§ The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Malcolm Rifkind)
I will with permission, Mr. Speaker, make a statement on the meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council which was held in Brussels from 17 to 21 March and at which my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary and I represented the United Kingdom. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Trade was our representative at a meeting of trade Ministers which was held within the Council on 19 March.
The Community made major progress in dealing with the outstanding problems in the enlargement negotiations with Spain and Portugal. On fisheries, the Community and Spain were able to agree on the general framework for integrating the Spanish fleet into the common fisheries policy on a basis which safeguards the balance of fishing opportunities for existing member states under the common fisheries policy. Good progress was also made with the Portuguese, though a number of specific issues remain outstanding on the fisheries chapter with both candidates.
Considerable progress was also made in resolving the differences between the Community and Spain and Portugal on agriculture and social affairs. A special Foreign Affairs Council, with further ministerial meetings with Spain and Portugal, will be held on 28 March to seek to reach agreement on the outstanding issues before the European Council.
Substantial progress was made on the text of the own resources decision, including provision for our 1,000 million ecu abatement in respect of 1984 and implementation of the Fontainebleau mechanism for United Kingdom rebates in future years. The text is now agreed subject to a Greek waiting reserve. The text provides that, immediately after notification that the new own resources decision has been adopted and ratified by national Parliaments, our 1,000 million ecu abatement should be paid through an anticipation of the new own resources. Subject to ratification of the accession treaty, increased own resources for all other purposes would become available from 1 January 1986. Meanwhile, the Community's budgetary obligations in 1985 should be met through intergovernmental agreement.
Trade Ministers meeting within the Council discussed the proposal for a new round of multilateral trade negotiations in the GATT. They declared the Community's readiness to participate in such a new round, subject to the establishment of an adequate consensus on objectives, participation and timing. The Community undertook to enlist the support of its trading partners, particularly among the developing countries, to this end. The full text of the Council declaration has been placed in the Library of the House.
The Council also discussed the Commission's latest proposals for integrated mediterranean programmes. The subject will be discussed by heads of Government at the European Council on 29 and 30 March.
§ Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)
Have not the fine words of the Fontainebleau summit last June dissolved into a lake of self-delusion as the real crisis within the EC is revealed? Since we pay 20.5 per cent. of the proposed 3.2 billion ecu, will we not be paying 600 million ecu 27 towards the reimbursement of our own rebate? Does the Minister hail that as a triumph for British diplomacy? On what principle are we being loaned a sum towards moneys which are due and have been owing to us legally since 1 January this year? Since those sums should have been paid on 1 January, what interest has already accrued and what interest is likely to accrue by the end of the year, after ratification by all the other member Parliaments, by which time we might at last receive our rebate for 1984?
Can the Minister confirm that even excluding that levy, the United Kingdom paid this session, by way of supplementary estimates, 800,000 ecu—which is not far short of the total rebate for 1984 which is due to us? Will the Minister confirm that there are bound to be further supplementary levies over the year which masquerade as loans?
The Minister is aware of our well-known support for the principle of including the Iberian countries in the EC. What lessons are there for the future when the EC cannot agree on a common negotiating position in respect of enlargement? Will not the problems of finding a common position be immeasurably increased once enlargement is agreed and the interests of two further countries have to be accommodated within a common programme?
At a time when the EC Foreign Ministers were haggling over the hectolitres of Spanish wine for distillation there was not a peep of protest about the massacre of blacks in South Africa and no consideration of an EC contribution to the famine in Africa. At a time of record agricultural surpluses and record unemployment within the EC and when the agricultural proportion of the budget at 74 per cent. is the highest ever and is unlikely to fall, how can the average citizen in the EC identify with an institution which manifestly does not identify with his or her interests?
§ Mr. Rifkind
The hon. Gentleman fundamentally misunderstands the position if he is suggesting that we are paying towards our own rebate. The 1,000 million ecus that is to be repaid to the United Kingdom is in respect of our contribution in 1984 and does not arise out of expenditure in the current year.
Under the Fontainebleau mechanism, we are to receive two thirds of the VAT share/expenditure share gap, which means that we will be paying 7 per cent. of additional expenditure, whereas France and Germany will be paying 27 per cent. to 32 per cent. of comparable levels of expenditure. Therefore, Fontainebleau remains an excellent deal for the United Kingdom, and far better than many dared predict. On the difficulties of reaching agreements in an enlarged Community, it goes without saying that a Community of 12 face such difficulties. However, during the years of its existence the Community has shown that, although it is difficult and time-consuming to achieve agreement between 10 or 12 democratic countries, at the end of the day it has always reached agreement, and that has contributed to the strengthening of the Community.
