European Community (Meeting of Council of Ministers)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 6th May 1976.

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Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook 12:00 am, 6th May 1976

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will make a statement about the EEC Council of Ministers' meeting in Brussels on 3rd and 4th May. The Council was preceded by a meeting of Foreign Ministers in the political consultation framework at which the Nine discussed a number of foreign policy matters including the Euro-Arab dialogue and Southern Africa.

The Council examined two institutional questions—the Tindemans Report and direct elections to the European Assembly, which had previously been discussed by EEC Heads of Government at the European Council meeting in April. The discussion will be continued by Foreign Ministers when they meet informally in Luxembourg on 14th and 15th May. The discussion on direct elections concentrated on the number and distribution of seats in a directly-elected Assembly. The discussion was useful in further clarifying the different positions of the various member States but did not lead to any conclusions. On the Tindemans Report, it was agreed that substantive discussion should be held over until the meeting on 14th and 15th May.

The Commission had proposed that the dates of Summer Time should be harmonised within the Community. Its proposal, which was supported by most other member States, would have involved a curtailment of our Summer Time, particularly at the end. Agreement was not possible on this basis.

I again raised the question of the common fisheries policy in the Council of Ministers. On this occasion I referred to the nature and extent of the exclusive coastal belt which this country requires and I called for a quick move ahead in the Community's detailed work on each aspect of the problem. I have placed a copy of the text of my statement to the Council in the Library of the House. The common fisheries policy will be discussed in more detail between now and the next Council in the Committee of Permanent Representatives.

In a discussion of the Community's external financial commitments, the Council of Ministers reached agreement on the total aid offer which the Community will make to a group of Mediterranean countries. The 800 million units of account which the Governors of the European Investment Bank have set aside for the Community's external lending will be supplemented by 450 mua, to be provided by member States as aid elements in the relevant financial protocols.

The distribution of these sums between the various potential recipients has not yet been agreed, except in the case of Portugal. Portugal's share will be 200 mua in EIB loans and 30 mua in aid elements, which will be used to subsidise the interest on the EIB loans.

My right hon. Friend and the Secretary of State for Trade represented the United Kingdom in the discussion of Community strategy on UNCTAD IV. The Community's position on a broad range of items for discussion at the conference was agreed. A few points remain outstanding and will be discussed by Community delegates in Nairobi.

The EEC/Cyprus Association Council met in Brussels immediately after the Foreign Affairs Council.

Photo of Mr Reginald Maudling Mr Reginald Maudling , Barnet Chipping Barnet

We thank the right hon. Gentleman for his statement, not least because the Government have been unduly coy recently in carrying out their obligation to make statements to the House after meetings. May we assume that after the meeting of Foreign Ministers on 14th and 15th May the Foreign Secretary will make a statement on the important matters to be discussed there? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we are very glad that he had stood out on the Summer Time issue? We believe in harmonisation when it makes sense, but we are wholly opposed to harmonisation for harmonisation's sake.

We are glad that help is being given to Portugal. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it is very much part of the Community's task to help a country which has repulsed the Communist threat to continue to repulse that threat?

Our greatest concern is on fisheries and the coastal belt. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we are very concerned that the position which he appears to have taken has given away pretty well all our bargaining position before the bargaining has even started? Is he aware that experience of the Community does not lead us to believe that an initial position is retained throughout the bargaining process?

Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook

I am grateful for some of the right hon. Gentleman's comments, not least the accusation that I have been coy. That is a reputation which I should be very happy to acquire. I am also grateful that the right hon. Gentleman supports our stand on Summer Time. Gratuitous and pointless harmonisation should be resisted and avoided, though I am sure he will agree that if we were able to harmonise Summer Time on the right terms and dates it would be a commercial advantage for us to do so. Our aim must be to get harmonisation on dates which are acceptable to this Parliament and to the British people.

I wholly endorse the right hon. Gentleman's views on Portugal. We have an obligation to provide aid for reasons which are in part concerned with economic and social conditions but which are also concerned with the need to maintain Portugal in the community of democratic nations in Western Europe. We have pursued our aim with both these views in mind.

