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Agriculture Council

– in the House of Commons at 3:32 pm on 19th May 1982.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester 3:32 pm, 19th May 1982

Together with my right hon. Friend the Minister of State I attended a meeting of the Agriculture Council which met in Brussels on 17 and 18 May.

Since January, at eight meetings of the Council of Agriculture Ministers we have been negotiating this year's price-fixing arrangements. During these meetings member States had by negotiation obtained unanimity on many of the questions involved. Britain had retained specific reserves on a number of agricultural issues and a general reserve on the entire package. The purpose of the general reserve was to ensure that the position adopted at last November's European Council meeting in London by all member States in considering the 30 May mandate, that the budget and agricultural matters should be dealt with in parallel, should be complied with.

We therefore expected that at the meeting this week we would continue to negotiate on those remaining questions where unanimity had not been obtained. If by the time of the completion of our meeting there was no agreement upon the budget measures we would retain our general reserve.

Together with Denmark and Greece we strongly protested when the Presidency, encouraged by the Commission, announced that for the first time since 1966 the principle of obtaining unanimity where a very important national interest had been invoked was to be violated—[HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."]—and that a decision was to be taken in accordance with the treaty arrangements for majority voting.

I made a firm statement to the Council contesting the procedure and declaring that the Council had violated an accepted convention under which all previous price-fixings had been adopted. I stated that the Government considered that, as important national interests were involved, in accordance with the established practice of the Community, discussions should have continued in this Council until a unanimous agreement had been reached. I pointed out that the decisions that were being taken would place a further financial burden on the United Kingdom, that there was clearly a direct and organic link between the price-fixing decision and the budget negotiations and that this link had been recognised by all member States in their agreement that the three chapters of the 30 May mandate should proceed in parallel. I placed it on record that I considered that the conduct of the Presidency of the Commission and the member States which had joined in this procedure had created a very sad and damaging day in the Community's history—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—and that the Council had quite unjustifiably chosen to depart from the established working practices based on the agreement reached in 1966.

A majority decision was, therefore, taken on all of the regulations in accordance with what had been negotiated and agreed by nine member States in the meetings prior to this week's Council. Under the treaty these regulations become Community law with effect from tomorrow.

Had the normal process of negotiating continued and had not the Presidency, the Commission and seven member States violated the normal traditions, we would have endeavoured to obtain some further improvements in the clawback arrangements on lamb, and even larger reductions in the co-responsibility levy, whilst at the same time reducing the price increase for milk. We would also have sought lower increases in the prices of a number of cereals and in the prices of a range of Mediterranean products.

Many of the regulations were of course in accordance with the package that had emerged from the negotiations that had taken place in previous meetings of the Council. In those previous meetings the United Kingdom had achieved a number of important objectives to the benefit of consumers and producers, and these will now be implemented.

We successfully resisted pressures from the Commission and all other member States to revalue the green pound. We obtained a ½ per cent. reduction in the milk co-responsibility levy which will be worth around £10 million a year to United Kingdom producers. The Commission was made to withdraw its proposal for a progressive co-responsibility levy which would have been damaging to the interests of our industry. Improvements were made in the provision of aid for school milk. The Community subsidy was increased and this should lead to an increased up-take by local authorities.

We succeeded in obtaining an increase of two-thirds in the maximum beef premium payments and an increase in the Community contribution from the 25 per cent. negotiated by our predecessors to 40 per cent. We obtained a firm Commission declaration ensuring that the sale of wine distillates will not threaten the alcohol industry in this country. We resisted the Commission proposals for a large reduction in the United Kingdom butter subsidy, and the subsidy will continue at around 13p per pound.

The result of the total package that has now been agreed on farm support prices in the United Kingdom is an increase of 10·2 per cent. The effect of this on the retail price index over a full year will be ¼ per cent. and on the food price index over a full year 1¼ per cent. The consumer benefit of the beef premium scheme, the sheepmeat regime and the continuation of the butter subsidy will be worth some hundreds of millions of pounds, depending on the market situation.

The Commission estimates that the settlement increases the budgetary cost of the common agricultural policy by around 1,500 million ECUs or over £900 million in a full year. It also calculates that the increase is well within that of the Community's own resources. We estimate that the extra budgetary cost to the United Kingdom is about £120 million in a full year. This emphasises the importance of agreement on the adjustment of our budgetary contribution, which member States had previously agreed should be decided in parallel with the agricultural decisions.

