In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be holding meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. This evening I hope to have an audience of Her Majesty The Queen.
May I draw the Prime Minister's attention to reports in The Guardian yesterday that EEC Governments are deliberately dragging out the talks on food prices in the hope that tomorrow's vote will lead to the return of the soft-touch Tory Government? Will the Prime Minister take it from me that the Government's opposition to any increase in food prices is welcomed in the country and that, if abrasiveness leads to a reduction in prices, we want more of it?
It would be ill-advised of any Government to drag out the talks on such a hypothetical basis, which is unlikely to be realised. The truth is that the case we put forward for many years about the waste under the agricultural policy is at last beginning to bite on consumers' pockets in continental countries as well as our own. For that reason, as well as the waste of expenditutre, we are receiving much more support on this matter than hitherto. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is there today to try to obtain agreement on a freeze of common prices. I hope that the House will support us in that.
Will the Prime Minister apply his mind today to constitutional matters? In the event of the Government being defeated tomorrow night, will he follow the precedent of his predecessor, Ramsay MacDonald, and advise Her Majesty to dissolve Parliament the following day? If not, will he indicate to the House how long he expects it will be before he advises Her Majesty to dissolve Parliament?
I have not engaged my mind on such entirely hypothetical questions as this. However, I have no doubt that if, in the event, the hon. Gentleman's nightmares and hobgoblins come true, this Government will be returned at any election held at any time.
Has my right hon. Friend been able to consider a letter from both sides of the paper industry concerning the tariff cuts demanded of the EEC by the Americans in the present round of GATT negotiations in Brussels? Will he find time to use his influence to ensure that the success enjoyed by British manufacturers of kraft lined paper is not prejudiced by the EEC giving unnecessary concessions in response to American domestic pressures?
This was one of the 2,000 or 3,000 letters that I get every week that I studied carefully. It seems that this industry—paper and kraft products—has a good case. I marked on the letter that I hoped that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade would take up the matter strongly. Our industry is in a good position to resist the United States proposal. The Community seems to be ready to give way on this for the sake of other concessions. I hope that we may sustain the position. I have not received a detailed report, but my right hon. Friend may be absolutely assured that I am conscious of the problem.
I, too, would like to ask the Prime Minister a practical question. He will be aware of the reports today that the Civil Service is stepping up its strike action. He will also recall that, in a statement on contingency arrangements, he told me a few days ago that full contingency arrangements had been made to see that the Government did not default on their obligations. It is quite clear that these arrangements are not working, and that the small business man and the small investor are not getting the moneys which are due to them. What assurance can the Prime Minister give to us that new arrangements will be made?
The right hon. Lady is—no doubt inadvertently—misquoting me. I am sure that I have never given a complete assurance of the nature that she mentioned, because that would be impossible to achieve. Strikes of this sort are always bound to interfere either with Government business or with the rights and the claims of the public on the Government. I very much hope that these will be minimised as far as possible. I can assure the right hon. Lady that we are doing that, but I cannot guarantee perfection in this matter. [Interruption.] The Opposition always shout "What are you doing about it?" One thing we could do would be to concede the wage claims in full. Is that what the Opposition would want us to do?
I can say to the House that there is a Bill ready for this purpose. In view of the complete failure of the press to report the facts that it has been given day after day, I will make a statement. It is not only failure on the part of the press but in many cases misrepresentation by the press. This may not be to the taste of the Conservative Party, but it is as well to get the truth on record.
The truth is that, following the Pearson Commission report last summer, in which it said that it found great difficulties in connection with the slate quarrymen's case, the Government set up an interdepartmental inquiry at once. We told the House that we had done so. In the Queen's Speech last November we indicated that we were examining the case further. The inter-departmental committee reported to the Secretary of State for Employment in January in favour of the scheme. Ministers considered the scheme in February and agreed it in principle. They asked for more details to be given in respect of other workers in the textile and pottery industries as well as in the iron ore industries. All these matters were agreed. They came to a natural head during the course of March.
Whatever may be the desire on the part of the Opposition or some minority parties to claim that something has been done in order to gain votes, that is a total misrepresentation of the sequence of events—and I hope that the press will print that in full.
I refer the hon. Member to the reply which I have just given to my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk).
