Council of Ministers

Oral Answers to Questions — European Community – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 17th January 1979.

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Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner , Bolsover 12:00 am, 17th January 1979

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he expects next to meet EEC leaders; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Mr Nigel Forman Mr Nigel Forman , Sutton Carshalton

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he plans next to meet his opposite numbers in the Council of Ministers.

Photo of Mr Timothy Renton Mr Timothy Renton , Mid Sussex

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he proposes next to meet the Foreign Ministers of the EEC.

Photo of Mr Nigel Spearing Mr Nigel Spearing , Newham South

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he expects next to meet EEC colleagues at the Foreign Affairs Council.

Photo of Dr David Owen Dr David Owen , Plymouth, Devonport

I expect to meet my EEC colleagues next at the Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels on 6th February.

Several Hon. Members rose

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

I call first those hon. Members whose Questions are being answered.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner , Bolsover

Will my right hon. Friend tell his colleagues, in view of his strident calls for British interests, which he demonstrated once again a few moments ago, that he is exceptionally pleased that the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party is drawing up an extremely anti-Common Market manifesto for the direct elections?

Will my right hon. Friend explain that he is especially pleased that that manifesto will not be diluted by the Cabinet, since it has no rights in this matter, as it has in the drawing up of the General Election manifesto, and that the candidates who will be taking part in the elections on behalf of the Labour Party will be fighting for the restoration of British rights, in accordance with the Foreign Secretary's views, just pronounced, and for the reform of the Common Market structure, and with a policy for getting out in the event of failure?

Photo of Dr David Owen Dr David Owen , Plymouth, Devonport

I do not think that the Floor of the House of Commons is the place for my hon. Friend and myself to argue about who should be on the NEC. As to what the NEC should do in any given situation, one reason why I opposed my hon. Friend in the elections to the NEC is that I have a different view from him about how the NEC should conduct itself.

Photo of Mr Nigel Forman Mr Nigel Forman , Sutton Carshalton

Will the Foreign Secretary accept and tell the House that none of the desirable reforms in the operation of the Common Market will be achieved, and that no better balance will be achieved in the Community budget, if the Government are tempted to proceed on the destructive and flat earth lines recommended by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner)?

Photo of Dr David Owen Dr David Owen , Plymouth, Devonport

The Government have, over three to four years of painstaking and successful chipping away at some of the anomalies and inconsistencies in the common agricultural policy, produced significant progress. I believe that the next price fixing and the discussions on MCAs will be another opportunity to put constructively a case for reform which is not just in the British national interest but happens to be in the interest of consumers in all the member States.

Photo of Mr Timothy Renton Mr Timothy Renton , Mid Sussex

Will the Foreign Secretary and other members of the Government show much more public muscle in dissociating themselves from the hysterical anti-EEC noises made by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and other members of the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party, which can only be to the disadvantage of the national interest of the United Kingdom? In particular, does the Foreign Secretary, in view of the faltering Middle East peace plan, see any new initiatives in the Middle East which he and other EEC Foreign Ministers could take in concert?

Photo of Dr David Owen Dr David Owen , Plymouth, Devonport

It would be better if Conservative Members would spend a little less time worrying about divisions within the Labour Party and attitudes to Europe, and concentrate a little more on some of the differences of attitude on their own side, and also on the overall, thrust of the Conservative Party's position in relation to Europe, which is one of constantly denigrating its own Government when that Government are fighting for a national interest. This gives the appearance in Brussels that, were a Conservative Government ever to come to office, they would be a complete pushover.

Photo of Mr Nigel Spearing Mr Nigel Spearing , Newham South

When my right hon. Friend next meets his colleagues at the Foreign Ministers' Council, will he remind them of the statements that he made during the course of the Bill dealing with direct elections to the EEC Assembly, when he said that in his opinion the direct election to the EEC was no threat to the powers of this House? Will he now tell the House the position about the budget of the EEC? Is it not correct that it is held up because of the powers of the unelected EEC Assembly? Is not there a quarrel with the Council over amounts running into hundreds of millions of pounds? Does not that bode ill for the powers of this House when there is an elected Assembly, which will use these powers as a bargaining counter?

Photo of Dr David Owen Dr David Owen , Plymouth, Devonport

The dispute between the Council and the Assembly would be exactly the same whether or not the Assembly was directly elected. The reason why it was discussed in the Council on Monday was that the British Government, among other member States, hold very strongly to the view that it should not be in the power of the Assembly—and it is not in the power of the Assembly in the treaties—to fix the budget. The budget must be fixed by the body which is responsible for raising the revenue. That body is the Council of Ministers. Therefore, we shall not accept that the fixing of the budget total can be an issue for the Assembly. As long as this issue remains unresolved, we shall remain determined in our stance.

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

Does the Foreign Secretary accept that, unlike the French Government, he and his colleagues and party have appeared to spend most of their time chipping away at the concept of the Community, that the result has been a steady rundown in the bargaining strength of this country to protect its interests, that it will take us quite a time to rebuild it and that we regard it as essential in our own interests that we should?

Photo of Dr David Owen Dr David Owen , Plymouth, Devonport

I think that all right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House must recognise certain facts. The majority of people in this country did not want to enter the EEC in 1972 and 1973. [Interruption.] Hon. Gentlemen may wish to dispute that allegation, but that is my belief. I do not believe that politicians need to conduct referendums to determine political issues. We should be able to do that by exercising our judgment.

There has been a substantial change in the attitudes of people in this country since we have been a member of the Community. There are still disagreements—disagreements held by supporters of the Conservative Party and of the Labour Party—about the advisability of our entry, but most people are determined to make a useful, sensible contribution to the European Community. I believe that is what we should do, and, in doing it, we should not be afraid to stand up for a legitimate national interest.

Photo of Mr Roy Hughes Mr Roy Hughes , Newport (Monmouthshire/Gwent)

Will the Foreign Secretary draw to the attention of EEC leaders the prices for basic commodities, such as meat and wheat, obtaining in North America at present? Does he appreciate that if we were not in the Common Market we would be able to buy at those much reduced prices? Does he feel that the Government would do better to concentrate on the common agricultural policy to combat inflation than to try to pressurise road haulage drivers to give up their just claim?

Photo of Dr David Owen Dr David Owen , Plymouth, Devonport

We must try to keep down common prices. If we are successful in holding common prices, they will show greater similarity to world prices. World prices move around. My hon. Friend was right in what he said, but there have been times when the world wheat price has been higher than the Community price. I do not think that we shall ever get an exact parity of prices between the Community and the world. We wish to reduce progressively the wide disparity which still exists between overall international food prices and European food prices. I think that we are having some limited success in that respect.