Separately from the price-fixing, the Commission announced that a satisfactory solution had been reached to the problem of Dutch horticultural gas prices, which should be of benefit to United Kingdom horticulturists.

It is wrong that for the first time in 16 years a number of member States should have changed the rules of procedure to suit their immediate requirements and it must be noted that three of the four member States that have joined the Community strongly protested at the violation of the normal procedures that took place yesterday; they had joined the Community in the knowledge that these were the procedures of the Community.

The Government will be urgently considering the implications of what was done yesterday, and what action they will take. I am sure that the House will wish to debate this matter further. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is arranging through the usual channels for a debate.

Photo of Mr Norman Buchan Mr Norman Buchan , Renfrewshire West

We face a serious and grave situation and we had a not too serious a statement in response to it. Clearly, there are implications that go well beyond the mere matter of agriculture price-fixing. There are many future implications for Britain's international role and its role in relation to the Common Market. We shall have a look at some of those.

May we have a little clarity? The Minister said that in previous meetings the United Kingdom had achieved a number of important objectives to the benefit of consumers and producers"— I have no doubts about the benefits to the consumers— and these will now be implemented. However, the right hon. Gentleman also said that the regulations agreed yesterday will become Community law with effect from tomorrow. What does that mean? Does the right hon. Gentleman intend to implement only those matters that he has already agreed, or will he have to implement the entire burden of the decisions made yesterday? I understand that the Ministry has today issued instructions for the implementation of the regulations in accordance with Community law and I want from the Minister a denial that he has given such instructions or that his Ministry is proceeding to implement the matters on which he did not agree.

Quite apart from the international impact, there will be wide internal implications, not only for farmers but for consumers. We are extremely sceptical about the figures quoted by the right hon. Gentleman. For example, the European Consumer Organisation estimates that the decisions will involve an additional cost of £1·50 a week for the average family with two children. Most estimates in reputable journals, including Agra Europe, suggest increased costs of between £1·20 and £1·50—and that is against the background of a compulsory wage ceiling for large sectors of our people of between 4 per cent. and 6 per cent.

There are major implications for the future. The common fisheries policy falls within the Minister's responsibility. The sands of time are running out and we have only a few more months in which to reach a settlement. Is the veto to be available for use from now on, or will our waters be open—up to the beaches—for every fisherman in Western Europe? What protection do we have for our fishing communities and our waters if the CFP is also to be decided by majority vote? It was clear yesterday and from the philosophy of some of the right hon. Gentleman's response that such an objective is in the minds of not only the Commission but many members of the Council of Ministers.

The total budget on which the right hon. Gentleman says that he has been raising his resistance is one of the problems, as the right hon. Gentleman told the Eurofanatics on the SDP and Liberal Benches who wanted to force a settlement even before we knew the total of the budget. What effect will yesterday's decisions have on the total budget and on the share that we shall have to pay for the privilege of paying high taxes to bring about high prices? This is the first time in recorded history when what we have lost on the swings we are also losing on the roundabouts. Does the right hon. Gentleman still intend to resist on the budget?

What is the right solution? All that we are told is that the Government are considering the position seriously. May I suggest a solution? [Interruption.] One solution would be for the Minister to refuse to pay our share of the budget. Any money thus saved could be used for a proper national policy for the British agriculturist and the British consumer alike. That is the right solution. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will use the opportunity to direct British agriculture away from the distortions that the CAP has produced. If that should require legislation, we would assist.

There are two other matters of importance. [Interruption.] This is a desperately serious situation and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will tell us who speaks for Britain in this situation. A majority of Conservative Members of the European Parliament voted to go along with majority votes in the Council. Sir Henry Plumb, the leader of the Conservative group, was one of the only two MEPs to vote a month ago not for a 10·2 per cent. increase, but for a 14 per cent. increase. The other was Mrs. Ewing of the SNP.

Further, the President of the Commission—[Interruption.] Perhaps the Minister will verify this. Is it correct—

Photo of Mr Victor Goodhew Mr Victor Goodhew , St Albans

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. May I make it clear to the House, which appears to be under a misapprehension, that a statement is different from a private notice question, and the Opposition are entitled not only to ask questions but to pass remarks, commensurate with the length of the statement.

