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European Community (Budget Refund)

Volume 35: debated on Thursday 27 January 1983

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asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement concerning the current state of negotiations related to United Kingdom refunds from the European Community.

As the House will recall, the European Parliament rejected on 16 December the Council's draft supplementary and amending budget for 1982 making provision for the United Kingdom's basic refund for 1982. The Council has this week considered new budgetary proposals prepared by the Commission and will now be holding informal discussion with the Parliament prior to establishing a new draft supplementary budget for 1983. It is hoped that this can be established in time for formal consideration by the Parliament in the week beginning 7 February.

Does the Minister agree that out of the £13,000 million EC budget, this country contributes about £2,000 million and gets back about £1,000 million? Does he further agree that the discussions he has mentioned in respect of the proposals of the Council for a £400 million additional rebate to this country is subject to the consultation procedure, agreed between the Council and the Assembly in Paris last summer, which requires both of them to agree? Is it not a fact, in that case, that the Assembly has a veto on this sum due to the United Kingdom?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the present constitution of the budget between the member partners of the Community is unsatisfactory. That is why Her Majesty's Government have persistently pursued the objective of a long-term solution. The hon. Gentleman will recall that the Parliament shares our ambition in that respect. This is precisely what the Parliament has called upon the Council of Ministers to achieve. The negotiations with the Parliament must now proceed.

I should point out to the hon. Gentleman that the Commission has already lodged in a separate fund in London the payments that were due in respect of the last financial year.

Does my hon. Friend agree that a time limit must be placed on the negotiations? He has said that consultations will take place again in February. Is it not a fact that it is within the power of the European Parliament to drag this out for months? Would that not be quite intolerable and unacceptable to most hon. Members?

I agree with my hon. Friend that it is our purpose to see the conclusion of these negotiations and the payment of the sums agreed in respect of 1982 as soon as possible, but I do not think that we should, at this stage, speculate about actions that might need to be taken in the event of failure to achieve such an agreement in due time.

Has the Minister seen the report in today's Financial Times to the effect that, far from the European Assembly seeking to co-operate with the Council and the United Kingdom Government, the president of the assembly, Mr. Pieter Dankert, is setting his face against a settlement except on wholly unacceptable terms, including no special budget deal with Britain after this year? Given the point made by the hon. Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Spicer) that the assembly can drag this out and veto any attempted deal by the Council, when, instead of talking tough, will the Government act tough and refuse to pay any further money over to the EC until we get a proper deal?

Our right to what the hon. Gentleman describes as "a proper deal" has been recognised by the Council of Ministers. I must reiterate that, whatever the president of the assembly may have said, the assembly has been demanding that there should be a long-term solution to the budget problem. That is precisely the objective of Her Majesty's Government as well. So we share an objective with the Parliament and we want to see that objective achieved as soon as possible.