It would have been inappropriate for the Foreign Affairs Council to discuss the position in South Africa when it met last week. It is when the Council meets on political co-operation that developments in other parts of the world are considered. It would have been out of order for the 28 Council, as presently constructed, to deal with matters that were not directly related to work going on within the Community.
§ Mr. David Harris (St. Ives)
Will my hon. Friend give the House some real information, rather than the bland remarks in his statement, about the position on fishing — especially in view of the importance of Spanish fishing opportunities off the south-west of England? Is the United Kingdom now prepared to agree to Spanish demands for an increase in the number of boats licensed to fish off the south-west coast? If so, will my hon. Friend take note that I shall oppose it?
§ Mr. Rifkind
I am sorry that I could not go into too much detail on fishing matters. I hope that my hon. Friend will understand that the negotiations are not yet concluded, so it is difficult to give the specific figures and details that he would like. The number of Spanish boats that will be permitted to fish in Community waters has not yet been finally resolved. I have every reason to believe that the agreement that we expect to be reached soon will be fully consistent with the protection of British interests and the interests of the fishermen whom my hon. Friend so ably represents.
§ Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)
The Minister has spoken of there having been agreement on the general framework of a fishing agreement with Spain. Will he spell out that general framework and reassure some of the fishermen in Britain who are concerned about what has already been agreed?
In view of the difficulties that are obviously being encountered on agriculture, does the Minister believe that there is now any prospect of Spain and Portugal entering the Community this year?
§ Mr. Rifkind
On the first point, it is generally accepted by both the applicant countries and the existing member states that Spain and Portugal should be progressively integrated into the common fisheries policy, that fishing opportunities in existing Community waters should be based on their traditional involvement in those waters and that they cannot expect any significant change during the duration of the CFP unless there was a unanimous agreement to that effect at some time in the 1990s.
The proposed date for Spanish and Portuguese membership of the Community is 1 January 1986. That does mean a somewhat tight timetable, but it is still possible to conform to that, especially if agreement is reached on most of the outstanding matters at the Council meeting due to be held this Thursday.
§ Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East)
In relation to wines and made wines, has the lesser but nevertheless important question of British sherry come up in the talks so far? Did my hon. Friend, or perhaps my right hon. and learned Friend, have a chance to put forward again the British case, not to harm Spanish interests but to preserve our situation in the derogation that has provisionally been agreed? If not, will my hon. Friend guarantee that that will be done as soon as possible in discussions with the Ministry of Agriculture?
§ Mr. Rifkind
The matter was raised. I am pleased to say that the Community's position, not just the British position, is that British sherry should be protected in the way that we have sought—namely, that there should be 29 not simply a temporary derogation but an open-ended ability to apply the present designation, as has been the case for about 100 years.
§ Mr. Eric Deakins (Walthamstow)
Is the Minister aware that the agricultural costs of the position of Spain and Portugal are likely to soar sky-high because of the way in which the Community is going about negotiating? Is he aware, from what he has told us, that the integrated Mediterranean programme for existing members of the EEC is being delayed while entry negotiations go on for agricultural agreements with Spain and Portugal? Is he further aware that, whichever comes first, existing producers will need to be protected against the consequences of enlargement through ever more costly programmes, producing more and more surpluses?
§ Mr. Rifkind
There is absolutely no question of integrated Mediterranean programmes being available to countries which are not yet members of the Community. There is continuing discussion about the appropriate provision for integrated Mediterranean programmes, and that matter will be discussed at the European Council next weekend.
§ Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)
Were the press reports wrong in suggesting that, whereas at Fontainebleau we had a cast-iron, copper-bottomed guarantee of a £600 million rebate for 1985, before resources went up in 1986, the position now is that we shall get that rebate only if Britain and every other member state agree to increase the resources of the EEC? Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be shameful if there were such an increase in own resources at a time when the Common Market is spending £20 million every day on the storage and dumping of surplus foodstuffs?
