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Areas Of Disagreement

Volume 982: debated on Wednesday 16 April 1980

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asked the Lord Privy Seal if he will list the areas of disagreement which are outstanding between the United Kingdom and the other member States of the European Community.

The United Kingdom's inequitable contribution to the Community budget is the main problem affecting the United Kingdom specifically. The Government are determined to negotiate a fair solution. There are other issues for the Community as a whole to resolve, such as the need to control the costs of agricultural surpluses and to modify the common fisheries policy.

In view of the fact that there is, although my right hon. Friend did not disclose all of them, a long list of problems, and therefore the possibility, to say the very least, that these problems will not be resolved, I wonder whether my right hon. Friend will be kind enough to confirm, in just one word, that it would be imprudent for Her Majesty's Government not to have a contingency plan based on the possibility that we do not get agreement, and that therefore we might in the last resort have to have some new policy of positive association with the countries in the Community other than the one that we have at the moment?

If I had to answer my hon. Friend in one word, it would be "No". However, I have told him and the House that I do not believe that what he is saying is a serious option. Britain is a member of the EEC and the Government have every intention of ensuring that it continues to be so.

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House, in his helpful spirit of compromise, to what extent we are prepared to compromise on fish, on energy policy and on our relationship with the monetary system?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have said that we do not believe in a package deal. We believe that all these issues should be decided on their merits.

If it proves impossible for the countries of the EEC to adopt a single and effective attitude towards the crises in Afghanistan and Iran, will my right hon. Friend explain to the House where the British people are likely to see the much-vaunted political advantages of remaining in the EEC?

That is a doubly hypothetical question, and therefore one that I cannot answer.

Will the right hon. Gentleman comment on the fact that we are facing a £1·2 billion deficit in payments and a £2½ billion deficit in trade with the EEC, of which £700 million accounts for textile goods? Has the Foreign and Commonwealth Office any contingency plans to improve the trading position, to seek stern negotiations to improve it or get out, which is the only solution that most sensible people see as the alternative?

I know that that is something that is very much concerning the Labour Party at the moment, but it is not concerning us. The hon. Gentleman is ignoring the fact that our trading performance with the EEC is better than it is with the rest of the world. It is a characteristic of the Labour Party that its Members do not like listening to facts of which they do not approve. The export-import ratio of our trade with the Community increased to 86 per cent., from 83 per cent. in 1978. Since 1973 our exports to the EEC have increased by 350 per cent., and elsewhere by merely 200 per cent.