statement from the Minister as soon as possible, perhaps early next week, following some of the meetings on the list that he has given us, dealing with this most important subject? Otherwise Parliament will lose all control and influence over the Commonwealth sugar-producing countries and their agreement with the Common Market.

Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook

I shall certainly suggest to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture that such a statement would be welcome, at least in some quarters of the House. I do not accept, of course, the preamble to the hon. Gentleman's question. Without the Community, there would not be the stable, assured market for Commonwealth sugar which now exists—

Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook

—and without which we would have had a period either of intense sugar shortage or of high sugar prices. That is the simple fact of the matter.

Photo of Mr Norman Atkinson Mr Norman Atkinson , Haringey Tottenham

Is it not the case that the Minister is competent now to make a statement whether the Government will support the admission of Greece into the Economic Community? Would not my right hon. Friend also agree that with- out that knowledge it is impossible for the House to make sense of the sequence of meetings he has announced? With regard to the middle five of the meetings that have been announced, may I ask how sense can be made of them in the absence of any knowledge about possible Greek membership of the Community?

Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook

I am competent to answer that question, first, because it is directly relevant to my departmental responsibilities and, secondly, because our position has been made public for the past three months. Of course, we accept the accession of Greece to the Community.

Photo of Mr Raphael Tuck Mr Raphael Tuck , Watford

Can my right hon. Friend answer a question which I have asked on a number of occasions but to which I have never received a satisfactory reply? In the event of direct elections to the Community, what are the issues upon which such an election might be fought in this country?

Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook

That is a matter for the parties rather than for the British Government. As hon. Members, notably those on the Conservative Benches, have discovered, it is never very easy to decide before an election is held what are the issues on which the election will be fought. It will be up to my hon. Friends and me and people like us to decide the issues in the same way as issues in other elections are decided.

Photo of Mr John Peyton Mr John Peyton , Yeovil

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman to call the attention of his right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to the rather absurd position he has been put in today? Will he point out to the Leader of the House the need to set up the Select Committee on Procedure so that this matter may be discussed sensibly and reasonable accommodation may be made for European business?

Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook

I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will have had his attention drawn to that point and will have noted it. The Government are prepared to go on serving the House as the House chooses in providing as much information on the subject as possible. That is our policy and that we shall do, according to the liking of the House.