Photo of Mr Norman Buchan Mr Norman Buchan , Renfrewshire West

Is it the case that Gaston Thorn, the President of the Commission, said that he was not interested in unanimity or unanimous decisions? Did not he play a major part in encouraging the Council of Ministers to come to their decision? I ask again, who rules—the Commission or the Ministers?

I said that there were deeper implications. One is that yesterday's events pose a major question about our continued membership of the Common Market. The Minister may recall that in his own White Paper, produced by the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) in 1971, we were assured—[Interruption.]

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. I can see that the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) is about to conclude. He ought to be allowed to continue without interruption.

Photo of Mr Norman Buchan Mr Norman Buchan , Renfrewshire West

The White Paper on which we entered the Common Market—the conditions were referred to by the Minister yesterday—made it clear that there would be no question of any erosion of essential national sovereignty because it is established that decisions should be unanimous. The White Paper produced by a Labour Government in 1975—[Interruption.]—asserted: each member state is in a position to block agreement unless interests to which it attaches importance are met. In other words—[Interruption.]

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. I remind the House that there has been an announcement that there will be an opportunity to debate this whole matter. I am sure that the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West is coming to a conclusion.

Photo of Mr Norman Buchan Mr Norman Buchan , Renfrewshire West

You are percipient, as always, Mr. Speaker. I am, indeed, corning to a conclusion and it is that one of the themes in next week's debate will be the statement made by the Minister yesterday that the conditions and understandings on which we entered the Common Market have been broken. The whole question of our continued relationship in this form will be at issue.

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

I shall look forward to debating the matter with the hon. Gentleman next week. As I made clear in my statement, the proposals were legally passed and become law throughout the Community tonight. I also made clear the aspects on which I would have endeavoured to continue negotiating. Of course, what happened yesterday prevented that process from taking place. All the things that we achieved in previous debates in the Council have been implemented immediately.

With regard to the effect on consumer prices, I want there to be no doubt whatever as to the accuracy of the figures. The method of calculating the figures is the same as that used when the previous Labour Government were in office, and the same people are doing the calculation. The calculation is not made on a political basis.

Recently, a quite inaccurate estimate was made in the Community, which proceeded as if the price increase applied to the 40 per cent. of goods imported from the tropics and elsewhere. A series of quite incorrect calculations were made. Recently, one of the consumer associations quoted those figures. When the association's representatives came to see me at the Ministry, at my invitation, I asked them to sit down and go through our method of calculation and to see whether they had any criticism of it. They had no criticism to make.

In a nutshell, the effect on consumer prices over a year will be rather less than the increase in food prices every month during the period of office of the previous Labour Government.

With regard to fishing, the future role of the veto is obviously a fundamental and basic question. The hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) rightly referred to the fact that, as shown by the White Papers, Britain joined the Community knowing the process that was involved. Obviously, the matter is now causing a major crisis within the Community. If the power of veto is to continue where national interests are involved—as, in my judgment, it must continue as part of the Community Process—it must in future continue in such a way that no one can at any time break that agreement. This is obviously a matter that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs will be taking up at the next meeting, early next week, of the Foreign Ministers' Council.

With regard to the role of the Commission, over the whole period of the Luxembourg compromise since 1966 it has been no secret that the Commission has always been opposed to it and has been in favour of majority voting. The Commission did everything it could to encourage those who were using that device yesterday.

Several Hon. Members:

rose

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. I remind the House that there is timetabled business to follow. We have heard the announcement of a debate on the matter raised by the statement. However, despite both those factors, I intend exceptionally, to allow half an hour for questions from each side of the House.

Photo of Mr Roy Jenkins Mr Roy Jenkins , Glasgow Hillhead

Will the right hon. Gentleman and the Government accept that, in considering urgently the implications of what happened yesterday, it is certainly my view that the Luxembourg compromise must apply either to everybody or to nobody? There can be no question, as some other countries have suggested, that the Luxembourg compromise remains intact after what happened yesterday. [Interruption.] Will the right hon. Gentleman also bear in mind that, far from being a crowning achievement of the Community, the Luxembourg compromise—the right of veto—has in many ways been responsible for the loss of momentum and stultification since 1966? [Interruption.] It is by no means clear to me that it has operated in Britain's interest.