If the Prime Minister has no guilty feelings about the quarrymen, should he not have guilty feelings about the position of his Government in relation to Scotland, when they have cut regional industrial spending in real terms by 40 per cent, over the past two years? Does not he think that that is a scandalous position, in view of the level of unemployment in Scotland?
Will the Prime Minister ponder also the fact that Scottish oil resources have gone up sharply as a result of the OPEC decision? Will he not enhance the degree of industrial spending in Scotland forthwith?
I quite agree with the hon. Gentleman that I have no guilty feelings. I just have feelings of indignation that the press cannot report the facts which have been given to it day after day.—[Interruption.] Not all the press but some of it. Conservative Members know which are their lapdogs in these matters.
As for assistance to Scotland, the hon. Gentleman knows that there has been a considerable increase over the years, especialy in the funds which have been allocated to the Scottish Development Agency. This has made a substantial difference. But I am bound to say, if the hon. Gentleman is dissatisfied with that, that I do not understand why apparently he would want to be walking through the Lobby tomorrow night with those who would cut out all grants to Scotland.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that everyone will be pleased that he has set out the record concerning the Government's efforts to help the Welsh ex-quarrymen and people in other industries?
May I ask my right hon. Friend if the principle is as enunciated by him—that is, to help people who have a just cause, and where there may be conflicts in reaching a solution? Will he advise his ministerial colleagues that there is another group of workers deserving of help, namely, a certain category of workmen's compensation cases? I remind my right hon. Friend that a Private Member's Bill that I have introduced is before the House but that, because of some complexities, I believe that it has not been given the treatment that it deserves. Will my right hon. Friend try to persuade his ministerial colleagues to advance it?
I will inquire into this matter. The Secretary of State for Employment is aware of the Ten-Minute Bill to which my hon. Friend referred, and I am sure that he will go into it. But the Pearson Commission report on these matters as a whole needs more careful consideration than it has had so far, and we shall certainly bring forward proposals to deal with it in the next Parliament.
Will the Prime Minister make a statement this afternoon not of a constitutional nature or of a party political nature but rather of a statesmanlike nature, concerning the achievement of President Carter in the development of peace between Egypt and Israel? Will the Prime Minister, in these last few days that may be left to him, say what are his views about helping President Carter to extend this peace development, so that it grows into something which will embrace all the Arab nations?
I spoke last Friday about this matter, although it did not engage too much attention. The visit of President Sadat and Prime Minister Begin to the United States is clearly of historic importance. For the first time in 30 years, there seems now to be peace between Egypt and Israel; and that is something at which the whole world should rejoice. As I have made clear to President Carter and to Prime Minister Begin and President Sadat, we regard it as essential that we should move on from here to a comprehensive peace settlement that will engage the other Arab States and give the Arabs in Palestine—the Palestinians—the opportunity of a secure future for themselves, as well as securing peace for Israel.
I believe that the European Community has issued a statement today. I wish that it could have been a little warmer about the peace settlement than it is, but in any case, it represents a most valuable step forward.
If the Prime Minister finds time today to consider any possible vote of censure, will he tell the Liberals, the Scottish National Party, the Welsh nationalists and the Ulster Unionists to go and jump in the North Sea? [HON. MEMBERS: "Or the Irish Sea."] Will he tell the House that this Government will fight on their record and future policy, irrespective of the result of tomorrow night's vote?
With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I will make a statement about the main business to be taken by Ministers of the European Community during April. The more detailed written forecast was deposited yesterday. At present five meetings of the Council of Ministers are proposed for April.
A joint Foreign Affairs and Finance Council will meet on 2 April and will consider two Commission discussion papers, first "Financing the Community Budget —The Way Ahead" and secondly "A Global Appraisal of the Budgetary Problems of the Community."
The Foreign Affairs Council will meet on 2 and 3 April and will discuss the relaunching of the EEC-Turkey association agreement, relations with Yugoslavia, and preparations for UNCTAD V. Ministers will also review the position reached in the GATT multilateral trade negotiations and will discuss negotiations with China for an agreement over trade in textiles. The Council will prepare for the next, and possibly final, meeting at ministerial level of the Greek accession negotiations, which will take place immediately after the Council, and will again consider revised Commission proposals concerning specific aids given by member States to the steel industry.