The right hon. Member was totally wrong in what he said about fisheries. I have no doubt that, by the end of the discussions on a revised common fisheries policy, we shall have a new regime which meets the needs of the British fishing industry. I do not believe that that process would have been encouraged by my beginning, on Monday and Tuesday, a wholly artificial bargaining process or an auction which my colleagues in the Community knew was an auction. I told them that I was describing the real needs of the industry and I believe that they will respond to those needs a great deal more than if I had intially made artificial claims.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , West Lothian

On the vexed question of the siting of JET, do the Government agree that this has now got to the point where almost any decision is better than none and that something will be arrived at on 18th June? Will he bear in mind that many of us have very strong advice that Ispra would not give the project great chances of success and that Garching or Culham would be a much better bet for the project, whose success is by no means assured? Can the right hon. Gentleman say what is the timetable for consideration of the Commission's proposals for a European export bank?

Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook

I cannot give a precise answer to the second part of my hon. Friend's question. It is not a subject which is susceptible to a timetable which can be publicly laid down.

I am reluctant to argue or even half disagree with my hon. Friend on the first part of his question when we agree on such a wide range of matters. However, the shortcomings of his first proposition appeared in his second sentence. The case for JET being located at Culham is so strong that it is a denial of the proposition that any conclusion is better than none. The political argument for JET coming to Great Britain is overwhelming and the technical arguments about who can run the project are equally strong. The Government will find it very difficult indeed to accept any decision rather than the right one, not least because any but the right one might mean that the project cannot continue at the right level of technical competence—which could be provided in Britain.

Photo of Mr Enoch Powell Mr Enoch Powell , South Down

If, on the subject of Summer Time, the right hon. Gentleman could treat Great Britain's requirements as sustainable and insist upon them, why did he open the fisheries negotiations by treating a vital national interest and requirement as unattainable and commencing negotiations with a proposition which is inadequate to protect British fisheries?

Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook

I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will read the full statement which I have made and which I have deposited in the Library. He will then discover the basic error in his assumption. The demand of the fishing industry is for a 100-mile exclusive zone. I described that to the Council as unattainable, which I believe it to be. In fact, it is more than that. It is also a figure which I do not believe is necessary to sustain the interests of our fishing industry. [Interruption.] I do not know whether the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mrs. Ewing) wants to make her own case in the middle of my reply or to hear the Government's position. The advice which I received is that most of the fish which is necessary to sustain the British fishing industry can be caught within the area which I described to the Council of Ministers. If the right hon. Gentleman has different information, I shall be happy to hear it and even more happy to hear the source from which it comes.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Opposition Whip (Commons)

Does the Minister recognise that one of the most important coastal belts he has to safeguard is that of North Northumberland, that the previous Conservative Government did not so recognise it and that there is considerable fear that the six-mile sell-out under the previous Government may be repeated in some form in these negotiations?

Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook

It is not my style to make the sort of political point that the hon. Gentleman urges me to make, but I am reminded by him that what I am presently trying to do is to retrieve the ground which was totally abandoned by the Conservative Government three days before they signed the Treaty of Accession. Within that understanding I entirely share the hon. Member's view that, while I told the Council that I would specify the areas of special concern at a later date, giving the technical information which is necessary, the area which he describes is certainly one, and it is one in which we must preserve a proper and necessary interest.

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

On fisheries, are we not in danger of reaching a situation in which a number of other countries have a 200-mile limit while we, as a great fishing nation, are lucky to get even 50 miles?

Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook

We are likely to reach a situation in which the Community as a whole has a 200-mile limit—a policy to which the previous Government committed us—but within which we have an exclusive zone. If the exclusive zone is approximately the size and shape that I tried to suggest to my colleagues three days ago, our essential interests will be safeguarded.

Photo of Mr Francis Pym Mr Francis Pym , Cambridgeshire

In view of the way in which the Minister has described he is handling this negotiation, do we take it that he has, in effect, given us an assurance that 50 miles is 50 miles and is not a negotiable position? Secondly, in view of the imminent end of the Law of the Sea Conference, would he agree that, whether agreement is reached there or not, the urgency of achieving a new fisheries policy within the Community is too urgent to be exaggerated?

Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook

Unlike the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), the right hon. Gentleman was actually a member of the Government which negotiated the previous fishing policy and towards the end of the life of that Government was Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. [Interruption.] He was certainly a member of the Cabinet. I am not sure what attempts he then made to improve on the policy that his colleagues negotiated. However, let me assure him that what I said last Monday and Tuesday referred to areas which were invariably and always within 50 miles and most of which were within 35 miles of the British coast.