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the essential difficulty was not the impact—subject to a little further negotiation—of the agricultural price increase itself, but the linkage with the absence of a budget settlement?

Will the right hon. Gentleman assure us, in advance of the debate which I hope will take place next week, that no long-term isolating decisions will be taken by the Government?

Photo of Mr Michael English Mr Michael English , Nottingham West

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Remarks have just been made in this House without a declaration of interest, when one should have been made.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. It is up to everybody to decide his own interest.

Photo of Mr Roy Jenkins Mr Roy Jenkins , Glasgow Hillhead

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. I made a declaration of interest, in accordance with the rules of the House, that, subject to tax, I have received certain severence payments—[Interruption.]—certain annual payments. If hon. Members cannot accept that people can have a view—[Interruption.]—and put it forward in the interests of this country in these circumstances—[Interruption.]—this House has become a very much worse place than—[Interruption.]

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. I warn the House that the continuance of noise will reduce the number of hon. Members who can be called during the time allotted.

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

With regard to the observation by the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Jenkins) that, if we are to have the Luxembourg compromise, it must apply to everybody or to nobody, there could be no Luxembourg compromise other than on the basis that the procedure is constantly obeyed by all member countries. Seven member countries destroyed the Luxembourg compromise yesterday. As to whether it should apply to everybody or to nobody, I have no doubt in my own mind that it must apply to everybody.

I reject the second view of the right hon. Gentleman. Where a major interest of a national Government is involved, I believe that it is wrong for a majority vote to impose something against that national interest.

The right hon. Gentleman campaigned vigorously for Britain to be part of the Community. In the course of that advocacy, he must have known that the White Papers on the subject clearly stated that the Luxembourg compromise was part of the procedures of the Community. That is why it is significant that the three countries which strongly objected yesterday had all joined the Community and campaigned for doing so on the basis of the existence of the Luxembourg compromise.

I confirm that of course there was a linkage between the budget and the prices, but I must also confirm to the right hon. Gentleman that when the 10 member States agreed the mandate of 30 May, they agreed that the decisions should be taken in parallel, so it was not just a matter of Britain demanding the linkage; the whole of the Community had agreed that the linkage should take place. It is very wrong that that linkage has not taken place.

Photo of Mr Hugh Fraser Mr Hugh Fraser , Stafford and Stone

Will my right hon. Friend draw the attention of the Prime Minister to early-day motion 467?

[That this House views with the gravest concern the decision of the European Economic Community Council of Ministers to approve the farm price review by majority vote against the expressed wishes of Her Majesty's Government, an act which is in contravention of the established practice and conventions of the Community which were established prior to the entry of the United Kingdom and which enable member states to veto measures taken against their national interest; urges that action be taken to remedy this position; and pledges support to the Prime Minister in taking whatever measures she may consider necessary.]

May the action taken by the Prime Minister be powerful?

Will the Minister give a pledge to the House that the Government do not propose to go down the federal line which has been indicated by the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Jenkins)?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

The principle of the Luxembourg compromise is vital. Strangely enough, a document that is to be discussed at the Foreign Affairs Council next week, in the names of the Foreign Secretaries of Germany and Italy, contains their proposals that the Luxembourg compromise should become more enshrined within the Community. It is remarkable that those countries violated that principle yesterday. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is aware of the early-day motion in the name of my right hon. Friend and others and takes note of it.

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

As the decision is a plain breach of the undertakings given at the time of the Treaty of Accession in 1972 and the referendum in 1975, will the Minister undertake that no more funds will be paid into the EEC budget until the breach of faith is reversed?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

I will give no such undertaking. I have said clearly that the Government will be considering and reporting to the House what action they intend to take.

Photo of Mr Maurice Macmillan Mr Maurice Macmillan , Farnham

Will the Minister confirm that, had the Luxembourg compromise not been breached, the increase in agricultural support prices would have been much the same? Does he regard the budgetary contribution of a full year as more than a marginal increase? Will he consider emphasising not the relatively small practical effect of what has happened on Great Britain's finances and position, but the importance of obtaining some agreement on the future of the Luxembourg compromise, perhaps involving a change of definition of what is essential to national interests rather than what is convenient to the Government of the day?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

It would be difficult to define in any document words which covered all questions of what a Government considered to be their national interests. Until now a Government's view of national interest has been accepted by the Community. I believe that is possibly correct.