The Environment Council will meet on 9 April for a general exchange of views on environment policy, which is expected to include discussion of Commission papers on waste management, clean technologies, guidelines for the assessment of the possible impact on the environment of any proposed building or construction work, and European conventions on the quality of life.
The Agriculture Council will meet on 9 and 10 April to continue discussion of the 1979–80 CAP price proposals.
A Finance, or special Fiscal, Council may meet on 23 April to resume discussion of interest rate subsidies to be paid to the less prosperous members of the EMS exchange rate mechanism, and may also consider the harmonisation of excise duty on alcoholic beverages and the three draft directives concerned with VAT.
I thank the Minister for that full statement. It is the more welcome to us because it sometimes seems that at this time, when a lot of important business is being transacted in the Community, Ministers are usually too busy making electioneering speeches on the subject to tell us what is actually going on.
For example, will the Minister tell us whether the Financial Secretary to the Treasury will make a statement to the House about the outcome last week of discussions on the Community budget for 1979, in view of the great importance of the issues and the many changes of stance gone through by Treasury Ministers during the time that it was discussed?
Finally, will the Chancellor make a statement on the matter mentioned by the Minister, which will be discussed again next week, about interest rate subsidies for less prosperous countries? Is it the Chancellor's view that whether or not we join EMS we are eligible, after five years of his chancellorship, for special interest provisions on the ground that we are a less prosperous member of the Community?
With regard to the Finance Council, I assure the hon. Member for Mid-Oxon (Mr. Hurd) that we shall keep the House fully informed of developments after the joint Finance-Foreign Affairs Council meeting next week, which is, of course, crucial in this respect. As to the interest rate subsidies, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman is aware, we do not stand to lose, because there will, of course, be a refund of any subscriptions that we make in this respect.
Will my hon. Friend make the point to his colleagues that while America is stuck on the hook of the Kissinger promise that there will be no recognition of the PLO until it has recognised Israel—which is like asking people of an occupied country to recognise their occupiers—there can be no real progress towards peace in the Middle East, regardless of the Camp David con, and that there will be an upping of oil prices by Arab countries until we come to the simple realisation of accepting the PLO and working for the creation of a Palestinian State?
I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) has strong views on this matter. The Government have made their position perfectly clear. We recognise that the comprehensive peace towards which we hope to build on the basis of this new agreement will have to take into account the needs and aspirations of the Palestinian people. That is fundamentally important. As to the PLO, the position of the Government remains totally unchanged. Unless the PLO can come to terms with the need to recognise Israel's right to survival, there can be no question of formal recognition or ministerial contact with the PLO.
I am sure that the whole House wishes to see a satisfactory solution to the problem of fishing policy within the Community. However, it is perfectly clear that we are not prepared to see that solution achieved on any terms. We believe that a solution must recognise the profound contribution made to the Community by the fish stock that comes from British waters. Of course, we shall want a further meeting as soon as there are indications that progress can be made. To have a meeting that is totally unproductive will not help to find a solution.
With reference to the possibility of aid being given to the steel industry, may I ask the Minister of State, against the background of the Government's dragging their heels over the Hunterston project and the devastation of unemployment in Glengarnock, what assurance he can give that the Government will make very firm pleas within the Common Market for no further redundancies in the steel industry, which is vital to the West of Scotland? Will he also ensure that the necessary investment takes place to make the industry competitive?
I am sure that the hon. Lady will recall that Ministers have repeatedly made clear that the Government are not prepared to agree to Community proposals that could delay or prevent the advance of working capital to the British Steel Corporation and that would effectively deprive us of the power to decide upon the speed and conduct of our own restructuring programme.
Can the Minister assure the House that before there is any question of a new agreement with Turkey, the Community will require better evidence of a willingness by that country to withdraw its troops from Cyprus and to put better efforts behind the restoration of peace and tranquility on that island?
My right hon. Friend is today meeting the Foreign Minister of Cyprus. We all wish to see the outcome to which my hon. Friend has referred, but the withdrawal of Turkish troops will be achieved realistically only within the context of an overall settlement. We are working towards that in every way that we can. We recognise our responsibility, and we want to see progress. In the meantime, as I have said before—I hope that my hon. Friend will agree—the cause of democracy in Turkey is worthy of the support of the rest of the Western world.