§ Mr. Rifkind
My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that the British Government have made it abundantly clear that they could not contemplate an increase in own resources to take place unless the payment of our rebate for this year was absolutely cast-iron. There is no disposition on the part of any other member state of the Community to question that. In recent weeks, when discussions have taken place on a number of procedural matters, every member state has emphasised that great importance is attached by them to honouring the Fontainebleau agreement. At no time has it been suggested that any solution or procedure would be acceptable unless it ensured the payment to the United Kingdom of the sums agreed at Fontainebleau.
§ Mr. John Ryman (Blyth Valley)
Has any progress been made in the discussions to protect textile interests in the United Kingdom? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the biggest and most efficient textile factory in Western Europe is in my constituency — at Cramlington — and that because of the feebleness of the British Government and the lack of initiative by Common Market Ministers, far eastern and American imports, subsidised by those Governments, are flooding our markets, creating unfair competition to textile interests in Northumberland, resulting in the fear of substantial redundancies?
§ Mr. Rifkind
I share the hon. Gentleman's concern for the well-being of the textile industry. That subject was not on the agenda of the Foreign Affairs Council meeting last week.
§ Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)
Did the foreign Ministers discuss the dreadful situation in southern Lebanon? If so—but even if they did not—does my hon. Friend think it right that we should continue to allow access duty-free to Israeli manufactures while at the same time the Israelis are daily subjecting southern Lebanon to the most ghastly reprisal raids? Does he think it right that such trade arrangements should be permitted to continue before all Israeli troops—direct or surrogate troops—have left southern Lebanon?
§ Mr. Rifkind
That matter was not on the agenda last week. However, Israel and a number of other Mediterranean countries have association agreements with the European Community that enable them to have access to Community markets, and there is no proposal to discontinue that.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
How much preparation was made by the Foreign Affairs Council for the Heads of Government meeting at the end of this week? How will the reports of the ad hoc committees—the so-called Dooge and People's Europe committees — be handled? Are not those committees unrepresentative, being composed of unelected persons? Unless they are handled carefully, will they not produce legislation which is then rubber-stamped by the Heads of Government and sent to the Commission for the drawing up of regulations?
§ Mr. Rifkind
As the British representative on the Dooge committee, I somewhat resent the hon. Gentleman's description of the members as being unrepresentative or unelected. The Dooge committee has prepared its final report, which will be presented to the European Council. The other committee to which he referred has not yet prepared its final report, but it will be putting forward certain interim proposals. At its last meeting, the European Council announced that it intended to set aside two days for a full discussion of the recommendations at the June Council meeting.
§ Mr. Russell Johnston (Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber)
What are the main outstanding issues in connection with enlargement, apart from fishing, which it is hoped to resolve on Thursday? On own resources, will the hon. Gentleman explain the Delphic expressionsubject to a Greek waiting reserve", which sounds somewhat ominous?
§ Mr. Rifkind
The points that it is hoped finally to resolve on Thursday, apart from fisheries, are concerned mainly with agriculture and social affairs, about which certain points of detail remain to be concluded. It is also hoped to have further discussion with the Spanish and Portuguese about the transitional financial arrangements affecting their accession to the Community.
As for the Greek waiting reserve, the Greek Government have made it clear that while they accept the proposals that have been put forward on the increase in own resources and financing of the Community's deficit, they could not give their final agreement until the Heads of Government had discussed, and hopefully resolved, the problem of integrated Mediterranean programmes and the proper level of resources for those programmes.
§ Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)
Does the Minister appreciate that there will be considerable dismay and surprise among many British people at the fact that the Community's relationship with South Africa was 31 considered inappropriate for discussion at the meeting? Will he undertake, on behalf of the British Government, to place that issue on the agenda of an appropriate meeting, because many British people want to see the British Government taking a lead on the matter within the Community?
§ Mr. Rifkind
The European foreign Ministers have on many occasions discussed southern Africa, including South Africa, at meetings devoted to political co-operation in the Community. I have not the slightest doubt that the matter will appear on the agenda in the near future.
§ Mrs. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)
When does the Minister expect to lay an order increasing our budget contribution by 40 per cent.? Will he confirm that, when that order has passed through this House, the Government will be enabled to raise our budget contributions without reference back to the House?
§ Mr. Rifkind
No date has yet been fixed for the presentation of such a proposal. Any increase in own resources can take place only if this House approves it; and, even if it approves it, it can take place only up to the level that has been approved by the House. Therefore, the implication of the hon. Member's question does not apply.