As for the level of agricultural prices, I made it clear in my statement that we agreed with substantial parts of the package that we negotiated. I said that I would have preferred to have a lower co-responsibility levy with an appropriate proportionate reduction in milk prices. I believe that some of the cereal prices should have been somewhat lower. That remains our position.

Photo of Hon. Sam Silkin Hon. Sam Silkin , Southwark Dulwich

Does the Minister agree that the abrogation of the Luxembourg accord is the most significant and important event that has occurred in the Community since its enlargement? It has the widest and most disquieting implications, whether or not one believes in Great Britain's membership. Will he ensure that we have an early debate during which the House can express its view?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

I agree completely with the right hon. and learned Gentleman that the abrogation of the Luxembourg accord is a major departure and of immense significance to the future operation of the Community.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Macmillan) raised a related topic. It is essential that Europe now decides the matter. It could be—this is purely speculation—that whereas the Commission was delighted yesterday at the breach of the Luxembourg convention, the result of that breach will be that in the future Community practice will be more permanently enshrined and legally binding than is the case at present.

Photo of Mr Russell Johnston Mr Russell Johnston , Inverness

Is the Minister aware that Liberals believe that we shall see no genuine progress in the Community until majority voting is accepted? The Council's decision may end up being the best outcome for the Community for years. Is it not hypocritical for the Minister to condemn the breach when in seeking budgetary restitution he has sought to change the rules? As the Minister of Agriculture, can he tell us the views of the NFU, and, as a Conservative, the views of the Conservative group in the European Parliament?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

I reject completely the view of the hon. Gentleman, who is presumably speaking on behalf of the Liberal Party. Those who have had detailed experience of negotiating in Europe, especially on agricultural matters which after all represent the greatest proportion of the European budget, know that if, over the years, matters had been passed by a majority vote, Great Britain and Italy—as the two importing countries—would have been treated exceedingly badly. I believe that there would be considerable danger and possibly a great deal of disruption in Europe if majority voting prevailed.

As for trying to change the rules on the budget, I should point out that every country in Europe concedes that there needs to be adjustment in the rules. We have negotiated in accordance with Community procedures to obtain those changes. That is different from changing the procedures and rules that have operated for 16 years without debate, discussion or consultation.

Photo of Mr Tom Normanton Mr Tom Normanton , Cheadle

Can the Minister say in broad percentage terms what main objective he set when he entered into negotiations for the price review? Will he also say at what point he had to break off further negotiation and how big the gap was?

If I anticipate my right hon. Friend's views correctly, may I suggest that the price of that gap may prove to be small when set alongside the unprecedented historic achievement of European support for sanctions?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

I believe that it would be very much to the discredit of Europe if procedures were allowed to be broken, or arrangements for farm prices or the budget were affected, by Europe taking a view about the actions of a military dictator in invading the sovereign territory of a member State. In the negotiations with which I have bent involved in the front line over the period, no member State and no Minister has mentioned, referred to or implied that the Falklands issue was part of the negotiations. I do not believe that these two matters are connected. As for the degree to which I still disagree with the price fixing, if my hon. Friend examines my statement he will see that I have listed the areas in which I am still in dispute.

Photo of Mr Thomas Torney Mr Thomas Torney , Bradford South

In view of the utter disregard shown by the Common Market for United Kingdom interests, does the Minister agree that what has happened confirms the view of a great number of my right hon. and hon. Friends that it is time that the Government took us out of the Common Market? Will he give some consideration to stopping our payments to the Common Market—if not entirely, those concerned with the disastrous common agricultural policy?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

I know that the hon. Gentleman has long held views which are hostile to Great Britain's membership of the European Community. The reason why I said yesterday's events were a sad day for Europe is that those who, like the hon. Gentleman, are opposed to our membership of Europe, and those who have doubts about it, will have been gained an adverse opinion because of the decisions and procedures adopted. That is why I think that it is regrettable that a number of our Community partners and the Commission pursued the course that they did. As for payments and costs, there is and always has been a strong duty on the Community to agree quickly to budget changes. They should have been dealt with in parallel and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has made relevant proposals to the Community. The sooner that takes place, the better.