Having put to the Community, on behalf of the previous Government, proposals for common work on clean air, clean seas and common waste management, may I very much welcome the prospect of the Environment Council meeting on 9 April? However, is the Minister aware that there is nothing specifically in the Treaty that allows the Community to take action in these areas—rather, it is an adjunct of competition policy? Has he any proposals for the Treaty to be amended so that there can be common Community action on environmental policies as such?
We have no plans to amend the Treaty in the way suggested by the hon. Gentleman, but if we can get constructive co-operation in the Community on a voluntary basis we shall go for that. However, I want to make something perfectly clear. In this sphere, as in all others, we favour action on a Community basis where this makes sense, but we favour very much a retention of emphasis on national action where this makes more sense.
I am sure that my hon. Friend, with his special knowledge of the issue, would not have made that interpretation. Of course, that is certainly not the case. Anyone who made that interpretation deliberately would be being mischievous. As ever, we are highly committed to the importance of finding a settlement in the interests of all the people of Cyprus, not only because of Cyprus itself but because of the importance of stability in that whole part of the Mediterranean to the southern flank of NATO. We also believe that as fellow members of the Alliance we have a responsibility to work for stability and the cause of creative democracy in Turkey as well.
Will the Minister convey to his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the wish of my colleagues and myself that he should continue his deliberations in Brussels for a complete freeze on the price review this year? Will he also convey to his right hon. Friend the fact that if we are to restore confidence to British agriculture the green pound should be devalued by 10 per cent, and not by 5 per cent.?
I shall certainly convey what the hon. Gentleman said to my right hon. Friend. I should point out that this Government are determined to stand firm on the concept of price freezes, both in the cause of rational agricultural production within the Community and also in the interests of housewives, consumers and families throughout the Community, who are being asked to pay far more than they need for their food because of this wasteful and extravagant policy.
Will the hon. Gentleman impress on the meeting of Foreign Secretaries the real need for Europe to play a leading part in the Middle East by supporting the amazing settlement between Israel and Egypt, and giving that success proper support instead of pursuing a pusillanimous and divided policy which makes Europe the laughing stock of the world?
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has already dealt with that question. I only reiterate that we have welcomed the agreement, but I believe that everyone who looks at that great achievement will recognise, as the Community has said, that in history it must be seen as a stepping stone towards a comprehensive settlement in that area and not as an end in itself.
As Minister responsible for our relations with the EEC, has my hon. Friend been told about the energy debate yesterday? Is he aware that it was revealed that the recent finding of the EEC Court means that all fissile material including uranium and plutonium, in this country is in the possession of the EEC, which is also responsible for security and movement? In view of that, can he tell the House when the Government are likely to commence conversations with the French Government, and at what ministerial meeting of the EEC this matter will now arise?
I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that the recent Court finding has demonstrated that the Euratom treaty has far-reaching implications for our own energy policy, particularly in the nuclear sphere. I am quite certain that the Community will want to look thoroughly at the implications of that Court finding, so that it can work out sensibly a rational way forward.
In regard to the meeting concerned with the steel industry, does the Minister recall that in the debate on 25 January, in which he was responsible for the Government, a problem arose from the retrospective collection of funds for the European Coal and Steel Community budget? Can he say whether, in the discussions that are about to take place, there is now a firm commitment to find a better way of financing the budget in anticipation, as it were, rather than in a retrospective way?
Is my hon. Friend aware that if the talks with the People's Republic of China are successful, and they are able to export textiles to this country and to the rest of the EEC, it will cause great concern among all sections of the textile industry, because they believe that the Government will have undone all the good that they achieved with the multi-fibre arrangement and with GATT?
I, along with all my colleagues in Government, understand my hon. Friend's anxiety, as well as that of others who are close to the communities in Britain that are dependent upon the textile industry. No one should underestimate the significance of the adjustments that have been made in that industry in Britain over recent years—with more than 100,000 jobs lost. I can assure my hon. Friend that this will be very much in our minds as we assess the recommendations of the Commission following its discussions with the Chinese. Of course, any arrangement that is reached with the Chinese will have to fit in with the overall strategy of the Community's textile policy as a whole, which must seriously take account of the social and economic problems faced in this country and others.
Order. If the House will co-operate with me, I shall call those hon. Members who have risen, but I hope that they will ask brief questions. There is a Ten-Minute Bill before we get to the main business, for which there is a long list of right hon. and hon. Members who wish to speak.
