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European Community (Reform)

Volume 77: debated on Wednesday 24 April 1985

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asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he is satisfied with the progress to date in achieving reforms in the European Economic Community; and if he will make a statement.

Considerable progress has been made. The Council has agreed the arrangements for implementing the budgetary reforms negotiated at Fontainebleau. A start has been made on the reform of the common agricultural policy. The European Council has agreed that action should be taken to reduce the burden of regulation on business and has set a target date for the completion of the common market in goods and services. A number of practical proposals for improving the functioning of the Community institutions are now under discussion.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, despite all those wonderful pledges and assurances, the plain fact is that the Common Market is now spending over £20 million a day on dumping and destroying food surpluses, and is vastly overspending its agreed budget? Does my right hon. and learned Friend further agree that the only way to secure reforms is to control the supply of money to the Common Market? Therefore, would it not be crazy for the Government to ask the House, at a time when we are cutting back on essential services at home, to give an extra 25 per cent. in real terms to the Common Market?

I cannot accept my hon. Friend's approach to the matter. Of course, it is important to maintain the pressure that we have successfully maintained for the establishment of effective budget disciipline in the Community. That is why we welcome the establishment of that discipline. It will also be important to bear that in mind when we introduce the own-resources decision. We have made it plain that we will not introduce that until all the components about which we have been concerned are in place.

How did the Foreign Secretary respond to the views put to him yesterday by the delegation from the European Parliament? Has his attention been drawn to early-day motion 630? If so, will he comment on it?

Yesterday I met the delegation from the Western European Union. I shall be meeting the European Parliament this afternoon and will be discussing the Spinelli report with it.

As my right hon. and learned Friend said, it is very important that rapid progress should be made towards a common market in goods and services. Will he tell us what progress is being made?

At the request of the Council at its last meeting, the Commission is drawing up a full programme, which will be published during the summer for the achievement of the internal market by a date that has been fixed in 1992. That is over and above the steps that have already been taken for the harmonisation of standards over a whole range of goods. Our objective is to take harmonisation much further and to complete the internal market by 1992.

Why have the Government just agreed to an extra £240 million contribution this year to the Community budget? When is Parliament likely to be consulted, if at all, about such an outrageous decision?

We have made it quite clear that, as happened last year, Parliament will be consulted. The agreement states clearly that our contribution is dependent upon the completion of our national parliamentary procedures. There is no question of asking Parliament to approve the agreement until our abatement has been guaranteed — that is, until the provision for our abatement has-been adopted. The amount agreed has been substantially reduced from the Commission's original request. As a direct result of the Fontainebleau mechanism, the net cost of the United Kingdom contribution will be less than our contribution to the intergovernmental agreement last year.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend resist the temptation to do a European deal on the European Parliament's draft treaty of union and trade away what it suggests with anything else? Will he also look closely at the terms of reference of the suggested conference that is to deal with that treaty. It is to discuss only the treaty. Any other solutions to European Community problems will be unable to be considered.

The Community will consider these matters in the light of the recommendations of the Dooge committee, which will be considered again at the Council meeting to be held in Milan in June. No decision has yet been taken as to whether a conference would be appropriate. Our view is that we are most likely to achieve decisions by taking them at Council. level. However, we shall discuss whether a conference is necessary.

How can the Foreign Secretary say that budgetary control has been achieved when yesterday's agreement on the £240 million was the third such agreement on similar amounts to have been reached within the last 12 months, either by loans or by advances which can be reimbursed? How can he say that there has been a reform of the budget when more money is to be spent upon the open-ended commitment to agriculture and less upon regional and social policies which would help Britain? As he knows, I received a reply a few days ago from his hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, in which I was told that of the 50 poorest regions in Europe, 21 of them are in the United Kingdom. Should he not be fighting for money for those areas?

The hon. Gentleman does not seem to appreciate that powerful arrangements have been set in place which come into force upon the adoption of the own-resources decision for the achievement of budgetary discipline within the Community. Throughout the consideration given both to last year's budget and to this year's, including yesterday's consideration, all those measures have been taken closely into account.