Photo of Mr Angus Maude Mr Angus Maude , Stratford-on-Avon

Since it is obvious that no partnership can survive for long if some of the partners are prepared to change the rules in the middle to suit their own interests, ought not the Government urgently to request an early meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers which might then tell us finally what the rules are and will remain?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

I agree with my right hon. Friend that this is a very urgent matter. I add to my right hon. Friend s view that it is impossible to have a partnership where the rules are changed for the convenience of any one member or group of members. When this negotiation commenced we requested that there should be an urgent meeting of Foreign Ministers to discuss any change in procedure which should be made. But I know that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will be taking up this matter urgently.

Photo of Mr Nigel Spearing Mr Nigel Spearing , Newham South

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the White Paper issued by the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) in 1971 and the "Yes" pamphlet issued by the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Jenkins) in 1975 implied that the Luxembourg arrangement was part of the treaty arrangements, when it was not? Since the right hon. Gentleman has stressed the importance of continuing this arrangement, can he say why, on 13 June 1972, he and his right hon. and hon. Friends voted against an amendment moved by my right hon. Friend the Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore) which would have written this veto into the Bill being considered at the time? Would not it have been better if they had voted for it, and would they not be in a stronger position now as a result?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

I remind the hon. Gentleman that in 1966 this agreement was reached, that by 1972, six years later, on no occasion had it been breached, and that for the subsequent 10 years on no occasion was it breached. Indeed, I could go back even further and say that it is a pity that this was not part of the original treaty. All that I can say is that for 16 years there was no violation of this agreement.

Photo of Mr James Spicer Mr James Spicer , West Dorset

Will not my right hon. Friend confirm that, although the Luxembourg compromise was reached in 1966, at the time of the negotiations in 1971 it was made clear time and time again—amongst others by President Pompidou—that it was accepted that, although it was not written into Community law, it was part and parcel of the Community? It is the violation of that acceptance, which we thought was given in good faith, that we ought to stand up against at present.

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

Yes, Sir, and there have been various occasions since when the President of France and other European leaders have confirmed their total allegiance to this principle. That is why in these circumstances, after 16 years of compliance, of benefit and of use by all member States, it is all the more surprising to discover that a number of those member States which violated the principle yesterday have used the principle a great deal over the years.

Photo of Mr Charles Morris Mr Charles Morris , Manchester Openshaw

Bearing in mind that the Prime Minister met the French President and that the British Foreign Secretary met the French Foreign Minister within days of this decision being initiated by the French Government, why has the action taken by the French Government come as such a surprise? Bearing in mind the impact which majority voting will have on the shopping basket of the British housewife, was not this touched on in the discussions between the Prime Minister and the French President and between the Foreign Secretary and the French Foreign Minister?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

Dealing first with the right hon. Gentleman's side remark, I repeat that the impact on prices over one year will be equivalent to the increase in prices in one month under the last Labour Government.

As for the remarks of the President of France and the meetings with the Prime Minister of France, bearing in mind that for 16 years the French Government have complied totally with this principle and that it is a principle which they demanded at the outset, whether the intention is to change the rules is not a matter for discussion at every meeting with the President or Prime Minister of France.

Photo of Mr George Cunningham Mr George Cunningham , Islington South and Finsbury

Does not this incident illustrate the difference of attitude between the British and French Governments to Community affairs, with the British over the years imagining that they were playing a game of "Happy Families" and the French knowing very well that they were playing strip poker?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

The hon. Gentleman refers to differing attitudes. I might point out that what occurred yesterday was not the result of the actions of the French Government alone. It was achieved by seven member Governments working with the Commission.

Photo of Sir Anthony Meyer Sir Anthony Meyer , Flint West

While one accepts the need for a veto where vital national interests are concerned, though no such veto existed when Britain applied originally to join the Community, is it not a fact that a too ready recourse to the veto—in other words abuse of the Luxembourg compromise—has made it impossible to achieve those changes in the Community which are necessary if it is better to suit our purposes?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

No, Sir. I do not accept that view. Acceptance of that view is saying that the types of changes which, for example, the United Kingdom seeks to obtain are necessarily the changes that a majority vote would produce. That is not necessarily the truth. The Community has made considerable improvements and progress in a number of areas after tedious and long negotiations because of the need to respect the interest of member States. I do not believe that better progress would be made by moving to majority voting.

