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Budget

Volume 886: debated on Wednesday 19 February 1975

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28.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what discussions he had at the Council of Ministers on 10th and 11th February about the United Kingdom's contribution to the EEC budget; and if he will make a statement.

33.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what progress he has made in his negotiations with the other member States of the EEC relative to Great Britain's contribution to the Community budget since the EEC Summit of 9th-10th December 1974.

39.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he is now able to make a statement on Great Britain's contribution to the EEC budget.

We had a useful discussion in the Council on 10th February. We examined the Commission's proposals for the budget-correcting mechanism, which follow the lines laid down by Heads of Government in December. It was agreed that work should continue at official level to prepare for the Council or 3rd and 4th March, when I would like to see the matter settled.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if we achieve what it looks likely we shall achieve on this front, it will meet our objectives in the renegotiations, and that some of my hon. Friends cannot say, on the one hand, that our contribution as negotiated by the Conservatives was crippling, and, on the other, when we have negotiated a solution, that it was of no account at all?

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary reminds me that they can say that, but it is up to us to judge whether they are reasonable or unreasonable in taking that view. As for the proposals made by the Commission, they are the basis for successful renegotiation of that item on the agenda. I hope and believe that certain improvements could be made in the coming weeks. I hope that those improvements will be concluded by the first week in March. If adjustments of an important nature are obtained on that date, I hope that the renegotiations will end successfully.

Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether the accusation that the Commission is "faceless" is correct, and whether the Commission has taken a useful and constructive rĂ´le in the negotiations?

The Commission is to be thanked and congratulated on the way it has assisted in the renegotiations. Its officials were given the task by Heads of Government and they carried out that work with a great deal of success. If the renegotiations succeed part of the credit must go to the Commission.

Beside our budgetary contributions, does my right hon. Friend feel that we should go on indefinitely subsidising inefficient French farmers to produce surpluses which are then sold to Russia? Does he not feel that the point of these renegotiations should be the final disposal of the common agricultural policy?

There is a certain ambivalence in my answer to this question. I think it unjustifiable for us to go on subsidising inefficient farmers, but I want to go on enjoying the comparatively cheap foodstuffs from Europe.

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that in the context of the Government's renegotiations they are committed to the view that both the taxes and the budgets are unacceptable, and also the purposes on which most of the money is spent?

The right hon. Gentleman is quoting from a manifesto which he and I supported in the recent elections. I promise him that we are doing our best to carry it out.