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Council Of Foreign Ministers

Volume 978: debated on Wednesday 13 February 1980

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35.Mr.

36.

asked the Lord Privy Seal when next he expects to meet his EEC counterparts.

37.

asked the Lord Privy Seal when his noble Friend expects to meet his European Economic Community counterparts.

39.

asked the Lord Privy Seal when he next expects to meet his EEC counterparts.

My right hon. and noble Friend and I will meet our Community colleagues at the next meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels on 17 and 18 March.

Will the Lord Privy Seal confirm that he received no satisfaction on his recent tour of the European capitals and chancelleries in his effort to gain support for the United Kingdom's attempt to reduce its grotesquely excessive contribution to the European budget? Does he agree that in the last couple of days the French have been characteristically unhelpful? Does he accept that, if the Prime Minister is not to be grossly humiliated at the forthcoming summit, Britain will have to take action on its own? Will the Minister comment on the article by the European editor of The Guardian today which suggests that we could legally withhold VAT contributions?

The hon. Member's language is, to use his word, "excessive". I agree that our net contribution to the European budget is, indeed, excessive. I cannot confirm that I received no satisfaction on my recent tour. It was helpful. There was a general desire to see our problem solved. I hope that it will be. It is not for me to comment on articles by the European editor of The Guardian.

Order. I hope that the Member will ask his question, because time is short.

I am sorry, Mr. Speaker. I was put off my stroke by hon. Members. Is the Minister aware that many of us are deeply concerned by the report in The Guardianand by the Lord Privy Seal's reply? Can he confirm or deny that the Government are considering cutting off VAT payments if we receive no satisfaction in the negotiations?

I cannot comment on the article by the European editor of The Guardian. That is normal practice and it is particularly true on this occasion since I have not read the article.

I appreciate that some progress has been made towards achieving a common position among the Nine on the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, but does my right hon. Friend expect that further progress will be made at the meeting to reach a unified EEC approach to the problem?

I am sure that that will happen. Further progress was made in Brussels last week at the meeting attended by my hon. Friend. This is not a matter that can be settled overnight. There is an undoubted process of convergence in train.

What response will the Government make to the application by Turkey for membership of the Common Market? Is not that worthy of a statement before we go any further?

No, because Turkey has not yet made a formal application. Turkey has made it clear that that will be the ultimate result of the 1963 association agreement. It is far too early to make a statement.

Has my right hon. Friend any comments to make on the statements by Mr. Jenkins about the approaching bankruptcy of the EEC?

The President of the European Commission pointed out the general economic difficulties facing Europe. I do not think that he said anything new.

Does the Lord Privy Seal agree that the approaching bankruptcy of the EEC will not occur in time to rescue the Government from their public expenditure problems in 1980–81 since the £1,000 million which was to be agreed to be refunded to Britain at Dublin played such a significant part in the Government's plan?

May I take for granted that the Government will not be in any way deterred from their pursuit of a broad balance by a French Finance Minister reading his brief at the last Council of Finance Ministers? We know that it was negative, but the French frequently are. The Minister must make it plain that the Government are still absolutely determined to achieve the broad balance which they set out to achieve and that they will not—

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Geneltman but he must ask questions. This is not a time for debating.

I can confirm that, so far as is known, there is no question of the 1 per cent. limit being penetrated this year and that it does not have any immediate application to our budget problem. The House is aware of our approach to these matters. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said after the Dublin conference that progress had been made—[Interruption.] Well, it had. The inhibitions have been taken off the 1975 mechanism which was negotiated by the Labour Government and which was singularly ineffective. The Commission was invited to make proposals for increasing expenditure in the United Kingdom. It has now done so. After Dublin the Prime Minister said that our objective was a genuine compromise but she pointed out that we had little room for manoeuvre. That is still the position.

38.

asked the Lord Privy Seal when he last met his EEC col- leagues; and what was the outcome of the meeting.

I last attended a meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council on 15 January. My right hon. and noble Friend went to the most recent meeting of the Council on 5 February. I reported the outcome to the House on 7 February in reply to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Lee). I also attended an informal meeting of Community Foreign Ministers on 8 February.

Will the Lord Privy Seal make it clear to his EEC colleagues that the House will not allow the Prime Minister and the Foreign Office to shuffle out of their commitment to reduce the British contribution to the EEC budget by £1 billion?

I have no reason to remind my colleagues of that because they are well aware that neither the Prime Minister nor the Foreign Office are in the habit of shuffling out of anything.

At all the recent meetings have not the French and the Germans in particular proved much more intransigent than was originally expected about reducing Britain's contribution? Is it not wiser to start reducing expectations in Britain about the possibility of repayments being made?

I do not think that my hon. Friend is right to say that the German and French Governments have been more intransigent than was expected. It will not have escaped his notice that the French economic Minister made some remarks on Monday about the effect of oil on the United Kingdom economy. He has been rather seriously misled on the matter, and we shall seek to correct him.

When the Lord Privy Seal discussed with his EEC colleagues the concept of broad balance, did he indicate that it should apply to all countries of the Community, including Germany?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we began by using the term "broad balance". That was widely misunderstood to mean juste retour on the Continent. As I have indicated already to the House, the position is that we are seeking a genuine compromise.

If the Lord Privy Seal will not cancel VAT payments, will he at least accept my suggestion that, until the French remove the levy on British lamb imports, we should impose an import levy on French cars?

I do not think that the implication of the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion is one that he really wishes to pursue. He is trying to say that illegality should be met with illegality. I do not believe that that is right.

When those responsible for either research and development or science and technology meet their colleagues in the EEC to discuss such subjects as the Davignon report on information and technology, who represents the United Kingdom?

That is a very good question. I think that it is the Secretary of State for Trade, but I shall confirm that to my hon. Friend.