Photo of Mr Bob Cryer Mr Bob Cryer , Keighley

Is not the ending of this right of veto, and therefore of the protection of individual national interests, somewhat more than a breach of faith? It is in fact a breach of the constitutional position which was accepted by this country when we entered the Community. Will the right hon. Gentleman make it plain whether the Government are prepared to accept this watershed as the basis for withdrawal from the Common Market?

Photo of Mr Teddy Taylor Mr Teddy Taylor , Southend East

Although I accept that it will take time for the Government to decide what are the right steps to take, in the interim can my right hon. Friend at least give a firm assurance that in no circumstances will the Government accept or implement a new common fisheries policy which is approved by a majority vote? Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that while there is a vital issue at stake, it will help if that is made clear now?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

Yes, Sir. I confirm that and make it absolutely clear now.

Photo of Mr Ron Leighton Mr Ron Leighton , Newham North East

Will the right hon. Gentleman comment on the action of Sir Henry Plumb and his fellow Conservative MEPs who voted for the abolition of the national veto? In whose name were they speaking? Is it not clear that Sir Henry Plumb seems to vote as a farmer first, as an Englishman second, and as a Conservative third?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

I am not the spokesman for Sir Henry Plumb. I can only confirm that at no time on this issue did Sir Henry seek my advice. If he had done so, I should have advised him to the contrary of what he said.

Photo of Mrs Elaine Kellett Mrs Elaine Kellett , Lancaster

I declare my interest, well known to the House, as a Member of the European Parliament. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on securing improved arrangements for beef and sheepmeat, on restoring the butter subsidy, on reducing the co-responsibility levy and on doing a very great deal for our glasshouse producers regarding Dutch gas prices. May I also assure my right hon. Friend that at no stage, contrary to what the press and Opposition hon. Members have said, was a vote taken on the matter of the Luxembourg compromise within the European Democratic Group, of which the Conservatives are members, and that many European Conservatives voted against this amendment?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

I note what my hon. Friend says about Conservative Members of the European Parliament. As for the other issue, as I said in my original statement, there are a number of areas of considerable importance to British agriculture and to consumers where important improvements have been made.

Photo of Sir John Morris Sir John Morris , Aberavon

Do I understand that the Minister intends to implement the package forthwith? Does not implementation mean surrender? How can he confidently tell his hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) that he will not implement a common fisheries policy? Has not France shown that she intends to reserve her power of veto for anything that is against her interests?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

We will certainly implement those proposals that must be implemented for the entirety of British agriculture. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is proposing that the changes in farmers' prices, many of which are required and urgently desired, and the changes which would also benefit consumers as I have described, should not be implemented. That would be illegal. They will, therefore, be implemented. It has been suggested that there is a sell-out. After the present price-fixing, the proportion of European funds out of the CAP that will come to Britain is exactly double what it was when the Government took office.

Photo of Mr John Farr Mr John Farr , Harborough

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on what he has achieved for British agriculture, especially with regard to the beef premium scheme and the improvement of the milk co-responsibility levy. In view of the latest serious development, does my right hon. Friend think that it is right and proper for us to continue to negotiate with our Community partners before the unanimity of accord is written into national legislation?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

It is obviously vital to continue negotiations on issues that are in our national interest. It is understandable that the agricultural implications of recent events have been considered to be far less import ant than the constitutional ones. As my hon. Friend said, the substantial improvements and changes to the beef premium scheme will be of considerable importance to British agriculture.

Photo of Mr Norman Buchan Mr Norman Buchan , Renfrewshire West

The right hon. Gentleman raised an important question with regard to fisheries. He said that he will implement the proposals because it would be illegal not to. What happens if the proposals for a common fisheries policy are also legally required? Will he then unilaterally extend either the 50-mile or 200-mile limit and protect them? I assure him that as long as he continues to try to resist the siren voices asking for a sell-out of vital British interests with regard to the veto, the Opposition will support him.

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that assurance. I do not believe that there will ever be any question of the imposition of a fishing limit. As a matter of historical interest, on the two previous occasions when we were near to obtaining a fishing agreement that our fishermen could have accepted, one other member State vetoed it. Had there been majority voting, that member State would have been affected.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. I have received notice of two applications under Standing Order No. 9.