Did the Minister hear his hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) put his supplementary question to the Prime Minister, in which he suggested that the EEC might be awaiting the outcome of the vote tomorrow night because it thought that the Conservative Party would be an easy touch in regard to the price review? Is he aware that the Conservative Party is just as much committed to a freeze on EEC prices as is the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food?
With regard to the meeting on 2 and 3 April on aids to the steel industry, does my hon. Friend appreciate that the best form of aid that can be given to the British steel industry at present is the curbing of imports? Does he appreciate that the Ford Motor Company at Dagenham now largely obtains its steel from West Germany, while at the same time many of our own people have been put out of work?
With regard to the multilateral trade negotiations, is the hon. Gentleman aware of the grave concern expressed by the British paper and board industry at reports that the Commission is about to make some sort of concession to the United States and may offer paper interests in Europe as a sacrificial lamb in the general negotiations? Will the Minister say what the Government's view is on this matter? Will he also say what influence and power they have over the negotiating stance of the Commission's team?
That and other matters will be considered on the second day of the meeting on Tuesday, when we shall be examining the report by the Commission on the negotiations to see whether we have reached the stage where we can move forward to an agreement. We are not yet at that stage, but when the formal proposals from the Commission are available the House can scrutinise them and give its views.
In discussing the financing of the Community budget, will my hon. Friend ensure that we re-emphasise that Britain's contribution is grossly distorted and unfair? Will he inform his colleagues that, while the common agricultural policy wastes money by destroying, storing and dumping food on the world market, there is no possibility that this Government will agree to new financing?
That has been made abundantly clear by my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. We shall continue to make plain that the British people are not prepared to become, in the near future, the largest net contributors to the budget when 76 per cent, of it is used to finance a ridiculously extravagant agriculture policy that penalises the consumer. There will be a further opportunity to bring the financing of the Community budget to a head when the present arrangements on the VAT ceiling of 1 per cent, expire in 1981. New arrangements will have to be made by a unanimous decision of the Council and will require the endorsement of this House.
We have been saying the same thing about the CAP for many months, but does the Minister agree that the constant moaning and hostility towards the EEC that has developed for party reasons on the Government Benches below the Gangway prevents the Government using the Community positively to serve the interests of this country? Should not the Minister and his colleagues have been pressing for months for the location in this country of new Community organisations, such as the EEC trade mark office, the European export bank, if it is finally set up, and, if we join the European monetary system, the European monetary fund?
The hon. Gentleman may be a convert to the principle of fighting the injustices of the CAP, but he has been conspicuous by his silence in recent months. He follows these affairs pretty closely and will recognise that there is a growing awareness amongst Ministers and others in the Community of the justice of the British case on the iniquities of the common agricultural policy. The sheer logic of our case is registering. The reforms that we are advocating are not simply in the British interest; they are in the interest of consumers throughout the Community. We are putting forward a Community policy. On other matters of immediate advantage that the hon. Gentleman suggests that we should be fighting for, we are arguing, for example, that a larger proportion of the budget should go towards tackling the problems of urban areas and the restructuring of industry. Those are highly constructive views that we are putting forward, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will support us.
Will my hon. Friend clearly convey to the Finance Ministers, when discussing the long-term Community budget, that we are not prepared to allow in any circumstances, let alone with the CAP, further taxation revenue accruing to the Common Market? Will he, if necessary, use the veto to resist any extension by the EEC of the taxation base? The Conservative Party will allow it to be extended if it gets its hands on power.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made it perfectly clear that when the revision of financing and budgetary arrangements occurs, which will necessitate unanimous decisions in the Council of Ministers and the agreement of this House, that agreement will not be reached until everyone is convinced that the changes are sensible and just.
Is my hon. Friend aware of the strong feelings in Brussels that the Conservative Party would acquiesce in all forms of price increases for food and services and would consider increasing taxation to aid the ailing EEC and its almost stupid Commissioners, who inflict terrible burdens on this country? Will he make it clear that this Government's policy over the past three or four years in combating inflation has produced realistic results? If that were emulated by the EEC countries, we should all benefit and rid ourselves of the greatest threat to Western Europe, namely, inflation.
I am glad to say that the Commission has put forward sensible price proposals, which have been supported to the hilt by this Government. Would that we could persuade other Governments to support them as fully.