This is a variable question. We certainly expect the exclusive zone which surrounds Great Britain to be of variable distance from the British shore. I cannot give a single figure which will mark that boundary, but I assure the right hon. Gentleman that our intention is to draw a boundary which includes all the fish which are necessary to preserve the industry's essential interest.

Photo of Mr Nigel Spearing Mr Nigel Spearing , Newham South

My right hon. Friend said that the last Council discussed both the direct elections issue and the Tindemans Report. Although the House has had a debate on direct elections, it has not had a debate on the Tindemans Report and cannot have one before it is discussed again on 14th and 15th May. In view of that, can my right hon. Friend say what is the Government's response to the Tindemans Report and on what is it based?

Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook

We have said many times that the Tindemans Report contains a number of elements which we regard as wholly appropriate for the continued creation of the sort of EEC that we want to see and that a number of elements within the report—one simple example is the creation of a European Defence Community—are unacceptable to Her Majesty's Government. It is not possible for me today to go through the report paragraph by paragraph, but I take my hon. Friend's point. I hope that there will be a debate on the Tindemans Report, and I know that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House feels the same. Clearly, before anything which that report contains can be put into effective operation, the House must be able to talk about it.

Photo of Mr John Davies Mr John Davies , Knutsford

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman does not wish to be unfair in his comments on the previous Government. Is he aware that the first round of the Law of the Sea Conference was well envisaged at the time of accession and that it was common ground between this country and the other members of the Community that, when that had taken place and a new economic zone had been arranged, a total review of the common fisheries policy was in any case necessary? I am sure he will acknowledge that and, therefore, make it clear that, far from having sold this country down the river, the then Government had very definitely marked their view on the matter at that time.

Second, would the right hon Gentleman also make it clear that, while I recognise the full importance of the fisheries issues in this case, the delineation of economic zones goes far beyond the question of fisheries and that the Law of the Sea Conference, which will currently, I hope, produce a conclusion, will bring about some conclusions of substantial importance to the Community and to this country which are nothing whatever to do with fisheries?

Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook

The answer to the second question is "Yes". Perhaps one day the House will want a debate on the general and important implications of the Law of the Sea Conference. On the first question, having spent two years of my life intimately involved in the renegotiation, I am constantly told of understandings and nudges and winks that were accepted by the EEC and the previous Government before they entered—they range from tons of sugar to the common fisheries policy—but those nudges and winks are more accepted in the Conservative Party than they are in the Community in Brussels.

Photo of Dr Winnie Ewing Dr Winnie Ewing , Moray and Nairn

May I address the right hon. Gentleman in a spirit of sweet reasonableness on the subject of direct elections and say that we on this Bench once again reaffirm our support for the principle and hope that there will be no slippage? On behalf of my colleagues, I should like to reaffirm that, although seven seats for Scotland is absurd when compared with 17 for Denmark and 13 for Ireland, nevertheless we believe that we should not allow quibbles about numbers to hold the matter. We believe that, within the EEC, the other countries have indicated good will towards the day when Scotland will be independent and then parity with Denmark will be obvious. May I ask the right hon. Gentleman not to use the SNP as an excuse, because we will accept the seven seats meantime?

Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook

I am not sure what the hon. Lady means by "using the SNP as an excuse". I suppose that she is making her common mistake of pretending that the SNP speaks for Scotland, which demonstrably it does not. The Government's view, which I believe is shared in virtually every quarter of the House, is that the size of the European Assembly must be manageable, but on the other hand it must give a proper size of representation to Scotland. If the hon. Lady disagrees with that, I hope she will continue to say so.

Photo of Mr Norman Buchan Mr Norman Buchan , Renfrewshire West

Will my right hon. Friend help to clear up the confusion which exists in some other Departments in relation to the exclusive economic zone and the possible fishing limits that we may be allowed in the EEC? There has been some confusion on this today. Second, there will be a new situation if first Iceland and then Norway move to limits of 200 miles. As they are concerned with fishing limits and not simply with an EEZ, there is a case for us also considering further fishing limits. My right hon. Friend has asked for further evidence on this. The answer lies in the basic experimental fishing in the deep waters off the West Coast of Scotland particularly. Two matters come together here. One is the ease of policing by having a wider limit, because they have to steam to the 50-mile limit before anything can be done anyway, and the other concerns new limits of experimental fishing, both of which argue for further extension of limits than my right hon. Friend has put forward.

Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook

I do not share my hon. Friend's view about the citing of evidence for a wider extension of fishing, particularly if an exclusive zone can be related to quotas within the Community waters outside. Again, my statement to the Council of Ministers two days ago made it clear that part of the package that we propose is a quota within the 200-mile Community waters which can be adequately policed. I entirely agree about that. If we are to take fish from areas other than exclusive zones, there must be a proper conservation régime and there must be protection of the interests of those countries which will certainly abide by the rules and regulations. With those two elements combined, however, I believe that we can meet the industry's needs.

Photo of Mr Neil Marten Mr Neil Marten , Banbury

Is the Minister aware that since Parliament reassembled in October last year, there have been 35 meetings of the Council of Ministers and that this is only the third oral report that we have had in this Parliament? Although obviously it is embarrassing for the Government to come here and have to make statements about lack of progress, and perhaps on occasions even failure, at meetings, it is the duty of Ministers to make statements here, particularly as the Minister's statement today is very much at variance with what we have read in the informed Press about what went on. Can the right hon. Gentleman carry on the good work and come and see us again?

Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook

I knew that sooner or later I would obtain the approval and support of the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten).I am very anxious that the House should be kept as much in touch as possible about these matters. We do not disagree on the principle, but it is a matter for the House to decide how often it wants such statements. Despite the hon. Member's enthusiasm and mine, I suspect that our colleagues would not accept that it was necessary to make 35 statements over the past few months. Perhaps we should establish some criteria by which we can decide whether the business of the Council is suitable for statements. Perhaps the usual channels and other parties could agree on a system by which we could decide which meetings justified the time of the House and which did not.

Photo of Mr Reginald Maudling Mr Reginald Maudling , Barnet Chipping Barnet

Was the statement which the Minister made at the meeting on fishing a negotiating position or a definitive position?

Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook

It was a definitive statement of our needs.

Photo of Mr Arthur Latham Mr Arthur Latham , Cities of London and Westminster Paddington

The Minister indicated that certain matters had to be held over for discussion at another time. What were these matters, and why were they held over?

Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook

Basically, the two main issues held over were the Tindemans Report, on which it was formally agreed that discussion should be postponed for a month without being pursued in any detail, and the matter of direct elections, which was held over for different reasons. Britain held views about the size of the Assembly which were not shared by some of the other member States. Britain also stressed the need for an opportunuity for the House of Commons to make judgments on this and report to Ministers.

There were a series of other matters which were held over because of disagreement, as is the Community's practice. An example of this was the organisation and harmonisation of Summer Time, on which it was not possible for all the member States to agree. Such matters are held over in the hope that member States which disagree might change their minds in a month or two. This particular matter of Summer Time is a bad example as I do not think we shall be able to change our mind, but we have a hope of unanimity at a future meeting.

Photo of Mr Cyril Townsend Mr Cyril Townsend , Bexley Bexleyheath

Was any attempt made to arrive at a joint policy on arms sales to South Africa? Are there any plans for visits to Rhodesia or Namibia by Community officials?

Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook

There was no discussion of arms sales or a demand for a co-ordinated policy. There was some discussion on an initiative by Community officials about going to Namibia or other countries. This was one issue on which no final decision was taken two days ago, and it is proposed to discuss the matter again.

Photo of Mr Stephen Hastings Mr Stephen Hastings , Mid Bedfordshire

The Minister mentioned that there had been some consideration of the establishment of a European Defence Community. This could be one of the most constructive things that the Community could do, yet the Minister said that the Government were opposed to it. Why is this?

Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook

Whenever the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings) chooses to put down a Question, raise an Adjournment debate or persuade his right hon. Friends to take a Supply Day, this matter will be discussed.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , West Lothian

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it normal to address the House of Commons in one's dressing gown and nightie?

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

It is not normal, but the unexpected always happens.

Photo of Dr Winnie Ewing Dr Winnie Ewing , Moray and Nairn

May I take that as a compliment from the hon. Member?

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

I did not realise that the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) was referring to the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mrs. Ewing).